Joint Committee On Human Rights Tenth Report

6  Detention and Removal

205. Over recent years there has been a significant increase in the detention of asylum seekers. There are currently ten Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) in the UK with a total capacity of 2,545 places. There were around 200 places a decade ago. There is also a small number of beds at short-term 'holding' facilities at Colnbrook, Dover, Harwich and Manchester.

206. Although the Government does not publish annual figures on the number of asylum seekers who are detained, it does publish annual figures on the number of people leaving detention. According to the latest available annual figures for 2005, 16,805 asylum detainees left detention during the course of the year, of which 59% were removed from the UK. The remainder were given temporary admission or released on bail.[281]

207. Two main policy developments account for the increased detention of asylum seekers. These are the introduction of 'fast track' asylum procedures and the increased emphasis on removal.

208. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (2002) formally changed the name of detention centres to removal centres to reflect the increased use of detention in the removal of asylum seekers from the UK, but several IRCs hold asylum applicants who are at the beginning rather than the end of the asylum process and whose claims are considered suitable for 'fast track' asylum processing. These include Yarl's Wood IRC which has a 'super fast track' process. Cases considered suitable for fast track processing are those which the Government considers can be determined quickly. In these cases the asylum seeker and his or her family will be detained pending an initial decision. Some asylum seekers in the fast track process have a right to an in-country appeal if their claims are refused but asylum seekers from countries on the so-called 'white list' of countries[282] that are considered 'safe', and from which claims are certified as 'clearly unfounded', are not able to appeal whilst in the UK.

209. Detention is also viewed by the IND as being a necessary mechanism for ensuring that those whose applications for asylum fail leave the UK at the end of the process. The Government has a 'Tipping the Balance' target, which states that the number of refused asylum seekers removed each month should exceed the number of new asylum applicants who, it is predicted, will not be granted leave to remain in the UK, as a result of their asylum application. According to figures released by the Home Office the target was met in 2006; 18,235 refused asylum seekers were removed from the UK, compared with an estimated 17,780 applicants who it is predicted will fail to be granted refugee status or other leave. [283]

210. The Home Office provided us with an explanation of the use of immigration detention:

"…immigration detention is used to prevent unauthorised entry into the UK or when action is being taken with a view to removal or deportation from the UK. Detention may for example be appropriate in the following circumstances: where a person's identity and basis of claim are being decided; where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person will fail to comply with the conditions of temporary admission or release; to effect removal; and for applicants whose asylum claim appears to be capable of being decided quickly as part of a fast-track process. Decisions to detain are made on a case by case basis taking into account the particular circumstances of the individual." [284]

211. Article 5 of the ECHR guarantees the right to liberty and sets out the exceptions when detention can be lawful, including the prevention of a person making an 'unauthorised entry'; and against someone for whom 'action is being taken to effect deportation or extradition' (i.e. removal).[285] The exceptions to liberty must be narrowly interpreted. Detention must not be applied in an arbitrary manner. The detention of asylum seekers is unlawful if it can be shown to be arbitrary, or disproportionate, or amounting to unjustified discriminatory treatment under Article 14 ECHR.

212. The legality of detaining applicants for the purpose of the fast track process was challenged in the case of Saadi.[286] The case ultimately ended in the European Court of Human Rights which decided in July 2006 that detaining asylum seekers who were not at risk of absconding was in accordance with Article 5(1)(f) ECHR.[287] The Strasbourg Court also found that detaining for a short, tightly controlled period of time was not disproportionate. Detention of potential immigrants is permitted only if detention is a genuine part of the process to determine whether the applicant should be granted immigration clearance or asylum and is not arbitrary, for example, on account of the length of time a person is detained. The detention of Mr Saadi for seven days under the fast track process was not considered "excessive". Although the European Court of Human Rights has refused to set a maximum period for detention, because detention is imposed on administrative authority alone, that fact is relevant to the assessment of whether detention is arbitrary.[288]

213. During the course of our inquiry widespread concerns were expressed that current practice in relation to the detention of asylum seekers not only fails to reflect the Home Office's own policy guidance but also breaches the right to liberty because it is arbitrary. Many of these concerns reflect the point in the asylum process at which detention is considered necessary and proportionate by IND; and the circumstances in which an asylum seeker and his or her family is taken into detention.

214. We have also heard concerns that whilst a legal power to detain an asylum seeker may exist at the outset of the detention, the detention becomes unlawful because it continues for longer than was expected or is reasonable. We have been informed that this is most common in removal cases, for example where an asylum seeker is detained for the purposes of removal but then, because of problems in that person's country of origin, or because of administrative delay in obtaining travel documents, the detention continues for many months without the Immigration Service coming any closer actually to removing the person.[289]

215. The treatment of asylum seekers in detention and at the point of removal has also been a focus of our inquiry and will necessarily engage the state's positive obligations to protect a range of Convention rights. Most IRCs are run by private companies which are contracted to the IND, although the Prison Service runs three centres. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has statutory responsibility to inspect all IRCs and holding facilities on behalf of IND, and regularly publishes reports of the inspections that are carried out, including recent reports on facilities and procedures at both Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood.[290] HMIP considers its role to be particularly crucial in a system where decisions to detain asylum seekers and other migrants are administrative, rather than judicial, and where such decisions are not subject to any automatic judicial reviews of continuing detention. HMIP reports on IRCs have highlighted the necessity of reminding the Government of its international obligations in respect of asylum seekers.

216. We recommend that all IRC staff, including those of private contractors, are given training in refugee and human rights.

The decision to detain

B had been imprisoned for 6 years in Iran, and tortured for long periods. He had extensive scarring on his body. He came to the UK via Austria, so the Immigration Service hoped to remove him to Austria under the Dublin Convention, and detained him in order to pursue this. However, the Austrian authorities refused to accept him, and he remained in detention. Bail was refused because he did not have sureties. Detention caused him extreme distress, because it reminded him of his experiences in prison in Iran. He repeatedly self-harmed, and on one occasion attempted to hang himself. He was finally released on Temporary Admission after more than 3 months in detention. London Detainee Support Group

217. The criteria by which any decision to detain should be made are set out in the Home Office's Operational Enforcement Manual (OEM). According to Chapter 38 of the OEM, there is a presumption in favour of temporary admission or temporary release. Detention should only be used as a matter of last resort where there are no alternatives for ensuring compliance with immigration proceedings, including removal directions, and where there are strong grounds for believing that a person will not comply with conditions of temporary admission or release. Once detention has been authorised, it must be kept under close review to ensure that it continues to be justified.


218. Detained fast track processes currently operate at three centres: Harmondsworth, Yarl's Wood and Oakington. The fast track process at Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood is a key part of the IND's New Asylum Model, and the Home Office Five Year Strategy sets out plans to process up to 30% of new cases using detained fast track. IND states that the process is geared to claimants being detained, pending a quick decision on their asylum claims and that the average timescale from making a claim to removal is one month, including any appeal.[291]

219. The fast track process operating at Harmondsworth (since April 2003) and Yarl's Wood (since May 2005) is sometimes referred to as 'super fast track'. This entails an even quicker timescale whereby the asylum applicant is interviewed on day two, served with a decision on day three, has two days to lodge any appeals, and the appeal hearing is on day nine. A duty legal representative scheme, with fast track contracts awarded to selected suppliers, is run by the Legal Services Commission. There are courts on site where fast track appeals and applications for bail are heard.

220. Witnesses raised concerns about the quality of decision-making and procedural safeguards within the detained accelerated process and the use of detention in 'fast-track' or accelerated cases. There is evidence that the vast majority of fast track asylum claims are initially refused. The Government views the high refusal rate as evidence of the high number of unfounded claims.[292] However non-governmental organisations are concerned that the tight timescales involved in the accelerated procedures render fair decision-making almost impossible and that the process substantially reduces the likelihood that an asylum seeker will fully reveal what has happened in his or her country of origin. There is particular concern about the willingness of torture victims to talk to the authorities in this context, and the limited time in which to gather independent evidence of torture.

221. The London Detainee Support Group (LDSG) stated that, in their experience, torture victims were regularly detained for fast track purposes because asylum seekers wee not asked about their claim or about their health at the screening interview where the decision to detain was made. According to the Group, the fast track procedure itself did not allow sufficient time for medical reports to be obtained, and many solicitors did not make referrals, citing a lack of time. [293]

222. Witnesses also expressed concerns about the ability of victims of sexual violence to disclose the full extent of their experiences whilst detained in the fast track process. BID stated that women have told them that they 'were not able to disclose information about rape and sexual violence in time for it to be considered and did not understand the process. Many were disappointed with the quality and accessibility of the legal representation provided'.[294] Of the 345 cases heard at Yarl's Wood between May 2005 (when the fast track centre began to process the cases of women asylum seekers) and September 2006, 26% of women did not have legal representation and only 2% of appeals were granted.[295]

223. Concerns about access to legal advice and representation during the fast track process were raised by a number of organisations who submitted written evidence to us, including Liberty,[296] Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group,[297] the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID)[298] and LDSG.[299] BID told us that the fast track raised significant human rights concerns because the speed of the process made it impossible to get a fair hearing and because legal representation was subject to a merits test which left many without representation at their appeal.[300]

224. ILPA also expressed concern about the lack of legal representation available to applicants in the fast track process and the implications of this for identifying vulnerable persons who should not be detained:

"The "fast-track" system is, at best, on the borderline of human rights compliant. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that an appellant facing expulsion be allowed to be represented on an appeal. International human rights law requires that any tribunal must ensure respect for the principle of procedural equality and there should be a reasonable opportunity to present one's case under conditions that do not place the individual concerned at a substantial disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent and to be represented by counsel for that purpose. In the case of fast track, to comply with these international obligations, impecunious detainees should have a right to free legal aid without a merits test." [301]

225. ILPA told us that it saw a need for those in the fast track to have legal representation throughout, stating "We would say there should not be a merits test in fast track; there should be lawyers assisting those people throughout the process".[302] The length of detention for fast track processing of asylum applications is also a cause of some concern. JCWI is aware of cases where asylum seekers have been detained for long periods of time under fast track procedures and maintains grave concerns about suggestions from the Home Office that these procedures need to be flexible and may last more than the seven to ten days specified by the European Court. [303] According to the JCWI, any policy extending fast track detention beyond seven days must render detention arbitrary and unlawful. Amnesty International was opposed to the detention of asylum seekers except in the most exceptional circumstances and considered that the fast track procedures are unjust because they are premised on detention:

The organisation (Amnesty) believes that the use of fast track procedures, where the time limits are so tight, is not conducive to fair decisions and that asylum seekers are detained for administrative convenience, to permit the Home Office to make a quick decision on straightforward claims, the main factor being the asylum seekers' nationality. [304]

226. We are concerned that the decision to detain an asylum seeker at the beginning of the process simply in order to consider his or her application may be arbitrary because it is based on assumptions about the safety or otherwise of the country from which the asylum seeker has come. It is self-evident that some asylum seekers - most obviously torture victims and those who have been sexually abused - are unlikely to reveal the full extent of experiences to the authorities in such a short-time period, and that this problem will be exacerbated where they are not able to access legal advice and representation, and the support of organisations able to help them come to terms with their experiences.

227. We are also concerned that although fast track detention for anything more than a short, tightly controlled period of time is unlawful, some asylum seekers find themselves detained at the beginning of the asylum process for periods in excess of this. The act of claiming asylum is not a criminal offence and should not be treated as such. If asylum seekers are detained at the beginning of the asylum process, then the period of detention should be limited to a maximum of seven days.

228. We recommend that asylum seekers who are detained as part of the fast track and super fast track processes should be provided with free, on-site legal advice - for example, on the model previously provided by the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service at Oakington - to ensure that victims of torture and other forms of abuse are identified and taken out of the process; and that claims for asylum are properly considered.


229. The Immigration Service's instructions set out categories of people who are "normally considered suitable for detention in only very exceptional circumstances…"[305] These include unaccompanied children, the elderly, pregnant women (unless there is the clear prospect of early removal), those suffering from serious medical conditions or the mentally ill, those where there is independent evidence that they have been tortured and people with serious disabilities. The instructions also state that "The decision to detain an entire family should always be taken with due regard to Article 8 of the ECHR. Families, including those with children, can be detained on the same footing as all other persons liable to detention."[306]

230. In his evidence, the Immigration Minister confirmed that "certain persons will be detained only in exceptional circumstances"[307] and that "those where there is independent evidence to show that they have been tortured would be included among persons who would normally be considered unsuitable for detention."[308]

231. Witnesses have told us that, despite the existence of guidance to the contrary, some vulnerable people are detained and that consideration of their vulnerability does not form part of the decision making process.

232. BID told us that in its experience, 'it is a common occurrence for people with severe mental health problems to be detained, for evidence of their mental health problems to be ignored, for their problems to remain untreated whilst they are detained and for their detention to continue despite contravening stated Home Office policy'.[309] BID's experience was that vulnerable people are detained, often without access to appropriate or adequate medical help. It stated that it had dealt with people with evidence of torture, rape victims, pregnant women and people with severe mental and physical health problems. [310]

233. LDSG told us that, in their experience, the detention of torture victims remained routine. The LDSG stated that it had supported many torture victims in detention with medical reports supporting their claims to be victims of torture, but that adequate procedures did not exist to ensure that this evidence was taken into consideration. According to the Group, torture victims were not routinely released, even where healthcare staff within the detention centre reported evidence of torture to the Immigration Service. ILPA cited a recent legal case which found that the Immigration Service had failed to carry out medical examinations on asylum seekers within 24 hours of arrival at a detention centre in breach of Detention Centre Rules. Because such examinations are required in particular to identify those unsuitable for detention, such as torture survivors, this failure rendered the detention unlawful. [311]

234. In his evidence to us, the Immigration Minister acknowledged that there was a need to improve current practice in relation to the identification of victims of torture:

In the last few months, I have been out to talk to their senior officers about how we can incorporate their concerns in the processes for torture survivors into our processes as we reform them. We accept that we have needed to improve that and I am confident that those working relationships between us and those groups have allowed us to reform and improve our processes.[312]

235. Mr Stuart Hyde, Director of Enforcement and Removal at the Home Office, told us that he had recently issued further instructions "to clarify the point with my staff, particularly those in detention centres, that where an allegation of torture has been made there is a reference back to the caseworker to ensure that is investigated properly". [313]

236. We are deeply concerned by the evidence we have heard about the current gap between policy and practice in relation to the detention of vulnerable adults. The Home Office acknowledges that victims of torture, pregnant women and those with serious physical and mental health conditions should not be detained and yet it continues to happen in practice. This is clearly a violation of the UK's human rights obligations towards those individuals. We welcome the acknowledgement by the Home Office that this is an issue which needs to be addressed and the news that some steps are being put into place to improve current practice.

237. We recommend that the Home Office continues to take appropriate steps to ensure that its own policy guidance is followed and that it consults on a regular basis with BID and the Association of Visitors to Detainees (AVID), to ensure that its own procedures are being followed. Evidence that vulnerable adults continue to be detained should be treated seriously and acted upon.


238. Although it is Home Office policy not to detain separated asylum seeking children, children in families are detained in significant and growing numbers. In 2005, 1,860 children were detained under immigration powers (not including those whose age is disputed), the majority of whom (85%) were asylum detainees.

239. The detention of children has been a major concern to HMIP since its inspections of IRCs began. Since 2003 HMIP has maintained that the detention of children should be exceptional and only for a matter of hours as detention itself compromises the welfare and development of children and this increases the longer that detention continues.

240. The Children's Commissioner for England has raised concerns as to whether the detention of children is compatible with international human rights instruments (including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Rules on Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty), and pointed to similar concerns from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Commissioner for Human Rights and the HMIP. [314] He stated that Home Office policy prior to October 2001 was broadly in line with most of these international standards in that it required detention to be effected as close to removal as possible but had been changed so as to allow detention of families whose circumstances justified it, adding that 'the change in policy appears to have resulted from Ministerial authorisation and was not based on any research evidence regarding families absconding or other risk evidence'. He concludes that:

The UN JDL Rules provide that deprivation of liberty should only occur in exceptional cases. They require that the length of the sanction should be determined by the judicial authority without precluding the possibility of early release and that a State should set an age limit below which it should not be permitted to deprive a child of his or her liberty.

Administrative detention of children for immigration purposes, which is not time-limited , sets no minimum age and is not used as a measure of last resort, is therefore in clear breach of the UN JDL rules.[315]

241. It is the view of the Children's Commissioners that families with children should not have their claims determined in the detained 'fast track' process:

The Commissioners see no justification for detaining children on arrival in the UK for the purely administrative matter of processing their families' asylum claims… Although the House of Lords and the ECHR have declared that it is lawful to detain asylum seekers pending examination of their claim under Article 5 (1) (f) of ECHR, we are unaware of any case brought before the courts by or in relation to the detention of children. Detention at this stage cannot be construed as a 'measure of last resort' and is therefore in our view incompatible with Article 37 of the CRC and UN JDL rules. [316]

242. BID opposes the use of detention for families and believes that 'its use is disproportionate and that children are harmed by the very act of being detained':

Being detained is a humiliating and degrading experience, particularly for people who have experienced trauma in their country of origin or for those who have been detained previously in the UK and are terrified of being re-detained. The use of handcuffs and officers wearing body armour criminalise families and increase the distress and confusion of children.

BID's experience is that the current process of detention and removal does not currently consider the welfare of the child, and that children and their needs are invisible throughout the process - at the point a decision to detain is made, at the point of arrest and detention, whilst in detention, and during the removal process. [317]

243. In her written evidence, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers told us that 'there is no evidence that, in taking decisions about whether to detain children and families, the interests and welfare of the child are taken into account and balanced against the necessity of detention. Inspectors have found children taken out of school just before public examinations, and detained children who were clearly vulnerable and at risk (such as an autistic child who was not eating properly).'[318] She further stated in her evidence to us that:

We do not routinely find any evidence that the interests of the child are considered at all in making [the] initial detention decision. In our view the child becomes invisible at this point and there is no consideration of whether the welfare of a child in a family will be adversely affected by the process of detention.[319]

244. The implications of detention for the welfare of children has also been a source of growing concern among non-governmental organisations over recent years and has been a major concern to HMIP since its inspections began.

245. At Dungavel IRC (then the main centre for detaining families) in 2003, HMIP and the Scottish education inspectorate (HMIE) stated that the detention of children should be exceptional and only for a matter of days, as detention in and of itself compromises the welfare and development of children, and this increases the longer that detention is maintained.

246. HMIP's view that children should not be detained has been strengthened by the evidence obtained from children themselves during the course of inspections of Yarls Wood IRC.[320] HMIP has undertaken two inspections of Yarl's Wood and continues to find evidence that the process and fact of detention have a traumatic effect on children. This problem is, according to HMIP, exacerbated by the fact that there are no independent mechanisms for assessing the effect of detention on the welfare and development of children and for ensuring that the specific needs and best interests of children are taken into account. The Chief Inspector expresses particular concern in her Yarl's Wood report about the welfare of some of the children who were detained. Although it is noted that the centre had made admirable efforts to provide a child-friendly environment (if not always successfully), it was also clear that detention was having a negative impact on some children.

247. In February 2006 the Chief Inspector carried out an unannounced short follow-up inspection of Yarl's Wood, the report of which was published in May 2006. She was able to report some progress in relation to the recommendations of her earlier inspection but remained very concerned about children detained at the Centre. Yarl's Wood held 32 children at the time of the inspection, seven of whom had been there for more than 28 days. There was still no evidence that children's welfare was taken into account when making decisions about initial and continued detention. Though a social worker had recently been appointed, her role was unclear, and there were no systems to ensure that her advice informed detention decisions.

248. The Children's Commissioner for England, made an announced visit to Yarl's Wood on 31 October 2005. Following the visit the Children's Commissioner published a report of his findings and made a series of recommendations which emphasised the need for children to be treated as children first and foremost and for their rights, needs and welfare to be safeguarded. The Commissioner remains firmly of the view that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort, following an assessment of the family.

249. During our visit to Yarl's Wood we were shown around the facilities, including the children's play and education facilities, and met and talked privately to detained families. A Pakistani man detained with his wife and two children (aged 8 and 10) told us that he had been in the UK for two years and had been detained at 6am one morning. His wife has severe arthritis. The family had been moved around the detention estate, spending time at Dungavel, Liverpool, Tinsley House and Harmondsworth as well as Yarl's Wood. The journey from Dungavel to Yarl's Wood had involved an eight hour journey in a freezing cold van. That family told us that living conditions were satisfactory at Yarl's Wood, although staff did not always show respect. They had been unable to access legal advice and were due to be removed shortly.

250. We also spoke to a Jamaican woman who had been in the UK since 2000 and was detained with her two children (also aged 8 and 10). She told us that 30 police had arrived to take them into detention and that they had previously been detained on two separate occasions. Her daughter had an ear infection and was sometimes suicidal.

251. We also met a local authority social worker based at Yarl's Wood whose role is to assess the welfare of the children who are detained there. The social worker told us that he undertook around nine welfare assessments a week, as a result of which some families were released. He told us that at any one time, two or three families in Yarl's Wood would be in crisis.

252. When we asked about the purpose of the welfare assessments it was not clear that the evidence presented in the report about the welfare of a child was ever considered by the Immigration Service or an immigration judge. The social worker informed us that he had never been asked to give evidence directly to a judge and explained that he provided detainees with a copy of the report which they could include in any bail application which they were able to lodge.

253. There is evidence that in reality the reports produced by the social worker at Yarl's Wood simply do not appear in the bundle of evidence considered at bail (and other) hearings. Nehar Bird, an immigration judge, told us: "I have been sitting at Yarl's Wood for about a year. I have not seen a welfare report from staff at Yarl's Wood". [321]

254. When we put this point to the Immigration Minister he also expressed concern about what is - and is not - happening to welfare assessments in practice:

I was curious about this because my understanding was that the welfare reports are provided to the parents and I did not quite understand why the parents did not then furnish the court with them. [322]

255. It seems likely that given the limited number of bail applications made at Yarl's Wood and the lack of on-site legal advice and representation, parents simply do not have the necessary knowledge or the opportunity to request that the information they have been given about the welfare of their children is taken into account in the on-going decision to detain.

256. .Although there is a process of ministerial authorisation required in those cases where children are detained for more than 28 days there are concerns that this is too long and in reality a 'rubber stamping exercise' because the Minister does not necessarily see all the paperwork involved, such as reports from a social worker, or because he focuses his attention on the immigration rather than the welfare related issues.

257. Comments made by the Minister reinforce these concerns. He told us that 'To date I have not refused any request for extended detention'. When describing the basis on which this authorization was made, the main criterion taken into account was whether the removal of the family was considered likely. No reference was made to the welfare of the child:

The key thing on which I seek to satisfy myself is whether there is, in my opinion, a sufficiently sharp focus on successfully deporting the family. Because, in my view, if the officers or the officials are not considering clearly enough, for whatever reason - and it might not be things that are within their control or the ambit of things that they can change - things which are indeed going to act as a protracted barrier to that family's deportation, then we should not have them in detention. If people are not being clear enough about what the target date is for an individual's removal then, in my view, there is not sufficient reason for their continued detention…The key thing I ask to see is the reason for why that family is in detention and why their detention is continuing and, second, the target date for the deportation. [323]

258. We are concerned that the current process of detention does not consider the welfare of the child, meaning that children and their needs are invisible throughout the process - at the point a decision to detain is made; at the point of arrest and detention; whilst in detention; and during the removal process. We are particularly concerned that the detention of children can - and sometimes does - continue for lengthy periods with no automatic review of the decision. Where the case is reviewed (for example by an immigration judge or by the Minister after 28 days), assessments of the welfare of the child who is detained are not taken into account. It is difficult to understand what the purpose of welfare assessments are if they are not taken into account by Immigration Service staff and immigration judges.

259. The detention of children for the purpose of immigration control is incompatible with children's right to liberty and is in breach of UK's international human right's obligations.[324] Any decision to detain a child, at whatever stage of the asylum process must be compliant with international standards and subject to judicial oversight. We believe that the detention of asylum seeking children constitutes a breach of the UK's human rights obligations. Asylum seeking children should not be detained. This includes detention as part of fast track or accelerated procedures for asylum determination. Alternatives should be developed for ensuring compliance with immigration controls where this is considered necessary.

260. For the fast track process, the Home Office has recognised the risks of wrongly detaining age-disputed children as adults and has revised its policy to clarify that age-disputed children must not be detained as adults in the fast track.[325] There remains a risk that age-disputed children are still detained as adults in other circumstances, such as prior to removal. We recommend that the Home Office policy is further revised, so as to ensure that under no circumstances are age-disputed children detained as adults.

261. In the absence of an end to the detention of children, minimum safeguards must be put in place to ensure that the human rights of children and their families are protected as far as possible. Automatic bail hearings should be provided for families with children after a seven day period of detention. The assessment of a social worker must be taken into account at this stage and in any subsequent reviews of the decision to detain.


262. We have heard concerns in relation to the detention of asylum seekers at the end of the process. Amnesty International told us that their research had shown 'that people who had sought asylum were detained even though the prospect of effecting their forcible removal within a reasonable time was slim.' [326]

BID also expressed concern about the decision to detain those who could not be removed from the UK, stating that:

In BID's experience, there is a pervasive dishonesty amongst the Immigration Service about when removal can and cannot be effected. There are some nationalities that it is extremely difficult to get documents for, such as Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Congolese and Chinese. There are also some individuals it is very difficult to remove because they were undocumented in the country of origin or their country of origin won't recognise them for other reasons… The practice of detaining people who can't be removed but refusing to accept they can't be removed results in breaches both to the right to liberty and the right to security if they are sent to other states or returned with inadequate documents and from there sent back to the UK; or sometimes suffering ill-treatment in the process, or suffering illness or further detention. [327]

263. AVID provided us with specific examples of cases where asylum seekers have been detained for long periods without the prospect of imminent removal for reasons such as refusal by the receiving country to accept them as a national or an inability to obtain travel documents. AVID stated that in June 2006 there were 20 people in one centre alone who had been detained for over one year:

B, an asylum seeker from Iran, was detained for 2 years on the end of a short prison sentence, pending deportation. He was desperate to return to Iran, but it was clear from the monthly reports on his case that he received from the Immigration Service that no progress was being made on his case. He was finally released on bail by the AIT, but was re-detained two months later following the media coverage of the issue. The reasons for detention he received were identical to those he had been given during his previous detention, and it was clear that no progress had been made in obtaining travel documents. [328]

264. During our visit to Yarl's Wood we heard that one woman was released in December 2006 after 23 months in detention. We were told that long stays were usually because of difficulties with documentation.

265. Although prolonged periods of detention are often associated with cases involving particular countries, the Immigration Minister said that he considered that there were very few countries to which asylum seekers cannot be removed:

Let me take the example of Zimbabwe. We do not think in the Home Office that it is unsafe to return to Zimbabwe. In fact, there have been quite a large number of voluntary returns to Zimbabwe for which we have written the cheques. We are also contesting a case about enforced return to Zimbabwe and we are arguing that actually the evidence that we have leads us to believe that enforced return is safe to Zimbabwe. The courts have quite rightly exercised their discretion to challenge that judgment, and we are awaiting a decision from the court over the months to come. If you take Somalia, again Somalia is a country where there have been quite large numbers of voluntary returns and we have even successfully delivered enforced returns to Somaliland. [329]

266. We found the Minister's evidence in this regard somewhat contradictory. On the one hand he argued that the courts were in a better position than the Government to determine whether or not it was appropriate to return an asylum seeker to a particular country of origin:

I have a certain view of my own abilities but I do not think that my judgment is better than that rendered by an independent judge who has got the full facts in front of them, consideration, background on country information, witness statements, the possibility to look at a cross-examination of a witness. I think that, by and large, independent judges have got a much more robust ability to determine where people should be returned to their country of origin.[330]

267. At the same time however it is clear that the Government has repeatedly challenged the courts where it has been determined that a country is unsafe and asylum seekers should not be returned. Zimbabwe is itself illustrative of this. As a result, asylum seekers can find themselves in limbo, facing destitution or prolonged periods of detention.

268. We are concerned that in the drive to increase the number of asylum seekers who are removed at the end of the asylum process and to achieve the 'Tipping the Balance' target which the Government has set itself, insufficient care is being paid before an asylum seeker is detained, as to whether or not he or she can actually be removed.

269. We believe that current policies for the detention of asylum seekers potentially lead to human rights breaches under the ECHR, in particular the right to liberty under Article 5. Asylum seekers should only be detained at the end of the process if their application has been fully and properly considered and where there are travel and other documents in place to ensure that the removal happens swiftly and detention does not become prolonged.

Judicial oversight

Patrick is an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has spent ten months in detention during which time he was twice threatened with illegal removal. The most recent time was 19 December 2005 when he was handcuffed and taken to Heathrow airport, despite his case pending in the High Court. It was only because he was able to use one of the immigration officer's phones that he was able to contact his solicitor and take out an injunction to prevent his removal. On his return, he was held in a room for 'difficult cases' for 3 hours. In response to a letter about the incident to John McDonnell MP, Patrick was given a written reply admitting a 'mistake', If he hadn't been able to make the important call, this 'mistake' could have had terrible consequences. Liberty

270. There is no maximum time limit on the length of immigration detention and no automatic judicial oversight of continuation of detention. Although Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) made statutory provision for two automatic bail hearings for all those detained under the Immigration Acts, the relevant sections were never brought into effect and were repealed by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This means that the onus remains on a detainee making his or her own application for bail.

271. Witnesses have expressed concern about the lack of prompt judicial oversight of the decision to detain and the lack of automatic judicial reviews of the continuance of detention.

272. ILPA stated that in a number of recent cases the Immigration Service had been found to have acted unlawfully by failing to give detainees written reasons for their detention so that they can know why they are being detained; failing to allow detainees enough time to consider decisions and mount challenges to prevent removal; and failing to act on High Court injunctions ordering a stay on removal. [331]

273. HMIP expressed concern about the number and quality of reviews of detention, stating that 'we find that monthly (non-judicial) reviews are repetitive, do not reflect changed circumstances, including the longevity of detention, and in some cases are missing altogether'. [332] Similar concerns were expressed by Amnesty International.[333]

274. We do not believe that it is right that the decision to detain an asylum seeker - which goes to the heart of that person's liberty - should be entirely administrative. We recommend that there should be an automatic, prompt, independent judicial review of the decision to detain in all cases after seven days.

275. We are concerned that there is currently no maximum time limit for which asylum seekers can be detained and that this can - and does - lead to protracted periods of detention whilst various steps are taken to secure removal. In the absence of a systematic process for reviewing the decision to detain there is a significant risk that a period of detention which IND initially intended to last for a few days can turn into weeks, months and even years. This has a negative impact on asylum seekers and their families.

276. We recommend that where detention is considered unavoidable to facilitate the removal of asylum seekers who are at the end of the process, subject to judicial oversight the maximum period of detention should be 28 days. In our view this is sufficient time in which to make arrangements for return, especially if appropriate steps are taken prior to detention to secure travel documents. For families with children, the maximum length of detention should be 7 days.


277. The right to apply for bail applies to almost everyone in immigration detention. The only group who still cannot apply for bail are those who are held pending examination, who have not yet been in the UK for seven days.

278. During his evidence to us, the Minister acknowledged the importance of bail for asylum seekers who are detained:

I think there have to be judicial safeguards in place, which is precisely why I think the bail process is so important, and then, alongside that, I think it is important that where there are administrative decisions there is effective oversight, regulation and inspection of their decisions. [334]

279. The Minister also told us that he considered that the existing provisions for ensuring access to bail for those who are detained were adequate:

There is provision for all persons detained solely under immigration acts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before the courts and tribunals. An application for release from detention, on immigration bail, can be made before the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT). The AIT has jurisdiction to grant bail regardless of whether the detainee has lodged a notice of appeal before it against a substantive immigration decision. An additional remedy can be sought before the High Court through the process of judicial review and habeus corpus. [335]

280. We have heard considerable evidence that although the right to apply for bail is available to all detained asylum seekers after seven days, in reality many detainees are unaware, or unable to exercise, this right because of language difficulties, a lack of legal representation and mental health issues. Bail hearings, when they occur, are usually unsuccessful.

281. We have been provided with information by IND on the number of bail hearings at Yarl's Wood. In the two year period between January 2005 and January 2007 there was a total of 149 applications for bail. Of these applications for bail, 76 were refused and 54 were withdrawn. Only 19 applications were granted. [336]

282. We also heard concerns about the information that is made available to the immigration judge at the bail hearing. These concerns are particularly evident not just in relation to children, but also vulnerable applicants, and those for whom there are no imminent prospects of removal, whose period in detention may become prolonged.

283. When a detainee asks for bail they are brought to an Immigration Court (the AIT) where an independent immigration judge makes a decision on whether or not release should be allowed. Mr Justice Hodge, President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, told us that there are sometimes problems with the quality of the applications for bail on which judges are required to make a decision:

The bail summaries vary in competence and quality. There are some criticisms from my judiciary colleagues about them. The presenting officers who represent the Home Office before our tribunals are often not as well briefed as we would like them to be on these cases, but we get through. The statistics show that something like 30 percent of bail applications are withdrawn, probably because the information is not full enough. [337]

284. Mr Justice Hodge also commented on shortcomings in the Home Office's delivery of bail applicants to court:

The reason [bail applicants] are not there is all to do with the way in which people are moved from detention and prison facilities into the courts and tribunals. If you had the Home Office in front of you and asked them about delivery contracts, you would have heard how it all operates…We are pleased to say that the Home Office have agreed to put in video links into the removal centres. [338]

285. We also heard evidence about the poor quality of Home Office representation at bail hearings, of cases where no Home Office representative turned up at all and therefore the immigration and asylum judge was not helped by anyone from the Home Office, or cases where the representation simply was not good enough to enable the judge to make an informed decision. In his evidence to us, the Minister sought to reassure us that there was Home Office representation in 98 per cent of cases.[339] However he subsequently informed us that this figure related to the Home Office representation at asylum and immigration appeal hearings and that the Home Office did not have figures for the level of its representation at bail hearings.[340]


286. In order to access bail and other legal remedies asylum seekers who are detained need to be provided with good quality legal representation. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has repeatedly expressed her concerns about the lack of access to legal representation for asylum seekers (and others) who are detained for immigration purposes. In her written evidence she states that 'as a general rule, it remains extremely difficult for detainees to find a competent and available legal representative; there is a national shortage of competent specialist legal advisers, and this is compounded by detainees' moves away from a home area where they may have had contact with a solicitor'. Anne Owers adds that 'less than half of the detainees we have surveyed have had a legal visit in detention'. [341]

287. ILPA told us that the provision of legal representation for asylum seekers was very patchy and that there were parts of the country where asylum seekers had enormous difficulties in securing access to legal representation.[342] We also heard evidence that asylum seekers faced particular difficulties in accessing legal representation while they were in detention and when they were moved around the detention estate. ILPA believed that the lack of legal advice and representation during the so-called 'super fast track' was a particular problem and limited access to justice to those seeking asylum in the UK. [343] These difficulties appear to have been compounded by the restrictions since April 2004 on publicly funded immigration and asylum work.

288. Mr Justice Hodge said that he did not think that the quality of legal representation was any better or worse in fast track cases than in regular ones, but that in general, more people were appearing unrepresented than before legal aid cuts, and the quality of legal representation in general had gone down. [344]

289. The Immigration Minister recognised the importance of legal advice in securing access to justice and told us that:

    Where a bail application is made access to legal representation is given, and provision of legal aid made available, to ensure fair and just access to justice is given in line with the requirements of international law. [345]

290. Unfortunately the evidence presented to us suggests that the Minister's confidence in the system to ensure fair and just access to justice is misplaced. BID told us that there was a shortage of legal representation available to assist detainees in accessing bail. They stated that although public funding was introduced for bail applications in January 2000, there were too few solicitors able or willing to take on bail applications, and that there were serious flaws in the bail process which reduced access to the courts. These included the requirement for sureties, the merits test for public funding for legal representation and the lack of accommodation for asylum seekers. As a result, the demand for advocacy and training services provided by BID was very high. [346]

291. Free on-site legal advice should be provided to all detained asylum seekers to ensure that they are able to access a bail hearing and that all the information needed to secure a fair and just outcome is available to the immigration judge. We recommend that family cases should be prioritised, with social work reports and medical reports made available as a matter of course to judges for bail hearings.

Treatment of asylum seekers in detention

Ms B, a Jamaican former asylum seeker was detained at Yarl's Wood and Oakington. Her children were 6 months and 4 years. Her younger child developed rickets. A paediatrician's report since produced noted there were no or inadequate medical records at both institutions. Such records should have included weighing and measuring the younger child for example. The child, now 1, also had anaemia. Rickets is connected to poor diet and lack of sunlight and can cause permanent bone damage. Hammersmith & Fulham Community Law Centre

292. The treatment of asylum seekers in detention will necessarily engage the state's positive obligations to protect a range of Convention rights.

293. HMIP told us that their inspections had revealed gaps in the arrangements for the care and treatment of detainees. Some of the key human rights issues that emerged from inspection reports were:

294. HMIP suggested that frequent moves, without a comprehensive custodial record, served to disguise the total period in custody. It also expressed concern about the lack of any formal processes for welfare support of detainees and preparation for removal or release.[348]


295. In relation to torture, HMIP found evidence that healthcare professionals were not always alert to, or competent to detect, signs of torture or previous abuse, and that there were no clear systems for monitoring or following up presumed torture cases even where these were identified. HMIP stated that 'it is not clear that healthcare professionals in IRCs are always alert to, or competent to detect, signs of torture or previous abuse' and that 'there are no clear systems for monitoring or following up presumed torture cases which are referred onwards to IND'. [349]

296. BID made detailed points on the treatment of asylum seekers whilst in detention and, in particular, what it described as "an institutional failure to address health concerns" and an "institutional resistance to evidence of torture". According to BID this was reflected in the detention of asylum seekers with severe mental and physical health conditions and the growing incidence of hunger-strikes and incidents of self-harm or suicide. [350]

297. Medact stated that 'those detained (in IRCs) include many survivors of torture in contradiction of Home Office guidelines'.[351] Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre stated that 'there appears to be a lack of knowledge or monitoring of detainees' health, in particular children's health, or of child protection issues.

298. NAT described the case of a Rwandan woman who had been detained and had not been able to keep her HIV status private while in detention:

While detained, Amelia found that it was impossible to keep her HIV status private. She had to go to the healthcare service every day to take some of her medication because it had to be refrigerated. Sometimes, it there were no custodial staff available to escort her, she was late in taking her doses. Because she had to take some of her pills with food she had to ask for it outside of mealtimes. This caused the other detainees to wonder why she was being so awkward. [352]

299. Evidence presented by the Royal College of Psychiatrists referred specifically to the provision of mental healthcare to detainees held at Campsfield House. There were no regular visits to the centre by qualified mental health staff, no equivalent to community mental healthcare, no daycare and no outpatient care. The Society expressed concern about the lack of specialised provision for torture victims and the absence of protocols for the identification, assessment and treatment of substance misusers.[353]

300. The Bail Circle of the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice similarly stated that the interaction between detention and the experiences of asylum seekers in the past could create real and dangerous health effects. It was their experience that these effects were disregarded or ignored by Immigration Service staff. [354]

301. Medical Justice considered that many of the problems were caused by poor contract compliance due to poor enforcement by IND, pointing to a 'failure of detention centre clinicians to record statements by patients which are relevant to their health or detention status, to adequately examine them or to transmit such information to responsible authorities (and) failure of contract monitoring to detect, act effectively about or prevent such events'. [355]

302. When we visited Yarl's Wood we were surprised to learn that despite it being a centre primarily for women, the regular GP was male and so women who preferred to be seen by a female GP had to wait until an appointment for them to see a woman doctor could be arranged. We have also heard concerns that efforts by the Home Office to reduce the operating costs of the detention estate may also lead to deterioration in the treatment of asylum seekers in detention. For example, we were informed that a new contract at Yarl's Wood will lead to a significant reduction in the overall cost of the operating contract over the eight year contract period. The GMB union expressed concerns to us about the implications of these cuts for the treatment of asylum seekers in detention:

…any reductions in manning levels could well affect our members' ability to maintain the current standards of treatment of detainees and their safety, and the ability of our members not only to carry out their security duties but the important issue of having sufficient time to respond to detainees' welfare matters and the current good practice of meaningful dialogue and concern. [356]

303. The Immigration Minister was not able to provide any further information about the change of contracts at Yarl's Wood nor was he able to reassure us that the change would not have an impact on the quality of care provided.[357] He sought to reassure us that the standards for detention centres, including those for healthcare, were very comprehensive, stating that:

"All centres must ensure that all detainees are medically screened within two hours of detention. This screening must include an assessment for risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Doctors at removal centres are also required to report to the centre manager cases where a detainee may have been the victim of torture."[358]

304. The Immigration Minister acknowledged that there had been a concern about the way in which procedures had been applied and stated that the Home Office was "keen to learn any lessons that would help us to ensure that the standard of care provided is to the required standard."[359]

305. We are not satisfied that the quality of healthcare currently provided to asylum seekers in detention is fully compliant with international human rights obligations, in particular the rights to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.[360] We are particularly concerned about gaps in care for people with HIV and with mental health problems. It is not clear that procedures for identifying and supporting torture victims work in practice. We recommend that the Department of Health establish a policy for supervising the health services that are available in detention centres, and that the standard of services should be monitored. Female GPs and other medical practitioners should be available in detention centres where women are held.


306. Given the summary nature of detention powers, and the likely consequences for individuals, it is extremely important for asylum seekers to have access to independent legal advice and full information about their cases. According to HMIP, "Both are in short supply: and it is often for that reason that half of all detainees in our confidential surveys report feeling unsafe'. [361]

307. We have heard evidence that the mental health impacts of detention are exacerbated by the fact that many of those who are detained may not understand why they are being detained and what is happening in their case. Amnesty International UK told us that 'at the time of being taken into detention the individuals concerned were not told how long they would be detained. People complained about not knowing what was happening with their asylum claim whilst they were in detention and it was difficult for them to pursue their asylum claim'.[362]

308. Evidence provided by Alistair Burt MP raised concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers at Yarl's Wood, which is within his constituency. Mr Burt told us that his reservations centred not around the actions of GSL, the company running the centre, but around the behaviour and performance of the IND at all levels. He spoke out about his concerns in the House of Commons on 5 July 2005[363] and explained the reasons why he had felt compelled to speak out in his evidence:

…essentially I found the IND casual to the point of negligent in how it handled its information, uncaring of the needs of detainees as they moved them around the detention establishment without notice or explanation and lacking in interest over allegations of assault at the hands of escorts, who took out their anger at detainees' refusal to board aircraft in a physical manner. [364]

309. Our meetings with detained asylum seekers during our visit to Yarl's Wood confirmed that some of them are not aware of the reasons why they are being detained or how long their detention will last. There is evidence that the problem of a lack of information and of maintaining contact with others able to assist an asylum seeker in understanding what is happening in his or her case is exacerbated where detainees are repeatedly moved around the detention estate. Positive Action in Housing told us that 38% of those visited by the Scottish Visitors Group (SVG) in Dungavel IRC volunteered the information that they had been transferred from other detention centres in England. SVG reported that the frequency of transfers has increased over the past year. The group also reported strong anecdotal evidence that transfers are sometimes used as punishment for publicising cases or taking part in protests. [365]

310. We are concerned about the lack of information provided to detained asylum seekers about the reasons for their detention and the progress of their case. This exacerbates the stress and anxiety which is inevitably associated with being detained and with uncertainty about what the future holds. Some of the evidence we have received suggests that this problem is likely to get worse with the removal of case workers from IRCs and their replacement with administrative staff. All asylum seekers should be provided with written information about the reasons for their detention. Movements around the detention estate should be minimised.


One year after applying for asylum a family was taken into detention at Dungavel IRC in Scotland for a total of 17 days. At approximately 6am several officials came to the family's flat. They knocked loudly, shouting "this is the Home Office" and charged in. Some entered the flat and some remained outside and in the lift. The 11-year old boy was asleep and neither his father or mother was allowed to wake him. Instead, he was woken up by the officials which the boy found extremely traumatic. The family did not understand what was happening… Upon their arrival in Dungavel IRC the child locked himself in the toilet and refused to come out for a long time. He did not speak to his parents and communicated with them by passing notes to them under the toilet door. The whole experience has left him profoundly distressed; he is seeing a psychologist and finds it difficult to sleep. Since their experience in detention any knock on the door is taken as a threat and the boy is terrified to be taken into detention again. Amnesty International UK

311. As was noted at the beginning of this Chapter, the Government has significantly increased the emphasis on removals as part of its wider effort to restore confidence in the asylum process.

312. We have received many submissions which are critical of the methods used to remove failed asylum seekers. These criticisms have included suggestions that families and other vulnerable groups are being targeted for removal and that unnecessarily heavy handed methods are used when asylum seekers are taken into detention, when they are transferred to different parts of the detention estate and when they are removed from the UK[366]


313. The evidence presented to us has raised issues about the circumstances in which families are taken into detention and the fact that families are shocked and distressed by the arrival of uniformed staff in the early hours of the morning. It has been suggested that IND does not follow its own guidance when taking families into detention and that families are often not given an opportunity to gather important possessions, documents, medication and basic childcare equipment. We have also received evidence about the fact that children are carried in vans for long distances and if a child needs the toilet or is sick, the van can only stop at authorised secure stops. For example the authorised stopover between Gatwick and Dungavel is Manchester Airport.[367]

314. The practice of arresting people in the early hours of the morning when they cannot contact legal representatives and are unprepared for arrest has been condemned by High Court judges but there is evidence that it still continues.[368] We have heard evidence that asylum seeking families are often removed from their homes and detained in the early hours of the morning with little or no advance warning and their children are unable to say goodbye to friends and may be removed from school shortly before sitting their exams.

315. The Children's Commissioner told us that 'typically families are given no warning of their imminent arrest and removal to detention prior to removal from the UK' and provided an extract from a letter from a Head Teacher about the effect of removals on the other children at school:

In school, everything we do, every policy we write, every preparation we make for inspection is guided by the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. How can it be so apparent to everyone in school, including children in S's class old enough to understand what has happened that 'every child matters' unless he is the son of an asylum seeker? If every service dealing with children is guided by these tenets, how can officers of the immigration service act so patently outside these guidelines? In short, how can a so-called Western democracy allow a situation in which children simply disappear from their familiar surroundings only to find themselves within hours in a detention centre in another part of the country? [369]

316. The Scottish Refugee Council also expressed its concern at the way that early morning removals are conducted (especially those involving children) and 'the disproportionate use of force by immigration enforcement officers and the impact that such removals has on the mental and physical well-being of children'.[370] It added that 'whilst the guidance to enforcement staff stipulates that pastoral visits should be undertaken prior to removals taking place, we are deeply concerned that when they do take place, in many cases these are perfunctorily carried out as intelligence gathering exercises to ascertain the best time for immigration officers to effect removal, rather than to ensure that children's needs are met.'[371]

317. BID provided us with the example of a woman and her child who were detained very early on a Sunday morning and a fax sent to the woman's former solicitor at 8am that day. This fax contained a refusal letter of a fresh asylum claim lodged several months previously. This decision had never before been communicated to either the solicitor or the client. Moreover it was known to the immigration authorities that the woman was the sole carer of her partner who suffered from lymphoma, brain seizures and hemi paresis. In BID's view this amounted to a breach of the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to judicial oversight of the detention decision because legal representatives could not be contacted. [372]

318. We heard of cases where people who had been complying fully with IND reporting requirements, were taken into detention, without warning, after attending for interview and without the opportunity first to collect any belongings from home.[373] One woman at Yarl's Wood told us she had been particularly asked to bring her child with her to the interview. She and the child were detained there, and taken to Yarl's Wood with no opportunity to collect from home either her own or her child's clothes and belongings. During our visit to Yarl's Wood, we spoke to a woman from Jamaica who had twice been detained at Oakington after attending interviews at the police station. This policy gives the impression of requiring people to attend interviews under false pretences and can create a perverse incentive not to comply with reporting requirements for fear of immediate detention.

319. The Scottish Refugee Policy Forum listed a number of concerns about removal methods, stating that 'the system needs to be made more humane'. It asks that 'immigration staff should never force children to go with them separately from parents', adding that 'this happens in Glasgow and we believe is in breach of right to family life ECHR Article 8 and ICCPR Article 24.' [374]

320. AVID told us that they had on file three examples of mothers who were separated from their children during removal attempts. Their treatment in front of the children by escorts who were trying to put them on the aircraft caused extreme distress to the children, who were unable to be comforted due to the separation. In another two cases, children were not detained but deprived of breastfeeding mothers, as there would appear to be no policy on detention of breastfeeding mothers:

A woman, who was married to a British citizen, was detained without her baby. The Home Office was unaware of the baby. It was suggested by the Home Office that this was an isolated incident. However a month later, a second breastfeeding mother was detained without her child, who she was breastfeeding for medical reasons…She was detained for two days before being released. [375]

321. The Home Office has disputed allegations that families and other vulnerable groups are being targeted for removal and that unnecessarily heavy handed methods are used:

One of our main priorities is to ensure the safety and welfare of those we are attempting to remove, particularly families and other vulnerable groups. Immigration officers will research the circumstances of each individual family prior to planning a visit in order to ascertain at what time of day everyone would usually be present, and whether, for example, members of the family have any particular health needs. The number of officers conducting a visit will be risk assessed, taking into account factors including the size and layout of the property, the number of persons present and the ages of the family members. [376]

322. The Immigration Minister and officials assured us that there were no time limits on how long the process of taking a family into detention should take but also made it clear that they were keen to avoid a situation in which neighbours and the wider community became aware that the family was being taken into detention and potentially disrupted the process. This, rather than any official time limit, appears to be the driving force behind the apparent speed at which raids are conducted. [377]

323. The Immigration Minister told us that whilst his own preference was for families to comply with voluntary check-in arrangements so that there would be no need for them to be forcibly removed from their homes, efforts to implement such procedures had been unsuccessful because families had failed to comply with arrangements:

"My own preference would be that when we organise voluntary check-in of families and children, people turn up. We recently organised - in Scotland in fact - voluntary arrangements for 141 individuals. One of them turned up. Where we have a situation where individuals like that are so determined to evade the instructions that they have been given by the immigration service, in accordance with laws passed by this House, these Houses, that sometimes we will have to detain people in order to remove them. It costs a great deal of money to the British taxpayer: it would be nice if we did not have to do it, it would be nice if people did indeed check in."[378]

324. The Minister also told us that he considered that the responsibility for anxiety caused to children lay with the parents, who had chosen not to comply with removal directions or to take up the option of voluntary return:

They have pushed away every type of voluntary support we have offered, support which the IOM says is world leading, so the parents have left us with no choice. When parents put their families in that position, then, I am sorry, these immigration officers are paid by Parliament to do a job and they do it well. [379]

325. We subsequently received evidence from the Scottish Refugee Council expressing concerns about the way in which the arrangements for voluntary self check-in in the Scottish case to which the Immigration Minister had referred:

"The self check-in initiative he [the Minister] discusses in no way sought a dignified or sustainable return, nor did it allay fears of those who were involved about returning to their country of origin. Nor in actual fact did it target fully-refused claims, but also included those who had outstanding fresh representations."[380]

326. According to the Scottish Refugee Council, there was great confusion within the community about the implications of the self check-in notices issued by the Home Office, particularly as many of the families concerned had lodged fresh representations with IND and so believed that their claims were still being given consideration. In terms of client profile, the "141 individuals" mentioned by the Minister included families with young children and a significantly high proportion of single mothers, all of whom were extremely distressed and fearful. The Scottish Refugee Council argued that this initiative had been a disaster, not because "individuals… are so determined to evade the instructions that they have been given by the immigration service",[381] but because of a failure of IND to engage effectively and constructively with key stakeholders to whom asylum seekers turn for advice, and a failure to engage meaningfully with individuals who remain fearful of return to their country of origin:

"Making frightened people even more frightened is simply not an effective (or humane) policy to ensure that individuals and families who have exhausted their claim for asylum return to their country of origin."[382]

327. The Minister and his officials did however accept that there were problems in ensuring that those being removed were able to be reunited with their possessions and to put their affairs in order. When we met the welfare officer based at Yarl's Wood, he told us that around half of his time was spent trying to retrieve detainees' property, either from another detention centre, the airport or a home address. He estimated that he was successful in around 60% of cases, and that it was most difficult retrieving property from home addresses. The rest of his time was spent on resolving outstanding practical and financial matters. Mr Hyde, Director of Enforcement and Removal, told us that he recognised the problems of ensuring that asylum seekers were able to be reunited with their property prior to removal:

In relation to the property … I am more than aware that that is an issue and we have put a lot of things in place to try to ensure that property goes with the individuals and certainly I am aware that people have said that property within our estate needs to be moving with the people as quickly as possible. My detention managers are more than aware of the need to ensure safekeeping of property and ensure that the individual detainees know exactly where that property is. It is an important issue and it is important to those detainees and it is something that I hold very strongly with my detention managers.[383]

328. We welcome the Home Office's announcement that IND is intending to review the way in which family removals are conducted[384] but are disappointed that over a year later the review is still in progress and no changes have yet been proposed or made. We find the attitude of the Home Office towards families facing removal troubling. The Government seems at a loss to understand why families at the end of the asylum process do not simply take the money made available to them to return 'voluntarily' to their country of origin. And yet it seems clear that for the families concerned - many of whom have been effectively made destitute and face losing their children into the care system - the fears of return are very real. There is also evidence that many families are not aware that their case has come to an end until they are arrested early in the morning at their home address, and that in some cases families are detained before their case has come to an end, for example, if a fresh claim has been submitted or there is an outstanding appeal hearing.

329. We are concerned about the failure of the Home Office to develop alternatives to detention beyond the relatively limited use of voluntary check-in arrangements which are unlikely to be successful without a properly functioning casework model which can support asylum seekers throughout the process and make them aware of the different options available to them at different stages.

330. The detention of asylum seekers - particularly asylum seeking families - should be undertaken with dignity and humanity. A pastoral visit should be undertaken in all cases to ensure that the family's circumstances are fully known to the officers who will be undertaking the removal itself. People should have time to collect their belongings, and to sit exams, and journeys should be as comfortable as possible.


331. We have been provided with a large number of examples where it is believed by those submitting evidence that asylum seekers have been subjected to excessive use of force whilst being taken into detention or during an attempt to remove them from the UK.

332. The Scottish Refugee Policy Forum stated that 'we cannot accept that there is any justification for the restraint and handcuffing of anyone within the process and that this happens too often at the moment. We do not believe that it should ever happen with children and yet sometimes it does with older male children. It is difficult to believe that proper "risk assessments" are carried out by IND.' [385] HMIP stated that during visits to holding facilities at Heathrow, 'we noted that there were many instances of force being used on reluctant returnees who caused disruption …yet it was rarely possible to effect removal in such circumstances, as airlines refused to carry those who were disruptive'. HMIP urged that the removal process be managed with greater dignity and safety, by ensuring that detainees were fully informed about what was happening to them and were able to seek advice. [386]

333. Amnesty International UK referred to its own research into detention and stated that some of those interviewed 'made allegations that excessive force was used by the authorities in attempting to enforce their return. They complained of being assaulted while being escorted to the airport to be forcibly removed from the UK' and described one particular case:

One of those interviewed was taken to the airport to be forcibly returned to his country of origin without any of his belongings. The flight was cancelled while he was waiting at the airport. He was booked onto another flight several days later and this time he resisted being returned without his possessions. He alleged that he was badly beaten by eight escorts from the private company employed to carry out the forcible removal. He complained that he was badly bruised as a result of this assault, his face was bleeding and he could not stand unaided.[387]

334. BID provided us with a number of specific examples where it is claimed that violence occurred.[388] Both BID and Amnesty International expressed concern about the use of private companies in general and to enforce removal and have questioned whether these companies are held accountable for their actions.[389] The recent disturbance at Campsfield House[390] was triggered by an early morning removal, illustrating the point that removals need to be carried out with sensitivity in order to maintain the welfare of both detainees and staff. During our visit to Yarl's Wood, we talked to a woman with a child aged seven months, who had been taken to the airport with no notice and who, despite her requests, had been given no opportunity to collect a jumper for the child, change its nappy, or collect baby milk before being put in the van with the baby. Whilst waiting at the airport she had no access to washing facilities or facilities to sterilise the baby's bottles. After waiting all night at the airport, she had then been returned to Yarl's Wood.

335. During our inquiry one member of the Committee accompanied an escorted removal of a female detainee from Yarl's Wood to Heathrow Airport on her way to Uganda. During the removal the detainee received a telephone call from her solicitor informing her that a Court Order had been granted to prevent her removal. The escorts waited for confirmation and the woman, who was calm and composed throughout, was then returned to detention to await developments.

336. We understand that removal is a difficult, sometimes very difficult, process, particularly where asylum seekers do not, for a wide variety of reasons, wish to return to their country of origin. We remain concerned by the many reports of excessive use of force and, in many cases, the lack access to possessions.

337. HMIP has recommended that proper procedures should be established to prepare detainees, particularly asylum seekers, for removal. Such procedures are necessary to ensure that removals can be conducted properly and with dignity. [391]

338. We are concerned that the drive to meet performance targets may be leading to unnecessary or poorly planned removals.

281   Asylum Statistics UK 2005, Home Office, 2006. Back

282  The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Section 94 (4)) made provision for a list of countries from which asylum or human rights claims are to be certified as clearly unfounded unless the claimant is able to satisfy the Secretary of State that their asylum claim is not clearly unfounded. 17 countries are currently on the list: Albania, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Ghana (males only), India, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nigeria (males only), Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Ukraine. Back

283, Asylum figures lowest since 1993. Back

284   Appendix 69. Back

285   Article 5(1)(f) ECHR. Back

286   Saadi v SSHD [2002] UKHL 41 Saadi v United Kingdom, Grand Chamber Judgment, 11 July 2006, Application No 13229/03. Back

287   ibidBack

288   ibid. para 45. Back

289   Appendix 30. Back

290   A full list of Inspectorate Reports is available at Back

291 Asylum factsheet. Back

292   Five Year Strategy for Asylum and Immigration, February 2005, Back

293   Appendix 47. Back

294  Appendix 30. Back

295   Appendix 30. Back

296   Appendix 75. Back

297   Appendix 19. Back

298   Appendix 47. Back

299   Appendix 17. Back

300   Appendix 30. Back

301  Appendix 70. Back

302   Q2. Back

303   Appendix 68. Back

304   Appendix 60. Back

305  OEM section 38.10. Back

306   OEM section 38.9.4. Back

307  Appendix 69. Back

308   ibidBack

309   Appendix 30. Back

310 Back

311   Appendix 70. Back

312   Q533. Back

313   Q534. Back

314   Appendix 56. Back

315   ibidBack

316   Appendix 56. Back

317   Appendix 30. Back

318   Appendix 57. Back

319   Q151. Back

320   Appendix 57. Back

321   Q450. Back

322   Q552. Back

323   Q528. Back

324   Article 5 ECHR, Article 37 CRC "No child should be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. Detention should be a measure of last resort and detained children should be treated with humanity". Back

325   This policy change has come in the form of revised 'fast track suitability criteria'. In February 2006, the Home Office added age disputed applicants to the list of 'claimants unsuitable for detention fast track' unless their physical appearance or demeanour very strongly indicates that they are 18 years of age or they have been formally age assessed by a local authority as being an adult. The guidance goes on to stress that if there is any room for doubt, age disputed asylum seekers should not be detained in fast track. Back

326  Appendix 60. Back

327   Appendix 30. Back

328   Appendix 47. Back

329   Q475. Back

330   Q474. Back

331   Appendix 70. Back

332  Appendix 57. Back

333   Appendix 60. Back

334   Q539. Back

335   Appendix 69. Back

336   Appendix 86. Back

337   Q440. Back

338   Q447. Back

339   Q556. Back

340   Appendix 93. Back

341   Appendix 57. Back

342   Q2. Back

343   Appendix 70. Back

344   Q459, Q460. Back

345   Appendix 69. Back

346 Back

347   Appendix 57. Back

348   ibidBack

349   ibidBack

350   Appendix 30. Back

351   Appendix 13. Back

352   Appendix 50. Back

353   Appendix 37. Back

354   Appendix 58. Back

355   Appendix 36. Back

356   Appendix 87. Back

357   Appendix 93. Back

358   Appendix 92. Back

359   ibid.  Back

360   Article 3 ECHR, Article 12 ICESCR. Back

361   Appendix 57. Back

362   Appendix 60. Back

363   HC Deb 5 July 2005 Cols 225-230. Back

364   Appendix 88. Back

365   Appendix 1. Back

366   Appendix 30. Back

367   Appendix 47. Back

368   Appendix 27, Appendix 60, Appendix 75. Back

369   Appendix 56. Back

370   Appendix 59. Back

371   Appendix 59. Back

372   Appendix 30. Back

373   Appendices 20, 25, 71, 72 and 85. Back

374   Appendix 71. Back

375   Appendix 47. Back

376   Appendix 69. Back

377   Q517-519. Back

378   Q526 Back

379   Q518 Back

380   Appendix 91. Back

381   Q526. Back

382   Appendix 91. Back

383   Q520. Back

384   ibidBack

385   Appendix 71. Back

386   Appendix 57. Back

387   Appendix 60. Back

388   Appendix 30. Back

389   Appendix 30, Appendix 60. Back

390   On 14 March 2007. Back

391   Appendix 57. Back

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