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
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
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
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
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.