Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence

Memorandum submitted by Beverley Hughes MP, Minister of State, Home Office

  At the Home Secretary's Annual evidence session before your committee on 11 September, it was agreed to write to you on a number of issues with further information resolved at the time. I thought it would be useful to respond on these issues before my attendance at the Committee on 21 October. A full consolidated response will follow in the normal way after that date.

  At the start of the meeting I undertook to write to Ann Widdecombe regarding the alleged break out of asylum detainees from the Immigration Removal Centre in Dover.

  Seven detainees sought to escape from the IRC on the evening of 4 September. One potential escapee was apprehended but unfortunately six others, all of whom were at various stages of the asylum process, managed to escape.

  As I said at the meeting, the Home Secretary and I routinely receive reports of any incidents in the detention estate. Our offices were advised of this incident by telephone within hours of its occurrence and, in writing, the following day. An announcement was not made because it was not considered either necessary or appropriate to do so. That is not to say that the incident was not of concern however, and the Immigration Service are now carrying out an investigation in conjunction with the Prison Service to see what lessons can be learned.

  Although the Daily Express article of 11 September was correct to say that an escape occurred, it was seriously flawed in other respects. It was incorrect to assert that the police were powerless to act "because the absconders had not committed a criminal offence before being locked up". Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 makes it a criminal offence to enter or remain in the United Kingdom without leave. Under the same section, it is also an offence to fail to observe any restriction imposed as to residence. Furthermore, Section 28A of the 1971 Act states that ". . . a constable or immigration officer may arrest without a warrant a person . . . who has committed or attempted to commit an offence under Section 24 . . .". None of the escapees have valid leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, nor have they abided by the conditions of their residence (namely that they reside at the removal centre). They had, therefore, broken the law and were liable to arrest by either a police constable or an immigration officer.

  The article also contained a number of other factual inaccuracies. There was no violent clash between the detainees and the detention custody officers, nor was there a "mini-riot" on 4 September. There is no perimeter fence or wall at Dover so there can be no question of "fugitives climbing ropes thrown over a wall". Rather, the centre is surrounded by a moat and there is barbed wire near the top of the outer moat mall. Six, not seven, detainees escaped from the centre; one detainee was found in the moat by staff and returned to the centre. Finally, the article claimed that the centre housed 350 asylum seekers. It does not; it houses maximum 316 detainees, not all of whom are asylum seekers.

  You also asked questions regarding illegal working in King's Lynn. Specifically you wanted to know how many removals have taken place as a result of the action taken by police and immigration officers to deal with the problem and how many businesses had, or are being prosecuted as a result of the enforcement action that had been taken.

  The United Kingdom Immigration Service has carried out a series of operations in the King's Lynn area over recent months, and has visited a number of residential addresses and a place of employment where it has interviewed a number of Chinese nationals.

  As a result of the operations carried out so far, the Immigration Service had interviewed a total of 63 Chinese nationals. Thirty-three of these nationals were subsequently served with illegal entry papers and have now claimed asylum. Sixteen were asylum seekers whose claims have yet to be decided, four were failed asylum seekers and the remaining 10 had committed a variety of immigration offences. To date one of these Chinese nationals who had committed an immigration offence has been removed from the United Kingdom.

  The ability to effect removals to the country of origin is crucial in tackling illegal immigration. China is one of the countries with which re-documentation issues make it difficult to effect speedy removals. We have, however, had productive discussions with the Chinese authorities. They have agreed to increase their assistance in the identification and documentation of Chinese nationals who have been refused asylum or are here illegally, in order to facilitate their return. With regard to prosecutions, no prosecution has been pursued against the place of employment visited by the Immigration Service as the employer fully co-operated with Immigration Officers throughout the process.

  The Immigration Service is committed to prosecuting employers who act outside the law in this respect and legislation is currently being developed to make it an offence for trafficking individuals to the United Kingdom for labour exploitation. This will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits. We are also currently consulting on proposals to strengthen the types of documents which employers must check in order to obtain a statutory defence from prosecution under Section 8. Taken together these new measures will provide the Immigration Service with more effective powers to target and prosecute those employers who knowingly flout the law and use illegal migrant labour.

16 October 2003

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