Joint Committee On Human Rights Tenth Report


In this Report, the Committee considers human rights issues raised by the treatment of asylum seekers, from the time when they first claim asylum in the UK, through to either the granting of asylum, or, for asylum seekers whose claims are refused, their departure from the UK. The numbers claiming asylum in the UK increased rapidly during the late 1990s, and even though the numbers have reduced significantly every year since 2002, the issue of asylum remains high on the political and public agenda. The Government is required to "secure to everyone within their jurisdiction" the rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights. This includes asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers.

In Chapter 2 the Committee explains the relevant principal human rights standards and obligations which apply to the UK under the European Convention of Human Rights and other international instruments to which the UK is a party.

Many asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers are vulnerable individuals who are reliant on protection and support from others. The majority usually have no right to work and are dependent on the state for access to housing, health care, food and other necessities. In Chapter 3 the Committee reviews the system and quality of support available to them. In the Committee's view, the current system is overly complex, poorly administered, offers inadequate information and advice to ensure that people receive the support to which they are entitled and in some cases denies any support at all to those who are destitute (paragraphs 84, 87, 92, 97, 99, 110 and 121).

In the light of the evidence presented, the Committee concludes that by refusing permission for asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the Government's treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches the Article 3 ECHR threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment (paragraph 120).

In Chapter 4 the Committee considers the provision of healthcare to asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers, in particular the impact of the overseas visitors' charging regulations for secondary healthcare which were introduced in 2004, and proposals to extend this charging scheme to primary care. The Committee finds that no evidence has been provided to justify the charging policy, nor has any race equality impact assessment of the policy been made (paragraphs 163 and 166). Under the ECHR, discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights on grounds of nationality requires particularly weighty justification. The restrictions on access to free healthcare for refused asylum seekers who are unable to leave the UK are examples of nationality discrimination which require justification. The Committee recommends that free primary and secondary healthcare be provided for all those who have made a claim for asylum or under the ECHR whilst they are in the UK, in order to comply with the laws of common humanity and the UK's international human rights obligations, and to protect the health of the nation (paragraph 170) .

In Chapter 5, the Committee reiterates the view which it has expressed in previous Reports, that the Government's reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is unfounded. It does not accept that that the CRC undermines effective immigration controls, and recommends that the reservation be withdrawn and that the Government consider how section 11 of the Children Act, which imposes a duty on public bodies to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in discharging their normal functions, could be extended to include authorities providing support for asylum seekers, the Immigration Service and Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) (paragraphs 180 to 182). Also in this Chapter, the Committee considers arrangements for the care of separated asylum seeking children and makes a number of recommendations about how this care should be improved in order to meet international human rights standards (paragraphs 190, 191, 193, 196, 203 and 204).

Over recent years there has been a significant increase in the use of detention of asylum seekers. Two main policy developments account for this increase: the introduction of 'fast track' asylum processes and an increased emphasis on removal. In Chapter 6, the Committee recommends that all IRC staff, including those of private contractors, be given training in refugee and human rights. It expresses concerns about the use of fast track detention, and about detention of vulnerable people such as victims of torture, pregnant women and those with serious mental and physical health problems. The Committee considers in detail the detention of children and finds that the current process of detention does not consider the welfare of the child. It concludes that the detention of children for the purpose of immigration control is incompatible with children's right to liberty and is in breach of the UK's international human rights obligations. The Committee states that children should not be detained and alternatives should be developed for ensuring compliance with immigration control where this is considered necessary (paragraph 259). The Committee also makes recommendations about access to bail, aspects of the treatment of detainees and methods of removal (paragraphs 291, 305, 310, 328, 329 and 330).

In Chapter 7, the Committee considers the treatment of asylum seekers by the media and reviews the evidence it received of negative media coverage of asylum. It expresses concerns about the impact of this hostile reporting, the potential it has for influencing the decision making of officials and Government policy, and the possibility of a link between such reporting by the media and physical attacks on asylum seekers. The Committee recommends that the Press Complaints Commission should provide practical guidance on how the profession of journalism should comply with its duties and responsibilities in reporting matters of legitimate public interest and concern, without such guidance unduly restricting freedom of speech or freedom of the press any more than it does in the USA (paragraph 366).

A full list of the Committee's principal conclusions and recommendations is set out in Chapter 8.

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