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UK: Yarlswood detention centre fire

Briefing notes

UK: Yarlswood detention centre fire

15 February 2002

It is too early to say exactly what caused the unfortunate fire at Yarlswood, the new UK detention centre. As detention centres go, Yarlswood is one of the more sophisticated, with relatively good facilities. However, UNHCR has been concerned by the mixing in of rejected cases with people who in some cases will turn out to be bona fide refugees. This - as has been shown so clearly in Australia - is a recipe for problems as well as inherently undesirable for refugees, for whom the psychological impact of being held in detention after all they have been through can be very damaging indeed. UNHCR has also been concerned about the detention of children. Wherever it may be, and however relatively good the conditions, detention of children who have committed no crime is obviously something to avoid if at all possible.

It should be stressed however, that the UK - unlike one or two other major industrialized countries - only detains a small proportion of the asylum seekers who arrive without visas. There is no policy of mandatory detention of unauthorized asylum seekers in the UK - or indeed in any other European country. Nevertheless, voices calling for it are being heard from time to time, both in the UK and elsewhere, and the numbers detained have been increasing. UNHCR believes that it is important that detention is kept to the absolute minimum, since the process is fraught with problems, not only for asylum seekers but also for the host nation, as has been so graphically illustrated in recent months in Australia. It may sometimes be unavoidable for rejected asylum seekers, to ensure that they are deported. UNHCR has no difficulty with that, provided the time spent in detention is as short as possible.