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UN expert on migrants concludes visit to the United Kingdom

26 June 2009

LONDON -- The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante, concluded his visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was conducted from 22 to 26 June 2009, at the invitation of the Government.

The Special Rapporteur is grateful to the Government of the United Kingdom for its cooperation as well as to UNICEF and UNHCR for the support received. The Special Rapporteur also appreciates the interest of academic institutions and the great cooperation of civil society organizations in the preparation and conduction of the mission.

"Migration is recognized as one of the great issues of our time and is perceived as a highly sensitive, controversial and contentious issue in UK policy and decision-making as well as in the UK public opinion" said Mr. Bustamante.

The Special Rapporteur met with a number of Governmental officials including the Foreign and commonwealth office and the Home Office. He also met with the Children's Commissioner for England and his deputy as well as with a number of senior officials of the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

"The United Kingdom recognizes migration as a political, security and humanitarian issue, which requires a multi-lateral and multi-dimensional approach and takes a strong stand against both irregular migration and anti-immigrant manifestations", said the UN expert.

The United Kingdom places migration governance at the utmost importance of domestic and international affairs and currently focuses on the forcible return of third country nationals in irregular situations, strengthening the screening of asylum seeking applicants and enhancing international cooperation with countries affected by conflict as a means to reduce immigration flows while contributing to meet current world security challenges and immigration and asylum seeking standards.

"The United Kingdom shows a genuine effort to deliver a migration policy, which ensures its prerogative to determine the conditions of stay and removal of non-nationals while being consistent with the UK human rights obligations. However, there seems to be an important number of allegations of cases of prolonged detention of irregular migrants waiting for deportation", said the Special Rapporteur.

The Special Rapporteur was encouraged by a number of good practices of the United Kingdom in relation to the treatment afforded to non-national unaccompanied minors and invites the Government to strengthen efforts to introduce holistic age assessment procedures in view to diminish subjective criteria for age assessment.

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur also met with several officials of the United Kingdom Border Agency. He visited London as well as Heathrow airport and the districts of Dover and Gosport. At the Heathrow airport, he was given the opportunity to observe operations and was briefed on the processing of EU and non-EU passengers, IRIS barriers, watch house, fingerprinting, photographing and the screening interview process. He also visited holding centres in terminals 1 and 2. In the districts of Dover and Gosport, the Special Rapporteur visited immigration removal centres where he was provided with the opportunity to interview inmates charged with immigration-related offenses. Detention authorities were accessible to the Special Rapporteur request to interview some of the inmates in private. No complaints were heard regarding mistreatment or medical access, although some of the detainees affirmed not to be adequately informed on the progress of their respective cases, which resulted in prolonged detention.

The Special Rapporteur was impressed with the variety of services provided to inmates in immigration removal centers, which were clean and long-term stay friendly. The Special Rapporteur was particularly impressed by non-nationals access to interpretation services through a highly efficient telecommunications system and was encouraged to hear that there have been Court decisions releasing individuals in detention when all legal remedies have been exhausted and there is no country that accepts their return.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report on his visit to the United Kingdom at a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

Mr. Jorge A. Bustamante, a Mexican national, is an independent expert appointed as Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants by the former Commission on Human Rights in 2005. His mandate was extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008 to help states and others, promote and protect the human rights of migrants. Some of the functions of the Special Rapporteur include to examine means and ways to overcome the obstacles existing to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, recognizing the particular vulnerability of women, children and those undocumented or in an irregular situation. For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur: http:// www2.ohchr.org/English/issues/migration/rapporteur/ or contact migrant@ohchr.org