Lord Roger Roberts: The immigration system is broken, and it failed Isa Muazu

This week Nigerian asylum seeker Isa Muazu was flown back to his homeland after a lengthy celebrity-backed campaign to stop him from being deported. Lord Roger Roberts, who was one of his most prominent supporters, says the case shows how broken the immigration system is

Isa Muazu
Isa Muazu

Yesterday was International Migrants Day. Sadly, celebrations for many were rather subdued. Yesterday morning marked the end of a long, hard and emotionally-charged  battle. Isa Muazu, a 45-year-old asylum seeker from northern Nigeria who had been on hunger strike for nearly 90 days, landed in Lagos.Lawyers and campaigners fighting his cause ran out of avenues through which they could challenge the removal decision in the limited timeframe given. The case has been enormously distressing for many of those who have chosen to engage with it, but it has also raised the profile of many long-standing concerns surrounding immigration detention in the UK. I share some of my own concerns with you now.

In 2007, when the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith put forward plans to extend the detention without trial of terror suspects from 28 days to as many as 90, many citizens shuddered. 90 days under lock and key without trial? The British public were right to be worried about such a flagrant disregard for the liberty that every human being should be afforded. For similar humanitarian reasons, the public has rallied behind the current ‘modern-day slavery bill’, and watched with barely controlled outrage and emotion as the implications of life-long incarceration were played out in South London.

But – and this is an important but’– the UK  has a system that makes a mockery of such humane campaigning by the British public: a system of indefinite detention. Without committing a crime, you can be imprisoned for upwards of six months, in a place where your only access to a hearing is through a system that is seriously compromised. You might be a visa overstayer or an asylum seeker whose claim for sanctuary was rejected. Isa Muazu was both of these. In the end, in the eyes of the Home Office and the UKBA, it doesn’t matter. You are an administrative inconvenience.

The majority of cases within the immigration system are dealt with quickly. This is an improvement on a decade ago, in which cases languished for years in the so-called ‘legacy backlog’. This change raises several important questions. If the vast majority of cases are dealt with within a reasonable timeframe, why are those whose cases last longer subject to detention without limit? And – positive though efficient and fast decisions are in the light of cases that have dragged on for years – at what cost has this sudden pace been acquired?

Not everyone going through the process of immigration removal in the UK has the same experience. For cases deemed to have little substance, the fast track removals process is activated. Under this ‘Detained Fast Track’ (DFT) system, individuals who are in the UK are interviewed by Home Office officials who then promptly assess whether their case can be decided quickly. This is often assessed based on country of origin. Similarly, under the ‘Detained Non Suspensive Appeal’ (DNSA) procedure, a person will be detained for one-two weeks while their asylum claim is decided upon, and at the end of this process the person has no right to appeal in the UK. Again, originating from certain listed countries automatically incurs this procedure (over 20 in total, including Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – as was the case for Muazu). This need for speed causes serious oversight, as the Human Rights Campaigning group Liberty explains:

A claim will be fast-tracked if the immigration official decides the case is ‘straightforward’ – yet the information needed to decide whether a case is appropriate for fast-tracking is only available once a full asylum interview has taken place, which occurs after a decision is made on fast-tracking. (source: Liberty).

It seems that the UK system of immigration detention and removals is caught between two extremes: indefinite incarceration for some and no time to put forward a case for others. The system is broken, and it failed Isa Muazu. Let’s address it before it fails one person more.


Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.


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