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Asylum debate - Government and opposition ignoring refugee needs

Amnesty International UK is deeply concerned about the tone and content of the current debate on asylum policy.

Both the Government and the Opposition are focusing on ÏabusiveÓ asylum claims, with no public acknowledgement of the United KingdomÌs international obligations towards genuine refugees , or reference to the Foreign SecretaryÌs commitment to promote human rights protection around the world.

Of particular concern are the following:

Ö Opposition calls for the automatic detention of all asylum-seekers arriving from a specified list of countries.

The Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe has called for the automatic detention of all asylum-seekers arriving from a specified list of countries Ò applicants who would then have their cases Îfast-trackedÌ. As she has recognised, this would be a return to the notorious ÎWhite ListÌ arrangements (a list of countries where it was supposed that there was no serious risk of persecution)

which the current Government abolished. Such treatment would breach international human rights law, most notably the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, which comes into force in October this year.

Ö Plans for detention at Oakington. As the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was completing its passage through Parliament, the Government announced its plans for a new detention facility at Oakington in Cambridgeshire.

Amnesty International has learned that asylum-seekers will be held there on the basis of their nationality and will have their claims determined within a matter of days. The justification for this appears to be that the asylum claims of those concerned will be Îwithout foundationÌ.

Ö Government ÎpilotÌ for Îfast trackÌ procedures on nationality grounds. The Home Office is currently ÎpilotingÌ a Îfast trackÌ procedure using the nationality of the asylum-seeker as a criterion. This appears to be a return to the White List.

Ö Dispersal measures. There is a current backlog of over 100,000 asylum cases and asylum-seekers are already being dispersed around the country, often to places where there is a severe short-fall in access to good quality legal advice and representation. Such access is crucial to the assessment of fair asylum applications.

Amnesty International UK Refugee Officer, Jan Shaw, said:

ÏThe Government seems hell-bent on ignoring voices urging a more reasonable approach to asylum policy. Rather than matching the OppositionÌs tough rhetoric, the Government should amend its approach and introduce reforms that genuinely meet the needs of those who may have suffered appalling human rights violationsÓ.

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