updated 6/20/2005 12:48:48 AM ET 2005-06-20T04:48:48

Britain’s detention of asylum seekers is unnecessary and unjust and has led to mental illness and suicide attempts, the human rights group Amnesty International said in a report Monday.

The report found that 27,000 people who had sought asylum in Britain were detained in jail-like conditions at some point in 2003, even though many had shown no sign of attempting to abscond.

“This represents a very significant use of detention and immediately raises the question of whether such prolific use of detention is in compliance with international human rights law,” the Amnesty report said.

Amnesty International U.K. director Kate Allen said the group found that being held in detention with no release date in sight had led to mental illness, self-harm and suicide attempts.

“Seeking asylum is not a crime, it is a right. Thousands of people who have done nothing wrong are being locked up in the U.K.,” Allen said. “The lawfulness of the decision to detain someone should be reviewed automatically by a court or similar independent body.”

The report recommended the British government change rules on how detention is imposed and ban the detention of elderly or sick people, torture survivors and unaccompanied children.

A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the power to detain individuals was an essential part of protecting the integrity and effectiveness of immigration controls.

The spokesman also said that the government is committed to ensuring that those detained are “treated with humanity and dignity.”

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