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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Concern over teen asylum detainee
Parc Prison in Bridgend
The 18-year-old is being held with convicted criminals at Parc
A teenage asylum seeker being detained with convicted criminals in a south Wales prison has been described as in an "extremely distressed state" by a Welsh assembly minister.

The 18-year-old from the Gambia was transferred to Parc Prison's young offenders' institution from a detention centre outside London.

He was separated from a group who are being held at Cardiff prison.

On Wednesday, up to 200 people protested in Cardiff outside the jail.

Refugee groups, politicians and members of the public were objecting to the use of prison detention for people who had not committed any crimes.

Assembly Social Justice Minister Edwina Hart visited the teenager on Thursday and said she was concerned he was alone after being taken from the nine other men held in Cardiff.

This young man...is currently in a very distressed state
name here
Mrs Hart said the director of Parc Prison had been "completely co-operative".

"He is as anxious as I am about the welfare of this young man who is currently in a very distressed state.

"Following my visit, he will now have access to the support and advice he needs including a visit by the British Red Cross who will try and help trace his surviving family, last thought to be in Senegal and The Netherlands.

The Welsh assembly has no jurisdiction over asylum seekers but Mrs Hart said she would ensure the detainees would receive the correct help and support they were entitled to.

"We have been able to help them by mobilising visits from relevant agencies.

"We are in a strong position to assist the Prison Service while they are in this position by helping them make contact with the appropriate agencies and contacts to assist the asylum seekers."

Protest outside Cardiff Prison
Protesters gathered outside the prison on Wednesday evening

The Reverend Aled Edwards, of Displaced People in Action (DPIA), was with the minister during the visit.

He said: "There has been a very positive response from the prison authorities and I am satisfied that all is now being done to make this young asylum detainee's circumstances tolerable."

All the asylum seekers were being held in the Harmondsworth Immigration and Removal Centre near Heathrow until last month.

Disturbances following a suicide prompted the Home Office to disperse the 481detainees to prisons around the country.

The asylum seekers held in Cardiff prison include three men from Jamaica and another from the Darfur region of the Sudan.

Home Office Minister Des Browne has replied to a letter written by Mrs Hart expressing her concern at the detentions.

He said: "The need to move detainees to prisons was a necessary response to an exceptional situation.

"This in no way detracts from our general position that we will not make routine use of prison accommodation to hold immigration detainees."

Concern at asylum seekers in jail
10 Aug 04  |  South East Wales
Asylum seekers held in prison
05 Aug 04  |  Wales

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