NOT only does the UK stand alone in Europe in not having a
time-frame on the use of detention, the UK is the only country in
the world to operate an accelerated asylum process: the Detained
Fast Track (DFT).
Asylum-seekers put into the Fast Track system are automatically
detained, after the initial screening interview with immigration
staff, so that their cases can be decided speedily.
"Initially, cases considered suitable for the DFT were limited
to those from countries where the Home Office deemed there to be no
general risk of persecution," the All Party Parliamentary Group
(APPG) Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration
Detention in the United Kingdom says. "In May 2005, this
limitation was removed."
The director of the organisation Detention Action, Jerome
Phelps, says: "Since its introduction in 2000, the DFT has grown
vastly in scope and in size. Many more asylum-seekers are now
detained, for longer periods, in worse conditions, with tighter
timescales, than was ever initially intended."
ASYLUM applications peaked in 2002, when the UK received 84,132
applications; but, since 2005, numbers have stabilised. In 2013,
only 23,584 applications were received. Despite this, the use of
the DFT continues to increase. HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the
Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration state that
allocation to the DFT increased from 1672 in 2008 to 4286 in
"The DFT appears to have become a default option for the Home
Office to push asylum-seekers through a process which seems
designed to fail them," Mr Phelps says. "The decision to fast-track
an asylum case is made when very little is known about the person's
situation, and yet its implications for the individual are
"The Home Office refuses 99 per cent of asylum claims which they
have placed on the DFT. Asylum-seekers and their legal
representatives report major difficulties in presenting their cases
properly in the fast-paced process of interviews and appeals.
Confusion, disorientation, and stress are rife. Asylum-seekers are
held in prison-like conditions for weeks and months at a time."
A former chaplain at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, the
Revd Larry Wright, says: "If you're on Fast Track, the chances of
you winning your case are negligible, because the whole DFT system
works against you getting sufficient time to gather your evidence,
and to brief a suitable legal representative.
"All the power is in the hands of the Home Office, and their
legal advisers; so, for people coming into the country under the
Fast Track system, everything is stacked against them, legally, to
present their case adequately. It's as if we're pushing a drowning
person under instead of saving them."
HOME OFFICE guidance lists a number of groups of people who are
unlikely to be suitable for the Fast Track, but the UNHCR reported
to the parliamentary inquiry that the Home Office's screening
process did not sufficiently prevent vulnerable and traumatised
people, including victims of torture, from being detained on the
"We have very strong concerns about the DFT, because,
potentially, people that are put in detention into the Fast Track,
straight from the screening interview, often haven't yet had a
chance to disclose properly why they have sought asylum in the
"Although it's not meant to be used for complicated cases, we
often meet women who have been put on the DFT who have very
complicated stories involving gender-related persecution," the
director of Women For Refugee Women, Natasha Walter, says.
In July last year, in a High Court challenge to the DFT brought
by Detention Action, Mr Justice Ouseley found that "the DFT, as
operated, carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness," thus
crossing the threshold of unlawfulness, and that there were flaws
in the safeguards designed to protect vulnerable people from being
In December, the Court of Appeal upheld Detention Action's
appeal that the automatic detention of asylum-seekers who were
making appeals on the Fast Track was unlawful. "However, since
then, less than four per cent of asylum-seeker appellants have been
released, although asylum-seekers in the community are rarely
assessed as absconding risks at this stage," Mr Phelps says.
Last month, Detention Action was in court again to challenge the