INTERNATIONAL

Asylum seekers go on the rampage in U.K.

LONDON FEB 15. The Blair Government today faced allegations of treating asylum seekers like "cattle'' after Britain's biggest asylum detention centre was burnt down allegedly by angry detainees in a sensational escape attempt following a riot triggered by "manhandling'' of a sick woman inmate by the staff.

The Yarl's Wood centre, near Bedford, which was opened in November last year amid much fanfare as part of the Government's new detention policy housed refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Most faced deportation to their countries following rejection of their asylum applications. The conditions inside the centre, officially claimed to be a "model'' camp, were said to be "harsh'' and "grim'' though officials insisted that it offered decent facilities including a sports hall, and a prayer room.

As the police launched a search for those who might have escaped, eight were "recaptured'' this morning, but many were suspected to be still on the run even as the centre continued to burn, more than 12 hours after the first fire was reported at 8 p.m. on Thursday. The entire area — a rural belt — was engulfed in smoke as flames leapt from the �60-million detention centre. Several persons were injured in the rioting that preceded the fire, and the physical loss was estimated to be over �30 millions.

Police suspected that the blaze — a series of fires breaking out within minutes of each other — was "orchestrated'' by asylum seekers in what appeared to be a "breakout'' attempt — the first incident of its kind, and a blow to the government's plans to build more detention centres. "The government should go back to the drawing board, and seriously review its detention policy,'' Mark Littlewood, a human rights campaigner said criticising the manner in which asylum seekers are treated in Britain. He said if the allegation that an inmate was "handcuffed'' while being taken to hospital was true, it raised serious questions about the human rights of Britain's asylum seekers.

One refugee told a TV channel that asylum seekers were treated as though they were not human. "They are treated like cattle,'' he alleged, a complaint widely echoed in refugee circles.

While there was still confusion as to how exactly the "disturbance'' started, one version was that it followed altercation over the handcuffing of an elderly woman while being taken for medical treatment.

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