BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Lobbyists bid to protect human rights

Refugee and human rights groups have joined forces for a media

relations and lobbying push aimed at stopping the Government from

creating a network of asylum-seeker detention centres.



The moves are being made as Home Secretary David Blunkett announced his

plan to dismantle the asylum infrastructure.



The voucher system, introduced by Blunkett's predecessor Jack Straw, is

to be scrapped and accommodation centres are to be set up to reduce

numbers of asylum seekers in the community.



Amnesty International's UK arm and the Refugee Council welcomed the move

but are keen that reception centres do not end up as places of

incarceration.



The construction of four centres, to hold 3,000 applicants at a time, is

to start immediately.



An appeal court ruling last month overturned the High Court judgement

that had ruled that four Iraqi asylum seekers had been unlawfully

detained at the Oakington centre in Cambridgeshire for fast-track

cases.



In order to avoid a proliferation of camps like Oakington, which opened

in March 2000, the organisations are presenting 'one, clear voice',

according to Amnesty spokesman Neil Durkin.



'This will ensure we are effective in our arguments. What we don't want

to see are prison conditions,' Durkin added.



Plans are being drawn up to jointly lobby the home affairs select

committee, which is expected to discuss the reforms when it meets on 14

November.



Amnesty's PR work is co-ordinated by director of communications Richard

Bunting. Up to 15 staff will work on the PA activity on this issue in

coming weeks, while the body's refugee officer Jan Shaw is liaising with

PA staff at the Refugee Council.



Blunkett first announced the asylum system would be overhauled at a

party confernce speech last month. This gave both the Refugee Council

and Amnesty a month to wage a media relations campaign to back

reform.



The proposals for reform were revealed last weekend, first with a leak,

then to Parliament on Monday. The Home Office has announced that the

practice of housing some asylum-seekers in prisons will be halted.



The last asylum-seekers will leave Cardiff prison, where about 30 are

currently being held, by January next year.



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