By Dr Gill Gillespie, UK Director
There has been a recent flurry of articles, circulated by the Iranian Refugees Action Network and reported elsewhere, which have focussed on the unacceptable delays, conditions and detention of adults and children within the UK asylum-seeking process.
One of these was from the BBC on 18 May 2012, acknowledging that the UK Border Agency has been criticised over Yarl’s Wood detention for detaining those who have strong cases and, as known to thte UK Government and the UKBA, have no reason for refugee refusal:
“Two women due for deportation have been kept at Yarl’s Wood removal centre in Bedfordshire for two-and-a-half years, a report has revealed.
The Independent Monitoring Board said the UK Border Agency had breached standards by detaining people with no realistic prospect of deportation.
It said the women, who have been held for more than 900 days, were among 16 women detained for more than a year.”
The IMB also reported on 14 May 2012 that, despite assurances by the Home Secretary Theresa May more than two years go, children are still being held at Heathrow Airport in ‘degrading’ conditions’.
The IMB report shows that in 2011, up to 3,000 people were held for more than 12 hours, requiring many – including children – to spend the night there rather than at immigration removal centres.
The government-appointed IMB for Heathrow Airport was set up five years ago to monitor the welfare of people held in the non-residential, short-term holding facility. Up to 15,000 people are held there each year.
In the report, inspectors said the rooms where children were held had no natural light, no access to the open air, and no sleeping arrangements.
“The conditions under which children are held and that detainees have to endure overnight are degrading and disgraceful”, said the IMB. The rooms had only hand basins and children were kept with unrelated adults. The report added that Terminals 3 and 4, had the worst accommodation.
Today, in The Observer (20 May 2012), the Refugee Council also reported that child asylum seekers ‘still being imprisoned’ by the UK immigration service. It also claims that many child asylum seekers are being classsified as adults, allowing them to be detained. They provided this case study as an example:
Faisal was only 15 when he arrived in the UK. Judged to be an adult, he spent several days in police cells and was left to sleep rough on the streets before finally spending a month in a detention centre.
Talking about his experience still causes him acute distress. “I was 15. I didn’t have any documents but I know my age. I didn’t understand why it was so important.
“The immigration officer was banging his fist on the table saying ‘No, this is not your age’. By the end I was so tired and upset that I said OK, I will be whatever you want me to be. When I was first in the police cell I was crying because I couldn’t believe it. They came and banged on the door and shouted at me. One policeman drew his finger across his throat. They would all say ‘You’re going back, we’ll be sending you back’ and point at me and laugh. At the detention centre they locked me in a room by myself. I didn’t know anyone. I was very scared I was to be sent back to Afghanistan. I would rather die.”
The Iranian Refugees Action Network continues to be concerned that the UK Government and the UKBA are acting without seeking advice and assistance from NGO’s and charities concerning the human rights of adults and children. While a system exists which demonises those who have genuine asylum claims and face danger to even reach the UK, believing that the UK is a great champion of human rights, we refer to Faisal’s statement to the Observer:
For Faisal, the intervention of Refugee Council workers meant he is at college and living in semi-independent hostel accommodation, but the trauma of his teenage years is far from over. When he turns 18 he may still be sent back to Afghanistan. “I try to study, but it’s hard to think of the future,” he said. “I feel very hopeless. I’m scared they will come for me and put me back in detention or deport me. I cannot go back to Afghanistan. If I had not left I would have been dead. If I go back, I will die.”
Not only does Country of Origin information need to be updated as a matter of urgency, particularly for those refugees arriving from the Middle East, but an immediate investigation is needed into the conditions facing asylum seekers, who many describe as worse than the torture they have fled from in their own countries.
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