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Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Migration and Asylum

Passport document and stamp
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 29 January 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online

Would it surprise you to hear that one of the most efficient parts of British justice is reserved for foreigners?

Since 2003, people from around the world who apply for refugee status in the UK have been eligible for a unique procedure called the "Detained Fast Track." The idea is to turn around applications within three days.

If they are refused - as 99% are - they can appeal immediately at an on-site tribunal. If they fail again, it is then easy to remove them.

Asylum seekers are detained during this ultra-quick process. One of the detention centres is next to Heathrow airport.

Too fast to be fair?

The fast track is an efficient way to process around 1,500 asylum seekers a year. But now some lawyers and campaigners are claiming that the process does not give asylum seekers a fair chance of their cases being heard.

Harmondsworth Detention Centre
Law in Action visited Harmondsworth Detention Centre

Law in Action's Mukul Devichand has been sitting in on the process and following two cases.

First, the story of the George family, who are Christians from Pakistan. They claim that they run the risk of death if they return home, and argue that their application should not be fast tracked.

We also hear the story of Melanie, a woman from Cameroon, who argues that her legal aid lawyer did not pick up on evidence proving she had been raped and tortured.

After the report, Clive Coleman interviews the chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, Keith Vaz, MP. He says he is concerned about the process and promises to investigate.

Understanding the unfamiliar

Law in Action visited 'Laughing in a Foreign Language', a new exhibition at The Hayward on London's South Bank, where a group of leading artists are exploring whether humour can act as a catalyst in understanding the unfamiliar.

X-Guide #2 (2004) by Jun Yang
A work by Jun Yang currently at The Hayward

If it can, it is going to be a vital tool in dealing with the recent mass migration to the UK from countries including Poland and Romania. The influx of migrants has created a range of linguistic and cultural problems for our criminal system to cope with.

Law in Action's Ruth Alexander has been to Crewe in Cheshire, where there is a large new Polish population. She sees the problems the police have dealing with migrants as both victims and alleged offenders.

Ruth spoke to Sergeant Brian Hughes, one of the first officers to face the challenges of rapid migration from central and eastern Europe. He says there is a lack of information on one side, and a lack of trust on the other.

Under-reporting of crime is a major concern, as is discrimination; a young Polish man tells how he and his friends were assaulted soon after arriving in the town.

A criminal records database for Europe?

Conrad from Poland says he was assaulted in Britain

In the light of these challenges, Law in Action discovers how police across the country are trying to build relations with immigrants new to the UK.

Law in Action puts some of the issues raised to Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Cheshire and the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesperson on race and diversity issues.

He is calling for an EU-wide criminal records database and says officers are frustrated they cannot get quick access to the criminal records and finger-prints of immigrant suspects.

Law In Action was broadcast on Tuesday 29 January 2008 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.

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