UK faces new demands for release of asylum seekers

More than 700 people in immigration removal centres in the UK

A general view of D Wing on the official opening of Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.   (Photo by Gareth Fuller - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
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The UK government faced new calls to release more than 700 people detained for immigration reasons because of concerns that Covid-19 could sweep through migrant centres.

The head of 30 cross-party MPs examining immigration detention said hundreds should be released temporarily to prevent them being infected.

Inmates in three of the nine immigration removal centres have displayed symptoms of Covid-19 where about 730 people are awaiting decisions on asylum claims or deportation after failed applications.

More than 350 were released last month because of the threat of coronavirus.

Alison Thewliss, a Scottish MP, said coronavirus cases were confirmed at centres on March 22 and April 7.

A legal advice group reported last month that asylum seekers were being confined to their cells amid the worsening outbreak.

“IRCs are high risk for clusters of Covid-19 and staff provide a conduit for infection to and from the community,” Ms Thewliss wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

“The continued spread of the virus clearly highlights the very real risk of uncontrolled outbreaks at IRCs and the unnecessary danger to which the Home Office is exposing immigration detainees by continuing to hold them.”

The UK government has previously announced that up to 4,000 low-risk criminals will be temporarily released from jail to try to control the spread of coronavirus.

Ms Thewliss said that decision “begs the question as to why immigration detainees, none of whom are serving a criminal sentence, are still being held”.

If released, they would have to follow conditions that could include regular reporting to authorities or wearing an electronic tag.

Migrants are held at the centres if they are being prepared for deportation, to establish their identities, because of fears of absconding or if their release is not considered to be “conducive to the public good”.

The UK High Court last month rejected an attempt by a charity representing migrants to secure the immediate release of all detainees.

The British government said it had “robust measures” in place to deal with cases of coronavirus.