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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Kurds win landmark legal victory
Oakington immigration centre
Asylum seekers are held for seven days at Oakington
Four Kurdish refugees have won a legal victory which could see hundreds of asylum seekers released from a UK immigration centre.

The High Court ruled in favour of the men who claimed their detention at Oakington refugee centre, in Cambridgeshire, was a breach of their human rights to security and liberty.

The judgement will not come into effect until 5 October, by which time the home secretary's appeal should have been heard.

Asylum seekers sent to the showpiece 4.5m immigration centre are held for seven days while waiting for initial decisions on their applications.


Pending further proceedings, we will continue to operate Oakington on the current basis

Home Secretary
Mr Justice Collins ruled that the four men had not been lawfully detained as they were neither likely to abscond nor in the process of being deported.

Dr Shayan Saadi arrived at Heathrow airport on 30 December 2000 and immediately claimed asylum while Zhenar Maged, Dilshad Osman and Rizgan Mohammed all arrived at Dover in December 2000 hidden in the backs of lorries.

The judge said the reason for their detention was essentially administrative - to speed up the processing of their claims.

He maintained the same could apply to many or even most of the other refugees at Oakington.

Reception centre

Mr Justice Collins said: "I am satisfied that the detention of all the claimants was not lawful."

The Home Office argued that holding them at the former RAF barracks was lawful because it was a reception centre, not a detention facility.

The centre may now have to change its status, and the hundreds of asylum seekers held there could be released.

But no action is likely to be taken until the appeals process is exhausted.

Mr Justice Collins suspended the formal declaration of his judgement so as to remove the possibility of a flood of similar court actions pending his ruling coming before the Court of Appeal in early October.

Justified detention

He said: "I am not saying that to detain those who come to this country seeking asylum is necessarily unlawful."

He said it would be "very easy" to justify detention of illegal entrants.


If this decision stands then the policy of the government will clearly have to change

Simon Hughes MP
Liberal Democrats
But the claimants' detention had infringed the European Convention on Human Rights because it was "not proportionate" ruled the judge.

The Kurds argued the government had no right to deprive them of their liberty because there was no reason to believe they would abscond.

Three of them have since been granted refugee status on appeal. Two benefited from a technicality.

Refugee incentives

If the government loses on appeal, the four men could win millions of pounds in compensation for themselves and the thousands of other asylum seekers who have been locked up at Oakington since it opened in March last year.

Solicitor Michael Hanley, who represented the men, said damages for a 10-day detention should be between 5,000-10,000.

"They can now comply with the law by simply unlocking the gate," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "The home secretary is deeply disturbed at the implications of the judgement for the effective operation of tough but fair immigration controls.

"Pending further proceedings, we will continue to operate Oakington on the current basis."

'Perverse' decision

Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said it was better to create centres where asylum seekers did not need to be "fenced in".

"Other countries understand that you can have very effective reception centres where asylum seekers have every incentive to stay."

But local Tory MP Andrew Lansley, whose South Cambridgeshire constituency includes the Oakington centre attacked the judgment as "unfortunate and perverse".

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the decision had highlighted the "unfairness and harshness" of government policy."

Chief executive of the Refugee Council Nick Hardwick said: "The fundamental principle at stake here is whether it is right to detain people who have committed no crime."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"This was the first main test of the government's asylum policies"
Michael Hanley, solicitor for the refugees
"My clients did not have any financial expectations"
Jan Shaw, Refugee Officer, Amnesty International
"Oakington could be used as a reception centre"
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