Britain Criticized for Tagging Asylum Seekers

The British Home Office has been criticized for forcing refugees to wear an electronic bracelet on the wrist or ankle.

Tony McNulty, minister for immigration, has justified the British government's use of involuntary electronic monitoring saying, "Asking for the subject's consent … left us with very little recourse if the individual … failed to comply." (Photo: Nicolas Asfouri / AFP-Getty Images)

A monitoring unit is then installed where the individual resides. During periods in which the individual is required to be at home, the tag sends a signal to the monitoring unit and then to the monitoring control center.

The move is part of the government's New Asylum Model to improve the authorities' "Contact Management" of asylum seekers.

Section 36 of the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 allows for the electronic monitoring of those liable to detention under the Immigration Acts. This includes asylum seekers, illegal entrants, those found working in breach of their conditions of stay, those who have overstayed, people subject to further examination at a port of entry, and those refused leave to enter.

Electronic monitoring can be telephone reporting using voice recognition techniques, tagging, and tracking. Of all these methods, tagging is far more widely used by the Home Office.

During the passage of the Immigration and Asylum Act of 2004, then minister for immigration and citizenship, Beverley Hughes, stated that an electronic monitoring requirement would be imposed only with the consent of the individual. But once the Act was passed, the government did a volte-face and announced in November 2005 that consent is no longer a requirement.

Tony McNulty, the current minister for immigration, justified his retraction of the consensual clause: "Asking for the subject's consent is inconsistent with any other area of contact management. It hampered our ability to manage contact with people flexibly because the need of consent left us with very little recourse if the individual failed to give it or where, having initially agreed to be monitored electronically, they subsequently failed to comply."

The "recourse" now afforded to the Home Office is to threaten individuals with detention or re-detention if they resist tagging.

The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns says the government's drive to curb immigration has resulted in a series of unnecessarily punitive measures and that "it is resorting to ever tougher measures at the expense of fairness."

The coalition maintains the British government is, in effect, turning homes into detention centers and blurring the boundary between the public and the private sphere.

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, says there are concerns that the government has extended the use of tagging for asylum seekers without making clear why people need to be monitored in this way.

"When tagging of asylum seekers was introduced it was designed to be for those who had been in detention and it was done with consent.

"Recently, we have seen the consent rule removed and tagging used more widely. For instance, we have heard reports of asylum seekers being tagged after going for routine meetings with immigration officials. There should be published criteria that sets out which asylum seekers are liable to be tagged and why," Sherlock says.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, describes the use of tagging and tracking on asylum seekers as "unjust" and "cruelly stigmatizing."

"We welcome voice verification as potentially helpful to people who otherwise have to report in person to a police station.

"However, tagging and tracking are usually penalties for serious crimes and their use on asylum seekers is unjust and cruelly stigmatizing. Asylum seekers' only crime has been to ask for the U.K.'s protection from persecution and the vast majority comply with immigration control," Rahman says.

Maeve Sherlock adds that tagging is associated in the public's mind with criminal behavior and reinforces the idea that "asylum seeker equals criminal."

"Asylum seekers have broken no laws and should not be treated as if they have. Tagging should be used only when it is really necessary," Sherlock says.

Human rights activist, Sheila Mosley calls tagging and tracking asylum seekers "immoral" and "dangerous," and says it "should be stopped."

"This might help get unemployment figures down by giving British people jobs in making the tags and in monitoring the asylum seekers but it won't help refugees and asylum seekers. People fleeing persecution and who wanted to make new asylum applications might not do so because they are afraid of being tagged," Mosley says.

Writing in the online newspaper,, immigration lawyer, Taffy Nyawanza (Feb. 27) says it appears tagging can be challenged because the secretary of state has not implemented the statutory instruments necessary to make the provisions of the 2004 Act and the 2005 Procedure Rules a reality.

"Basically until this is in place, a requirement to comply with electronic tagging may appear to be outside the current rules … attempts last year to tag the Belmarsh detainees floundered for this reason, and they were all sent back from Court," Nyawanza says.

He advises anyone asked to comply with tagging to insist on the reasons for tagging in writing, to sign under protest because a straight refusal may be construed as non-compliance with a requirement of the secretary of state, which can lead to dire consequences, then to contact their legal advisors as a matter of urgency to challenge the tagging by way of judicial review.

"There is a strong argument to be made that tagging contravenes key human rights instruments that the U.K. is party to. In any event, tagging humiliates, stigmatizes and criminalizes asylum seeking," Nyawanza says.

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