Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

34.  Memorandum submitted by the Scottish Refugee Council


  1.1  The Committee will inquire into the policy and practice of immigration control, examining the entry clearance (visa) system, the granting or refusing of further leave in the UK and the enforcement of immigration control. The inquiry will range over topics including:

    —  institutional structures and coordination;

    —  quality of initial decisions (both entry clearance and after-entry);

    —  particular areas of policy, including the proposed points-based scheme;

    —  appeals and judicial review;

    —  e-Borders, including biometrics;

    —  reporting, investigating and punishing immigration offenders;

    —  detention policy and conditions;

    —  race equality issues;

    —  customer satisfaction;

    —  immigration statistics; and

    —  co-ordination with European immigration policies.

  The inquiry will consider the degree to which the stated aims of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and UKvisas are being met; the extent of implementation of recommendations of recent reports and inquiries; and lessons to be learnt from the operation of the current system that might inform the implementation of the new Government policy.

  1.2  Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the Committee's inquiry and appreciates this opportunity to provide initial evidence. We have concerns in all of the above-stated areas of immigration control, however due to space and time restrictions, we have decided to focus our attention on one particular aspect, namely: detention policy and conditions. We have spoken to colleagues in other agencies and we hope that our concerns in each of the areas will be voiced. We have aimed to keep this initial response brief, but we would be more than happy, at any time, to provide additional information to further the aims of the inquiry.

  1.3  Scottish Refugee Council provides help and advice to those who have fled human rights abuses or other persecution in their homeland and now seek refuge in Scotland. We are a membership organisation that works independently and in partnership with others to provide support to refugees from arrival to settlement and integration into Scottish society. We campaign to ensure that the British government meets its international, legal and humanitarian obligations and to raise awareness of refugee issues.


  2.1  Scottish Refugee Council has grave concerns about the policy and practice of the detention of people claiming asylum as a whole. These include issues such as the lack of statutory time limits to detention; the lack of automatic bail hearings[177]177; reduction in the quality and quantity of legal representation; the increased detention of children and the absence of any comprehensive statistics of people being detained[178]178. However, we wish to raise particular cross-border issues with regard to detention which we believe merit investigation by the inquiry.

2.2  Independent oversight of Dungavel Removal Centre

  We have worries about some of the practices at Dungavel such as the alleged use of handcuffs as a matter of course to transfer detainees. We believe such practices are not subject to proper independent scrutiny due to a lack of defined responsibility. It would appear that detention centres based in England have more independent monitoring. In July 2005, as part of a report into safeguarding children's rights[179]179, 8 Chief Inspectors from various statutory bodies[180]180 looked into the issue of asylum-seeking children in detention. However, the report did not look into arrangements for children at Dungavel as this was "outside the scope of the review".[181]181 The only independent report so far into conditions at Dungavel was published by Anne Owers, HM Inspector of Prisons, in 2003. We are therefore concerned that in detention centres based in England various inspectors have the authority and power to inspect facilities, conditions and practices yet will not cross the border into Scotland. Meanwhile, their power does not appear to fall to their Scottish counterparts.

2.3  Facilitating removals

  We are also concerned about who has independent scrutiny of the practices of immigration enforcement officers carrying out forced removals to and from Dungavel and other removal centres. There has been much debate recently around the way in which these removals have been conducted in Scotland. We accept that the government has a legitimate right to remove people who have been refused asylum and who have not responded to notices of removal. Nevertheless, we have heard numerous examples of the inappropriate use of force and practices which would appear to contravene IND guidelines for family removal, such as using children as "bait" to force their parents to comply. Again, we seem to come up against grey areas of responsibility for oversight. Kathleen Marshall, the Children's Commissioner for Scotland, has been criticised for speaking out on behalf of asylum-seeking children involved in these removals. The general rebuttal seems to be that immigration and asylum are reserved matters. Yet who, if not her, would speak on their behalf? Would this come under the remit of the Children's Commissioner for England? There are other related questions, for example, are enforcement officers subject to disclosure checks since they are working with vulnerable children? We believe they should be. However, who would carry this out? Would it be Disclosure Scotland or disclosure in England and Wales? In general, we feel much greater clarity is needed to ensure that proper independent scrutiny is afforded to these matters.

2.4  Cross-border movement between detention centres

  We are seriously concerned with asylum seekers being frequently transferred around the UK detention estate from one centre to another and the lack of any comprehensive data of these movements. For example, we have heard of several cases of asylum seekers being detained at Dungavel, and then moved to another centre only for them to appear again back in Dungavel. This has not only caused extreme distress and disorientation, but also difficulties in accessing current or new legal representation. These problems are compounded by cross-border movements from England to Scotland and vice-versa as not only is there the impact of geographical distance between client and lawyer, but also the major problem with transference from one legal system to another.

  With regard to children, we believe that as a result of the high-profile public debate in Scotland around the detention of children, there has been an increase in the practice of moving children away from Dungavel and around the detention estate. We know of some cases of this, but due to the lack of transparency in published statistics we are unable to gauge the full extent of this practice. In any case, we believe this practice to be highly unacceptable.

  Many of these issues concerning the numbers in detention and access to legal advice have been raised in several key recommendations by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. These have not been implemented. We would strongly urge the Committee to consider the failure to implement them.

  3.  Finally, we would contend that the issues of transparency and oversight that we have discussed with regard to detention are, in fact, key to all areas of the Committee's inquiry into immigration control.

Gary Christie

Policy Officer

2 December 2005

177   177<hi1p0>We recommend that the Committee examine the comments of Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe: Back

178   178<hi1p0>See Scottish Refugee Council's response to Home Office statistics consultation. Back

179   179<hi1p0>Safeguarding Children July 2005 The second joint Chief Inspectors' Report on Arrangements to Safeguard Children. Back

180   180<hi1p0>Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), HM Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA), The Healthcare Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP), HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). Back

181   181<hi1p0>Safeguarding Children July 2005 The second joint Chief Inspectors' Report on Arrangements to Safeguard Children, p 86: "7.2 This chapter also examines arrangements for children held with their families using evidence from HMI Prisons inspections of two immigration removal centres in England: Oakington (Cambridgeshire) and Tinsley House (West Sussex). The centre at Dungavel (South Lanarkshire) is outside the scope of this review, although asylum-seeking families based in England might be placed there pending deportation." Back

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