Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ILLEGAL TO DETAIN ASYLUM SEEKERS; Shock Ruling Is Massive Blow to Britain's Policy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ILLEGAL TO DETAIN ASYLUM SEEKERS; Shock Ruling Is Massive Blow to Britain's Policy

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID TAYLOR

THE GOVERNMENT suffered a damaging legal defeat today when its flagship immigration detention centre was declared unlawful.

In a decision which heaps further pressure on Home Secretary David Blunkett over the asylum issue, the High Court backed four Iraqi Kurds who claimed their human rights were breached when they were locked up at the Oakington reception centre at a former Cambridgeshire RAF camp.

The men, three of whom have now been recognised as genuine refugees fleeing persecution by Iraq's president Saddam Hussein, could now be in line for compensation payouts for unlawful detention.

"The Home Secretary is deeply disturbed at the implications of the judgment for the effective operation of tough but fair immigration controls," said a Home Office spokesman.

Mr Blunkett will press for an urgent appeal by early October and in the meanwhile, Oakington will continue to operate, added the spokesman. The [pound]4.5 million centre was established to speed up the way in which asylum cases are dealt with, where new arrivals are suspected of making "manifestly unfounded" claims.

New arrivals are transported straight there from Dover and teams of onsite immigration staff and lawyers fast-track the cases, reaching decisions inside seven days.

The centre has been strongly criticised by opponents of the Government from both Right and Left, but the Home Office believes it is vital in sending a message to the world that Britain is not a soft touch for bogus asylum seekers.

However, with Mr Justice Collins's ruling that the four Kurds were unlawfully held, the Government could now be forced to close Oakington - or at least change the rules so asylum seekers are free to come and go.

Amnesty International led the calls for change today. Refugee officer Jan Shaw said: "The detention of thousands of asylum seekers at Oakington has been indefensible. The Government has been locking up people who have committed no crime and who have no incentive to leave before their claim has been decided."

As the Home Office battles to restore the credibility of Britain's immigration system, today's defeat is a bitter blow. …

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