Detention Action (formerly London Detainee Support Group) advocates for policy change on immigration detention in the UK and provides support and advice to people detained under immigration powers in the London area. Through our daily contact with asylum-seekers and other migrants in detention, we ensure that their voices are heard and their experiences contribute to debate on immigration detention.
This report provides both an overview and a critical analysis of the Detained Fast Track in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) near Heathrow Airport in London. The Detained Fast Track is an accelerated process for considering asylum claims, in which asylum-seekers whose claims are considered to be “straightforward” are detained throughout the process. Harmondsworth is the designated detention centre for male asylum-seekers whose claims are to be considered on the Detained Fast Track.
Our research suggests that the Detained Fast Track system is structured to the maximum disadvantage of asylum-seekers at every stage. Conditions and timescales operate to make it impossible for many asylum-seekers to understand or actively engage with the asylum process. Yet this system is entirely unnecessary, as the circumstances it was designed to address no longer exist.
Many asylum-seekers on the Detained Fast Track are confused and distressed. Held in conditions equivalent to a high security prison, they struggle to understand a complex procedure in an unfamiliar and hostile environment in which clear information is not always
easily available. Such circumstances pose considerable obstacles to asylum-seekers’ ability to engage effectively with the asylum process.
Time is always against the asylum-seeker on the Detained Fast Track. The tight timescales are intended to minimise the unnecessary detention of asylum-seekers, yet Detention Action’s research found that they were detained for an average of two weeks before the process even started. Nearly one in five waited for over a month. Most have no access to legal advice during this period. Yet when the process finally begins, its speed poses huge challenges for asylumseekers.
Most meet their solicitor for a few minutes just before their interview, often without advance notice. 99% are refused asylum. They have two days to submit an appeal, for which 60% are unrepresented. Finally, after an asylum process at breakneck speed, they spend an average of 58 days in detention awaiting removal.
The fundamental unfairness of this process could be mitigated if adequate safeguards were in place to ensure that only the most straightforward cases were processed on the Detained Fast Track. Yet there is no means of reliably identifying straightforward cases. Effective screening is a structural impossibility, as the decision to detain an asylum-seeker on the Detained Fast Track is taken when the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has little or no information about the asylum claim.
The Detained Fast Track is no longer necessary, even when judged against the justifications given for its introduction. It was developed as a response to unprecedentedly large numbers of asylum claims and an increasing backlog of cases awaiting decisions. The European Court
of Human Rights ruled that seven days’ detention in a low security regime was acceptable in these specific circumstances under an earlier version of the Fast Track in Oakington IRC.
However, not only are asylum-seekers on the Detained Fast Track now held for far longer and in far more oppressive conditions than was initially the case, but the numbers of new asylum claims are dramatically reduced.
The New Asylum Model (NAM) now processes 53% of claims within six months, with some asylum-seekers in the community having their initial interview faster than the people we interviewed on the Detained Fast Track. The UKBA has successfully resolved the great majority of outstanding “legacy” cases. Moreover, the UKBA is increasingly exploring projects that enable asylum-seekers in the community to actively engage with the system, through the provision of early legal advice and welfare support. Initial findings suggest that improved decision-making and increased voluntary return mean that these systems are to the benefit both of asylum-seekers and the UKBA. Their principle is the opposite of the Detained Fast Track, which assumes that asylum claims can only be efficiently processed in detention.
The Detained Fast Track is an unfair, crude and outdated tool of an asylum system that, over ten years ago, was at breaking point. It can no longer be justified. On the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, it is time for it to be abolished.
The full text of the report is available from:
Unit 3R, Leroy House
436 Essex Rd
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Tel: 020 7226 3114
Fax: 020 7226 3016