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16 December 2010

Ending the detention of children is just the beginning

Hundreds of former asylum-seekers are still stuck in a Kafkaesque system with no prospect of release

By Duncan Robinson

Nick Clegg’s announcement that the coalition is stopping the detention of children in asylum cases is a positive move, but does not deal with the bigger problem of failed asylum-seekers being detained for years on end with no release date.

Despite the sterling efforts of organisations such as the London Detainee Support Group, the plight of these individuals is relatively unremarked on. At present, there are roughly 250 individuals detained, with no prospect of release. Ostensibly, they are waiting to be deported; in reality, only 18 per cent ever are.

Thus, hundreds of individuals are stuck in a bureaucratic black hole, for no purpose and at great expense, each detainee costing on average £68,000 a year to detain.

One detainee released on bail this year had spent four years in detention. He was being deported because he had committed a crime in the UK, and lost the right to asylum as a result. His crime was trying to leave the UK without a passport. He served three months in jail, before spending four years in detention as the UK Border Agency attempted to deport him. UKBA, however, was unable to deport him. Why? Because he didn’t have a passport.

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The situation is Kafkaesque. At best, the current system is inefficient and expensive; at worst, it is illegal and makes a mockery of Britain’s claims to be a civilised and just nation.

Clegg and the coalition have taken a step in the right direction, but they have a long way to go before Britain’s broken immigration system is sorted out.