JCHR Press Notice 05-06 No. 46

No. 46 of Session 2005-06 26 July 2006




The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has decided to conduct an inquiry into the human rights issues raised by the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK.

The inquiry will consider any significant human rights concerns relating to the conditions of life for asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers in the UK, focusing in particular on those relating to:

(i) access to accommodation and financial support;
(ii) the provision of healthcare;
(iii) treatment of children;
(iv) the use of detention and conditions of detention and methods of removal of failed asylum seekers
(v) treatment by the media.

The human rights issues raised in asylum procedures and the determination of claims are outside the scope of this inquiry, except insofar as they directly affect the treatment of asylum seekers.

Access to accommodation and financial support
Inadequate levels of welfare benefits for asylum seekers, or inadequate provision of housing, will engage rights under Articles 9 and 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In extreme cases, inadequate levels of welfare benefits or inadequate provision of housing for asylum seekers will engage the right to freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR). A number of recent legislative provisions on asylum benefits raise particular human rights concerns. These concerns include the operation of:

€” section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 which provides for the withdrawal of all welfare benefits from asylum seekers (with the exception of children) who have failed to claim asylum as soon as reasonably practicable after arrival in the UK, as well as from failed asylum seekers;

€” section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 which provides that failed asylum seekers with families will be ineligible for support following a certification by the Secretary of State that they have failed to leave the UK voluntarily;

€” section 10 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 which allows the Secretary of State to make provision of "hard case" support dependent on participation in community activities.

The Committee raised human rights concerns about these provisions at the time the relevant legislation was passing through Parliament, and wishes as part of this inquiry to assess the extent to which those concerns have been borne out in practice, taking account of evidence of the impact of the provisions on asylum seekers as well as of relevant cases decided by the courts.

The provision of healthcare
Inadequate healthcare provision may breach ECHR rights to respect for private life and physical integrity (Article 8), freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), the right to life (Article 2) and to freedom from discrimination (Article 14). It may also raise issues under Article 12 ICESCR, right to adequate health, taken together with the right to freedom from discrimination in the exercise of Covenant rights in Article 2.2 ICESCR. Regulations introduced in April 2004 to make people not lawfully resident in the UK liable for NHS hospital charges are said to have particularly affected failed asylum seekers. Department of Health proposals to exclude overseas visitors from eligibility for free NHS Primary Medical Services would, if implemented, effectively withdraw most free health care from failed asylum seekers.

Treatment of children
Children of asylum seekers are potentially subject to a number of breaches of their human rights and in the past the JCHR has criticised the reservation entered by the Government to Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which secures the applicable rights of the Convention to children seeking refugee status, whether accompanied or unaccompanied. In this inquiry the Committee would welcome evidence on human rights problems faced by asylum-seeking children, including in relation to education.

Use of detention and conditions of detention and methods of removal of failed asylum seekers
Detention of failed asylum seekers pending deportation is lawful under Article 5 ECHR unless it can be shown to be arbitrary, or to amount to unjustified discriminatory treatment under Article 14 ECHR, but concerns have been expressed that use of detention for certain categories of asylum seekers is in practice arbitrary and can therefore be considered to breach the right to liberty. There are also concerns that asylum seekers who have been subject to torture in their countries of origin are being detained, contrary to Home Office guidelines, and that some asylum seekers are being detained in prison, and not immigration removal centres, even though this practice has in theory been discontinued. Treatment of asylum seekers in detention will engage the State's positive obligations to protect a range of Convention rights. Criticisms of the methods used to remove failed asylum seekers have included suggestions that families and other vulnerable groups are being targeted and that unnecessarily heavy handed methods are used.

Treatment by the media
The treatment of asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers by the media raises questions about whether the State is fulfilling its positive obligations to protect them from unjustified interference with their right to respect for their dignity, private life, and physical integrity, and to secure their enjoyment of Convention rights without discrimination, consistently with the right to freedom of expression. The Committee would welcome evidence about human rights problems arising from the treatment of asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers in the media.

Memoranda of evidence addressing any or all of the above matters should be submitted to the Committee by 29 September 2006.

Submissions should be addressed to Nick Walker, Commons Clerk of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Committee Office, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA. Electronic submission is acceptable, but a signed hard copy should also be sent. In any event, witnesses are asked wherever possible to accompany hard copy by an electronic version, preferably in Word format, and e-mailed to jchr@parliament.uk.

Evidence becomes the property of the Committee, and may be printed or circulated by the Committee at any stage. You may publicise or publish your evidence yourself, but in doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee. Evidence published other than under the authority of the Committee does not attract parliamentary privilege.