‘Some asylum seekers spend months in UK detention centers’

Immigration and Detention Centre of Harmondsworth near Heathrow (AFP Photo / Martyn Hayhow)
Many asylum seekers are being held for months in UK immigration detention centers, Guy Davison, a barrister specializing in Immigration Law told RT.

Several hundred detainees in Britain's largest immigration detention center Harmondsworth, in West London went on hunger strike on Sunday. They are angry about the way they have been treated by the UK government. Migrants and asylum seekers are held indefinitely. Many are detained for months and even years.

RT:You know about the situation first hand. How serious is this hunger strike in Harmondsworth?

Guy Davison: As you said, I’ve represented people there and in relation to this, it tends to be a bit of a mix. There are those cases that are correctly in the fast-track system or detained and not in fast-track; and there are those that aren’t. I have already identified people with mental health issues and such like that shouldn't really be there…

RT:Could you explain what this fast-track system is and how it works?

GD: The idea behind it is that people arriving in the UK with little or no claim to asylum are identified and removed very quickly. I’m sure you can understand the government policy for that, in relation to it. So that is the basic premise that they have to look at the case, if there is nothing there, if it’s very simple, if the person can be removed promptly and then they are suitable for detain fast track.

But of course that doesn’t always happen. At first glance a case that might look simple and might look like somebody can be removed. But once the surface of it is scratched, more comes to light and that makes it very difficult.

READ MORE: Hunger strike in UK immigration detention center spreads

RT:In what conditions are detainees being held?

GD: I’ve never been inside the cells or the holding facilities itself apart from to have legal conferences. So I can’t speak of their access to kitchen facilities, or leisure facilities, or anything else like that.

Certainly the one in Colnbrook, and Brookhouse as well, where I’ve been to for the meetings and conferences - the facilities for that are perfectly acceptable, but I don’t know what the situation is like behind the conference areas.

RT:From your experience, what are the roots of this hunger strike? Is it the conditions or is it the fact that people are being held indefinitely?

GD: There are probably three factors that go towards being held for long periods of time. One is if some mistake has been made in relation to the case, and it just takes some time to sort that out. The case wasn’t suitable for fast track and so that it is being put to one side.

The second reason why people could be there for long period of time is if they themselves are being deliberately obstructive. The Home Office might be trying to remove them, and they might not be cooperating. They may refuse to get onto planes, or to get into vehicles, to go to the airports, or whatever else. So they are there because they are not cooperating.

And the third category is where the administration lets things down. And that might be where they are in detention but they haven’t got any travel documents. So the government is trying to sort out emergency travel documents with respect to their embassies to remove them, and there is a delay in that process.

The concern is that if they let them go from detain fast-track, the detention facilities they will disappear. They won’t comply with bail conditions because they know that the second the Home Office has got those documents, they are going to be put them on the plane and be removed. And the Home Office takes the view that it is easier and better to keep them in detention whilst they solve that and administer this process out. But that can take some time.

READ MORE: 'UK’s Yarl’s Wood immigrant detention center more a prison'

RT:What is the mental and physical state of some of the people inside these facilities?

GD: I can’t comment on the individual cases. I’m not entirely sure why they are on hunger strike. I’m not sure if it’s down to the length of time they are being held or the conditions that they are being held in. Some are no doubt frustrated at the time that they are there. As I said already there are different reasons why that might be the case. But it is certainly the extreme measure for so many people to go on hunger strike. And those in control facilities I’m sure we’ll be reviewing what has led to this, and what can be put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

RT:Is it true that some inmates are being held for months and even years?

GD: Certainly months. Quite often when an asylum process has worked its way through the last stages often removing them from the country, and if they haven’t got travel documents then what will need to happen is there have to be appointments made invariably in the embassies where there are interviews so that the returning country can assess whether they accept who the person is and then the documents are got together. That all process can take many months. I think on bail applications where people are just simply waiting for those travel documents to come through and the application is simple, they say ” I’ve been in detention for 4,5,6,8 months just waiting for this to happen. It is getting unreasonable. I should be now out on bail whilst that takes place.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.