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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Blunkett 'disturbed' by asylum ruling
Oakington immigration centre
Asylum seekers are held for seven days at Oakington
The home secretary has said he is "deeply disturbed" at a landmark ruling that the detention of four Kurdish refugees was unlawful.

David Blunkett has already indicated that he will appeal against the High Court's decision that the men held at Oakington refugee centre in Cambridgeshire had had their human rights breached.

The decision could see all asylum seekers released from the centre and is a blow to both government and opposition Conservative asylum policies.

If upheld, it could pave the way for the government having to pay out millions of pounds of compensation.

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

Home Office
But the judgment will not come fully into effect until 5 October and the Home Office intends to continue current practices at least while it appeals.

The men claimed their detention at Oakington was a breach of their human rights to security and liberty.

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

Administrative detention

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.

I am satisfied that the detention of all the claimants was not lawful

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

If the government loses its appeal, the 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 per individual.

The final bill could run into millions if compensation is granted to others who have been held at the centre.

Latest Home Office figures show the centre has dealt with 8,916 applicants, plus 2,239 dependants such as spouses and children.

'Disturbing implications'

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

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."

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 when 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

And he was at pains to make it clear that the ruling will not prevent other asylum seekers being detained elsewhere.

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

They can now comply with the law by simply unlocking the gate

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

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.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Thousands of asylum seekers could now sue the government"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This is intensely difficult for both the government and the opposition"
Michael Hanley, solicitor for the refugees
"My clients did not have any financial expectations"
Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, legal expert
"Our goal should not be detention for detention's sake"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Scotland
Asylum 'prison' campaign hots up
04 Sep 01 | UK
Aiming for England
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Asylum decision shocks politicians
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