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New Legal Challenge to End the Detention of Asylum-Seekers

30/04/2013 11:38 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

There is a pause in the conversation, and my heart sinks, for the fifth time today. Across from me, Irfan rubs his hands together anxiously. I feel my face forming back into an expression of helpless sympathy, and hear myself say, "I see, you're on the Fast Track..."

We are in a high security wing of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, just outside Heathrow Airport, to run an advice workshop. Often, we find people with urgent needs for advice and advocacy. But today, almost everyone I see is an asylum-seeker on the Detained Fast Track, which means that there is little that we can do to help.

Irfan has been in detention for two weeks. He went to Croydon to claim asylum, thinking it might take him all day. He hasn't been back to his brother's house since. He is still in shock at finding himself "in prison". He doesn't know what is happening, as he hasn't yet been allocated a solicitor. He asks me what he should be doing to prepare, but I can't advise him as I'm not a registered immigration advisor.

"That's too bad" I say. In my head, I can see exactly what is coming next: in a few days he will be woken in his cell, taken to an interview room, and introduced to someone who is his solicitor. He will speak to them for about half an hour, then will be interviewed by a UK Border Agency official for his asylum claim. He will likely be one of the 99% who are refused. Probably, his solicitor will then tell him that they cannot help him with his appeal, because he doesn't have a strong enough case. He will make his appeal himself, alone before the court, in a language he only partially understands. He will be refused. In a few weeks, maybe in a couple of months, he will taken by force to a plane bound for his country of origin.

What he will face there, I have no idea. But I know too well the quality of justice he will receive while he is in the UK.

"Thanks for coming, give us a call if we can help with anything", I say as he leaves.

The Detained Fast Track is structured to prevent Irfan from preparing his asylum case properly, just as it is structured to prevent me or even his lawyer from being able to help him. Only in a small minority of cases, with a good lawyer, written evidence, a sympathetic judge, are asylum-seekers able to prove their need for protection.

This is why Detention Action is challenging the lawfulness of the whole Fast Track process. We believe that asylum-seekers who are a detained throughout the asylum process do not have access to justice. So we are going to the High Court to argue that detaining asylum-seekers is unreasonable, disproportionate and fundamentally unfair.

It will be too late for Irfan, who today still waits in Harmondsworth for a decision on his appeal. But if our legal challenge is successful, it will mean that many thousands of asylum-seekers in the future will have a very different experience of British justice.