The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 21:41

Human Rights of Asylum Seekers in the UK

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

The framework governing asylum detention is arguably inefficient, harmful and degrading in comparison to the rules on processing and treatment. The rules on detention and processing and the treatment of detained asylum seekers are governed primarily by the Home Office and civil servants rather than the British courts. Taking into consideration the fact that the UK has no time limit on stays in detention and the physical and psychological harm to the detainees, the UK directly undermines it’s human rights obligations. Under Article 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (ECHR 1998), individuals cannot be deprived of the right to liberty and security. Prolonged detention, not authorised by a judge and with a limited possibility of a review, violates Article 5 (ECHR 1999).

The United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that does not have a limit on immigration detention. In 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) strongly advised the UK to implement a time limit for immigration detention of 28 days, which would fulfil its humanitarian obligations. There exists a positive correlation between the period of detention and psychiatric disorders which further advocates the necessity of a time limit. Article 3 (HRA 1998) states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”, the psychiatric harm imposed on the detained individuals simply due to the lack of a sufficient time limit, arguably constitutes to a degrading punishment.

In 2004 a case study was conducted in the Netherlands which studied two separate groups of Iraqi asylum seekers. The first group resided in detention for less than six months whereas the second group resided in detention for over two years. The study demonstrated that “prevalence rates of anxiety, depressive, and somatoform disorders (SSD) were significantly higher in the second group”. It can be concluded that prolonged detention of asylum seekers irreversibly damages the mental health of an individual, which violates the UK’s human rights obligations. According to statistics derived from Home Office, 515 children experienced immigration detention over the last year.

Earlier this year, the EHRC highlighted the criminal responsibility of England and Wales, directing the focus at children detainees; emphasising the major negative impact prolonged detention would have on their development. The treatment of detained asylum seekers in the UK has been criticised by many civil activists who claim that on top of the limitless detention periods, detainees experience poor living conditions that result in a long-term impact on their mental health. The UK does not offer adequate protection for adolescent detainees, directly undermining Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC 1989) which states that “the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration”.

Furthermore, the UK currently operates nine detention centres which are all regulated by private security companies that follow broad frameworks, unsuitable to protect the complex health needs of migrant detainees. Critics of the detention centres in the UK often describe the living conditions as inadequate, “structurally violent” and thus inconsistent with international humanitarian requirements; often resulting in increased risk of self-harm incidents amongst the detainees.

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