Kurds win Oakington challenge


10-09-2001

Opponents to the Government's showpiece refugee reception centre were celebrating on Friday after a High Court ruling that asylum seekers were being held unlawfully.

The decision could throw the Government's policies on asylum seekers into confusion and open the door to thousands of compensation claims.



Four Iraqi Kurds challenged the legality of holding them at the 4.5 million fast-track centre, claiming it breached their human rights.



Their challenge was accepted by Mr Justice Collins - but the full implications of the ruling won't be known for several weeks after the Home Office lodged an immediate appeal.



There had been speculation that some asylum seekers could now simply walk out of the Oakington reception centre, near Cambridge which opened last year to hold asylum seekers and speed up applications.



However, because of the Home Office appeal Mr Justice Collins has put a stay on his ruling until it is heard next month.



The ruling has been welcomed by Cambridge Oakington Concern, a group opposed to the incarceration of asylum seekers.



Spokesman Louise Pirouet said: 'It is what we hoped would happen, but we are sorry that it will be sometime before the situation is resolved.



'We are very pleased with this really. We are extremely worried that people can be detained simply because it suits the Home Office better.



'Hopefully it will mean that Oakington will become a reception centre - which is what it is called - and not a detention centre, which is what it is. They can remain there, but not behind barbed wire.



'They will be able to come and go. Whilst some villagers won't like this, others are more than happy. A lot of the initial antagonism has ebbed away as many of the local people now work there and realise that the refugees are just like you and me.'



But the news has left county councillor Peter Stroude 'bemused and dismayed.'



'Ninety nine per cent of these folk are economic migrants and not asylum seekers. I don't accept that they are incarcerated here. The facilities are very good,' he said.



'I would be a bit surprised if people that come here to be assessed would want to leave. Where are they going to go - the hedgerows and the gutters?



'We hope that the people in the centre realise that this is the best place for them to be.



'I would be very unhappy with an easy come, easy go centre. We are a small village in the countryside and to have something like that is not acceptable.



'If we can't have it as it is I suggest we all pack up and go home,' he added.



The Oakington reception centre opened in March 2000 in buildings formerly used as an army barracks.



An estimated 8,000 people have been processed at the centre since it opened - with around 20 going AWOL.



By Mila Vucevic