19/06/2003

Cross-party delegation visits imprisoned asylum seekers

A cross-party delegation of Northern Ireland politicians will visit Maghaberry Prison today to highlight the plight of asylum seekers locked up in the high security prison.

The delegation to include Monica McWilliams of the Women's Coalition, Eileen Bell of the Alliance Party, Patricia Lewsley of the SDLP, Conor Murphy of Sinn Féin and Billy McCaughey of the PUP, will inspect the facilities where asylum seekers are held and speak with the imprisoned asylum seekers.

The visit is organised by the Refugee Action Group, a coalition of local human rights and ethnic minority organisations.

Patrick Corrigan, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Group, said: "The practice of imprisonment contravenes international human rights standards on the treatment of asylum seekers.

"Despite our repeated calls for this repugnant practice to end, the Government has told us it has no intention of halting its imprisonment policy. These asylum seekers are looking for a new home and all they get is a prison cell. Frankly, the Home Office should be ashamed of themselves.

"We are calling on the Government to put in place alternative arrangements for these asylum seekers – such as a hostel facility."

At present male asylum seekers are held in the same block as paramilitary prisoner Johnny Adair, albeit on separate floors, while the female asylum seekers are held amongst convicted female prisoners.

A recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International showed that almost nine out of 10 people in Northern Ireland are opposed to this policy.

(MB)

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