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9 March 2006 Edition

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Asylum seekers: Policy change feared as racist attacks continue

Concerns raised over treatment of asylum seekers

British government plans to send asylum seekers in the Six Counties to holding centres in Scotland and England without access to legal advice, have been slammed by human rights groups. Amnesty International and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have expressed concern at an apparent change in British government policy.

The concerns are being raised against a backdrop of increased racist attacks and abuse of foreign nationals across the North. Just last week two Chinese owned businesses were attacked on the Stewartstown Road in West Belfast and a group from the Phillipines, attending a pool competition in the nearby Club 9, had racist abuse directed at them.

A Russian couple Oleg Fedorovski and his wife Elena Kotrayenko were told to leave hostel accommodation in South Belfast on Wednesday 1 March and have been since sleeping in a friend's home.

Oleg fears he will have to sleep in the street, which is seen an illegal action because if they leave an address they have to notify the PSNI.

Last week it was revealed that of 15 foreign nationals detained in the Six Counties, only one had been referred to the prison system, the rest were transferred out of the North without access to legal advice.

The practice of holding asylum detainees at Crumlin Road jail in North Belfast and at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre has been denounced as unsuitable by campaigners, but Amnesty fears it is to be replaced by something even more unsuitable. Amnesty's Patrick Corrigan said he was worried that the numbers of people being detained and transported to Scotland and England could increase. There is concern that the practice means people are being moved without first being given access to legal advice and placed at a distance from friends, family, lawyers and support networks.

NIHRC Chief commissioner Monica McWilliams has also contacted the British Home office about the matter, stating her organisations opposition to the use of prisons for immigration detention.

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