NI: Asylum - Amnesty International accuses ex-Minister Beverley Hughes over misleading comments to Parliament on asylum detention in Northern Ireland

"Minors may not be held at HMP Maghaberry." Beverley Hughes, MP, Home Office Minister - House of Commons, Written Answers, 30 March 2004

"Immigration detainees held at HMP Maghaberry are located on a separate landing in Mourne House and are separate from the main prison population." Beverley Hughes, MP, Home Office Minister - House of Commons, Written Answers, 30 March 2004
Amnesty International today accuses former Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes MP of two charges of having apparently misled the House of Commons in her last days in office.

The accusations are based on apparently misleading information supplied to the House by Ms Hughes on March 30th in response to questions put by South Down MP Eddie McGrady.

On the issue of minors not being held at HMP Maghaberry, Amnesty International is aware that in June 2003 a child, with Congolese asylum seeker parents, was held in the prison and of a further case in July 2003, when two Nigerian infants were held with their asylum seeker mothers. Amnesty International understands that, as recently as March 2004, there was a young child inside Maghaberry with her mother, a Romanian prisoner. This infant had spent four and half months of her life behind bars at the top-security prison.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s NI Programme Director, said:

"Amnesty International is opposed to the detention in HMP Maghaberry of men, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights asylum seekers. The fact that the outgoing Minister either apparently did not know or covered up the fact that her Department was responsible for putting behind bars the Children's rights of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland is shameful."

On the issue of immigration detainees being held separate from the main prison population, again Ms Hughes’ statement to the House is simply untrue. Amnesty International is aware that female asylum seekers and other immigration detainees at HMP Maghaberry are routinely held alongside the normal female prison population of remand and convicted prisoners.

While male asylum seekers and other immigration detainees are normally held on a separate landing to the main prison population, Amnesty International has been informed that in recent weeks, a prisoner convicted of very serious offences, has been regularly permitted to freely mix with the detained male asylum seekers.

Patrick Corrigan said:

"Prison is neither a safe nor appropriate place for asylum seekers. They come here seeking a life free from persecution, yet are put behind prison bars. Beverley Hughes repeatedly refused to meet with politicians and campaign organisations from Northern Ireland to discuss this matter. We will now be seeking an urgent meeting with her replacement, Des Browne, a former Northern Ireland Minister. He should seize this opportunity to change Home Office policy and bring about a speedy end to this shameful practice."

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