Keir Starmer has said there is a case for making some asylum seekers wear electronic tags that would keep track of their movements by satellite.
Speaking on Monday morning the Labour leader said the use of GPS trackers was appropriate “whilst the claim is being processed”.
The use of such tags was a month ago described as “psychological torture” by a coalition of charities amid a legal challenge over a Tory government initiative to expand the practice.
Asked whether he supported the policy during an interview on Sky News, Sir Keir said: “I think there’s a case for tagging in particular cases.
“But I’ll tell you what I would do, which I think is more likely to fix the problem and it’s two things. One, I’d put resources into the National Crime Agency so we could bust the trafficking gangs up-stream, because these gangs are making huge amounts of money.
“The second thing I would do is get the asylum claims processed. Tagging is something you do whilst the claim is being processed. Of all the people who arrived by small boats in 2021 4 per cent have had their claims processed. That is utter failure by the government.”
Zehrah Hasan, advocacy director at the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), described the opposition leader’s position as “disappointing”.
“Like all of us, people seeking safety here deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. As a former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer should recognise this, so it’s disappointing to see him backing the cruel and draconian use of tagging for people seeking refuge,” she said.
“We know that these tags violate people’s basic right to privacy and have devastating effects on people’s mental health. There is also no evidence base for these intrusive measures as almost no-one vanishes from the asylum system.
“While it’s good to see Starmer acknowledge the need for efficient asylum decision-making, it’s time he backed more fair and compassionate asylum policy all round, instead of supporting tried-and-failed government policy.”
The policy of using electronic tags to track asylum seekers was first introduced in the UK by the last Labour government, whose 2004 Asylum and Immigration Bill included provisions to allow the tags to be used on people released from immigration detention.
The current government has launched a pilot to expand their use under a Home Office “electronic monitoring expansion pilot” – which is currently subject to a legal challenge.
At the end of October a report by the charities Bail for Immigration Detainees, Medical Justice, and the Public Law Project released a report waning that the use of electronic tags causes “significant psychological and physical suffering, despite no clear explanation or evidence” of its utility.
Rudy Schulkind, research and policy manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said: “It is disappointing to see Keir Starmer supporting harmful and dehumanising practices to punish people seeking asylum.
“Electronic tagging is a morally reprehensible and deeply harmful practice that has no place in the immigration system. People should be allowed to live with liberty and dignity while their claims are processed, and given the support they need to rebuild their lives after being forced to flee and undertake arduous journeys.
“The two main political parties would have us believe that these individuals should be made to wear dehumanising ankle tags fitted with GPS technology that track their every movement. Research shows that this practice causes immense harm, especially for those who are already vulnerable.
“Meanwhile GPS tagging is designed to solve a problem that does not exist, because absconding levels are exceptionally low. It is plainly a form of political posturing that will not solve the problems with the asylum system caused by successive Home Secretaries and their departments.”