UK: New Amnesty report calls on government to reveal annual asylum detention figures

The organisation suspects that over 25,000 people who have sought asylum in the UK, including Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights, were detained solely under Immigration Act powers in 2004. At present no annual figure is provided by the Government.

Amnesty International's report shows that detention is in many cases protracted, inappropriate, disproportionate and unlawful, and the organisation called on the Government to justify the lawfulness of detention in each and every case.

The organisation called for alternative non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements, always to be considered before resorting to detention, and for a statutory presumption against detention for those who have sought asylum.

The 94-page report UK: Seeking asylum is not a crime: Detention of people who have sought asylum also calls for an automatic review of the lawfulness of the decision to detain someone, by a court or similar independent body.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

"Seeking asylum is not a crime, it is a right. Thousands of people who have done nothing wrong are being locked up in the UK. We found that in many cases there was no apparent reason to detain people.

"The human cost of this policy is frighteningly high. We found that languishing in detention with no end in sight had led to mental illness, self-harm and even to people trying to take their own life.

"The lawfulness of the decision to detain someone should be reviewed automatically by a court or similar independent body. People who have sought asylum are being denied justice in the UK."

Visits to the majority of UK detention facilities and interviews with those who had been held in detention have revealed that people who have sought asylum are languishing in detention, in some cases for up to two years.

Many told Amnesty of the misery and psychological harm this had caused, prompting one interviewee to state:

"I never had mental problems before being detained in the UK. I felt like I was losing my mind."

They told stories of being treated inhumanely and shunted around from one detention facility to another.

Eveline, a woman claiming asylum from an African country where she had been persecuted for her political activities, was detained for 6 months in the UK, despite being 3 months pregnant and having a very young child.

She was moved from one detention centre to another, even though her child was sick. Eventually she miscarried. She had shown no risk of absconding and had always complied with reporting requirements. Eveline now has refugee status.

The report shows that an increasing number of asylum-seekers, whose claims are "fast-tracked," are being detained for the duration of the asylum process. This was also a concern raised by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in his report issued on 8 June 2005.

The Government claims that detention is primarily used to remove asylum-seekers whose claims have been dismissed, yet Amnesty found that people who had sought asylum are detained even though the chances of their removal within a reasonable time may be slim.

Interviewees also told Amnesty that prior to being detained they had complied with requirements to report regularly to the UK authorities.

They therefore presented little risk of absconding. The Home Office has published no research into the level or risk of absconding of people whose claim has been dismissed, a failing that the Home Affairs Committee described as unacceptable.

Amnesty International's report also examines the impact of cuts in publicly-funded legal advice, which are particularly acute for those in detention who are at the end of the asylum process.

Many people interviewed by the organisation said that not knowing what was happening with their case, and the difficulty of challenging their detention, was of particular concern.

The report highlights the "Bed lottery"- that whether at the beginning or the end of the asylum process, people may be taken into detention on the basis that a bed is available within a detention centre rather than on considerations of necessity, proportionality and appropriateness.

The report is released at the start of Refugee Week on International Refugee Day, on the same day that Amnesty International releases three further reports on detention of people who have sought asylum in Australia, Italy and Spain.

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