Hundreds of people arriving on the English coast in small boats are being immediately detained in immigration removal centers, raising fears that the Home Office has launched a new policy to deport migrants without fully assessing asylum claims.
Detainees include victims of trafficking and torture from war-torn countries where Britain has fought, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Usually, migrants from these backgrounds are offered accommodation while their asylum claims are processed, but now they face immediate imprisonment and possible deportation.
Lawyers have accused the Home Office of incorrectly age-assessing children as adults, sending them directly to immigration removal centers.
Campaigners said several asylum seekers have been denied access to lawyers, describing the development as “not the act of a civilized and compassionate nation.”
Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, described the new nationality and borders bill as a “grave abuse of power.”
He added: “They have effectively started bypassing the asylum system and saying to individuals with strong claims that their claim is weak, that they may not get an appeal and that they intend to remove them quickly.
“The whole starting point is to disbelieve people arriving from places where the Home Office knows individuals have a well-founded fear of harm and persecution.”
Detention centers have been rapidly filling following the suspected shift in policy, with Tom Nunn of Duncan Lewis saying they are “being filled with people who have just arrived but who are not being released into the community.”
He added that his law firm was aware of Iraqis and Afghans who bore signs of torture, but whom the Home Office had apparently sent to detention centers in breach of the legal asylum and detention process.
“There have been a few cases where medical advice from doctors in the immigration center is that they are victims of torture,” said Nunn.
“But we are seeing a lot of cases where the Home Office is pushing back on this, basically saying, ‘You’re a victim of torture but we believe we can remove you quickly and therefore we’ll keep you in detention’.”
This latest development follows policy changes by the Home Office last year, when it secretly shortened asylum screening interviews for arrivals in the UK.
This change meant that torture and trafficking victims are facing deportation much faster than under previous policies.