Dead Men Left

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Send 'em back with New Labour

Tagging for asylum seekers. Good old David Blunkett. (Justic dug this up.)

"The government is keen to have monitoring of all asylum seekers," said a Home Office insider. "They are sending a strong message ... this is something they will have to put up with if they want to come into our country."

ASYLUM seekers in Scotland will face electronic tagging within months as part of a major security crackdown by the Home Office, The Scotsman has learned.

Reliance Monitoring Services, part of the same group as the security firm criticised for releasing prisoners in error, will take on the controversial contract, operating a six-month pilot scheme from September.

Home Office sources say that about 70 asylum seekers in Scotland will be involved in the compulsory trials, which will run alongside similar projects in England and Wales before being rolled out across the UK.

The idea was floated by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett last November, but The Scotsman understands the trial will go ahead in the autumn.

As part of the scheme, state-of-the-art equipment, including satellite tracking, will be used to enable the security forces to pinpoint the exact location of failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation.

"The government is keen to have monitoring of all asylum seekers," said a Home Office insider. "They are sending a strong message ... this is something they will have to put up with if they want to come into our country.

"Satellite tracking will also be used. Accuracy is down to inches, so we will be able to pinpoint the side of the street that someone is walking on."

The satellite equipment is the type used to monitor sex offenders on their release from prison, designed to act as a "silent witness" in crime prevention.

It is understood that the Home Office will operate three contracts in England and Wales and one in Scotland, which will ultimately cover some 18,000 asylum seekers. Last night it was unclear whether entire families, including children, would be tagged - a measure which would enrage some.

John Scott, the chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said the plans would victimise law-abiding immigrants who had committed no crime. He said: "This is completely unjustifiable unless the Home Office can prove the person will abscond. The fact that they are asylum seekers does not make them a criminal."

Opposition politicians rounded on the Scottish Executive yesterday and accused ministers of keeping the public in the dark by leaving the decision to the Home Office.

Nicola Sturgeon, the justice spokeswoman for the SNP, said: "The Scottish Executive are burying their heads over this, by not taking a stand against Westminster. They are dodging the issue. There are huge human rights issues here about restricting their liberty."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives added: "The asylum system in the UK is out of control. This is another sign of the asylum crisis this government has created."

Questions will be raised about employing Reliance Monitoring Services, a company based in East Kilbride. Although it has an impeccable record on tagging, it comes from the same stable as the private security firm Reliance Custodial Services, ridiculed for "losing" prisoners during court escorts.
Clive Fairweather, the former chief inspector of Scotland’s prisons, said Reliance had a proven track record in tagging.

He said: "I suggested tagging asylum seekers two years ago; it seems a very good idea. Those who are genuine have nothing to fear. I can understand people having reservations … but Reliance has been successful in the use of electronic tagging."

Home Office staff conceded yesterday that a major public relations exercise would be needed to convince people that the action was appropriate.

"I think the chattering classes will have some problems with this, but the man in the street will accept it as a necessary measure," said an insider.

"The issue is about legitimate applications for asylum. If these people are legitimate they have nothing to fear."

The government has been forced to act against a backdrop of mounting criticism on the issue of asylum. Mr Blunkett has fiercely defended plans to introduce tagging, insisting it is cheaper than using detention centres and would mainly apply to failed asylum seekers. However, Labour dissidents have warned the government could face a major back-bench rebellion if it presses ahead with the plans.

The changes are expected to reduce the need for asylum centres, such as Dungavel in Lanarkshire and Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire.

A senior Scottish police officer, who chose not to be named, said illegal immigrants were moving in and out of the country at will. "I’m hopeful that tagging, used selectively, will bring some benefits. There is no control by the immigration service at the moment."

As immigration is a reserved issue, the Scottish Executive will play no part in the plans and the Home Office will oversee the entire operation. But insiders say Scottish ministers are "lukewarm" about the move.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The Home Office intends to pilot electronic monitoring this autumn."

The Executive said: "We are aware of their general position on tagging asylum seekers. However, this is a matter for them [the Home Office] to take forward on a UK basis."