Archbishop urges end to detention of child asylum seekers

By agency reporter
10 Jul 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has today supported the findings of the Independent Asylum Commission, which has called for more humane and dignified treatment for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Commenting on the Commission’s report ‘Deserving Dignity’, the Archbishop drew particular attention to the need to use detention more sparingly and to end detention as a means for dealing with children seeking asylum.

The Archbishop said: “This is an important report that makes sensible and clear recommendations about how we should be treating some of the most vulnerable people in society. I cannot but support the calls within the report for a root and branch review of the detention of asylum seekers, having witnessed first hand the conditions inside our immigration detention centres and heard the often heartrending stories of those held there.

“Many Anglican chaplains serve the spiritual and emotional needs of asylum seekers within detention centres. They have seen the scars, both figurative and literal, left by torture and abuse on people, who are currently deprived of liberty, even though they have broken no laws and pose no threat to our society.

“The continuing use of detention for children seeking asylum - the most exposed of an already vulnerable group - needs to end. The best interests of the child should always be paramount in the administration of our immigration system and I hope that the Borders and Immigration Agency will consider carefully whether the status quo fulfils this. It can never be justifiable for a child to be detained because the system is not equipped to meet their needs.

“The administration of our borders is a difficult task, which doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions. However, how we keep in focus the humanity and dignity of the subject of immigration control must remain central to all those framing policy in this area. The needs of those who have been subject to torture, sexual abuse or other kinds of trauma can and should be better met, and there are sharp questions to be asked about how far detention or fast-tracking of cases currently achieves this.

“’Deserving Dignity’ is an apt title for this report. The dignity that each of us expect and deserve as human beings and which we owe to our neighbours, cannot be wholly at the mercy of the pressures of effective border control. Alternatives to detention in cases where there is no threat to national security or real risk of absconding - as outlined in this report - need to be considered carefully and without the hysteria or preconceptions so often accompanying debates of this kind.”

“I am grateful to the Independent Asylum Commission for the thoroughness and expertise it has brought to bear on this difficult subject. Over the last two years, it has shown great care and balance in its recording of the reality of life for those seeking asylum in the UK. Its recommendations, in this report and the two that preceded it, should be considered very seriously by all of us, not only those in charge of our immigration system.”

The Report ‘Deserving Dignity’, is the third and final from the Independent Asylum Commission, which has spent two years conducting an independent review of the UK asylum system, from beginning to end.

More details on the work of the Commission can be found at: www.independentasylumcommission.org.uk

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