Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

14.  Memorandum submitted by the Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support Council

  1.  Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support Council is an OISC level 1 charity working with Asylum Seekers and Refugees primarily in the role of advice and advocacy.

  We see on average 45 clients per day, four days per week. We have six paid staff, 40 volunteers, and average three caseworkers seeing clients during drop in hours.

  We are exceedingly stretched, trying to compensate for the lack of provision in many different areas for asylum seekers and refugees. We will detail here our concerns relating to the "inquiry topics" (as set out by the committee to inquire into immigration control) by paragraph, highlighting where there are shortfalls against the stated aims of the IND in italics. All concerns raised in this submission will relate to asylum and refugee matters. The concerns raised and allegations made are unqualified by supporting evidence, and as such are anecdotal evidence only. However, DCRSC will be happy to substantiate any of these points with case-studies on request.

2.  Institutional structures and coordination

    —  There is poor communication between the main government institutions concerned with asylum; NASS, IND and the AIT; NASS, and within NASS the accommodation contractors, disperse asylum seekers from one address to another with great frequency. Essential correspondence to asylum seekers is often missed because NASS does not update other government bodies with new addresses. The onus is on the asylum seeker to update IND and AIT. In reality this means that nearly all this work must be done by the voluntary sector and solicitors.

    —  NASS makes numerous errors in discontinuing support prematurely or accidentally and not sending out tickets for court hearings. NASS have a different opinion on when an appeal is submitted "Out of Time" than the courts do—that is to say that when the courts decide a submission has been made in time, NASS can decide otherwise and cut support to someone whose case is legitimately ongoing. (Undermining Aim 2—Whilst asylum seekers are not citizens, they make up communities with citizens and where they are not supported due to error an unfair burden falls to the citizens of their community)

    —  There are frequent problems with ARC payments to asylum seekers, often asylum seekers are for weeks on end without money through no fault of their own.

    —  The IND enquiry bureau has, until perhaps very recently, been as good as inoperative, responding to every enquiry with an instruction to send in a written request, which would never be dealt with; for example many asylum seekers or people with limited leave to remain are kept waiting for a matter of years, sometimes many years, for their applications to be processed. (Undermining Aim 1—Individuals and Communities have no confidence in the IND to administrate, without which opportunities are lost. Undermining Aim 3—not delivering department responsibilities effectively or efficiently)

    —  IND lose a great deal of important documentation, particularly documents confiscated when claims for asylum are made. (Undermining Aim 1—Individuals and Communities have no confidence in the IND to administrate, without which opportunities are lost. Undermining Aim 3—not delivering department responsibilities effectively or efficiently)

    —  Identity Documents (replacement status letters, resident permit cards and Travel Documents) can be extremely hard to procure either because of the aforementioned administrative break down at IND in the case of status letters and permit cards, or prohibitive expense in the case of Travel Documents for those with limited leave to remain. This leads to many people with status being unable to work and dependent on state benefits for lack of documentation required by the Home Office's own guidelines on preventing illegal working. (Undermining Aim 6 of the Home Office, creating social exclusion, creating public expense in the form of unnecessary dependence on benefits)

    —  All correspondence from IND and AIT are in English only.

  3.   Quality of initial decisions (both entry clearance and after-entry). Home Office decisions on asylum cases are made on the information recorded in the Statement of Evidence Form, made during an initial interview. Those interviewing have no expertise or knowledge about the countries from which the interviewee is escaping (cultural or political), and base decisions on whether the asylum seeker has knowledge of sometimes quite arbitrary and obscure questions; for example, to ascertain whether someone is, as they may claim, a Christian, ask how many books there are in the Old Testament. Commonly, asylum seekers are discredited because the Interviewer cannot identify nationality or ethnicity by this manner of questioning. A country expert could make informed and more insightful decisions on these matters.

  Interpretation is poor—this we know from anecdotal evidence; some of our clients whose English is reasonably good but choose to speak in their own language find that the interpreter has a lower ability than they do to translate. They are then put in the uncomfortable position of having to disengage the interpreter, something which does not happen for a number of reasons; interviewees may not feel they have the authority to do so, feel that it would be impolite, are disoriented, are often recently traumatised etc  .  .  .

  The Statement of Evidence Form is handwritten by the interviewer and sometimes illegible. This can create difficulty when appealing Home Office decisions.

  In France, OFPRA use country specialists when interviewing, so ensuring there is a reasonable knowledge and background of a claimant's country when assessing an initial claim should not be impracticable in the UK.

  In reality we know that the Home Office has no interest in ensuring good decision making with regards to asylum. It is common knowledge that their aim is to keep numbers to a minimum and refuse as many people as possible, with 96% refused at initial interview.

  (Undermining Aim 6 of the Home Office, in that the programmes for dealing with those seeking refuge and asylum are not fair.)

  4.   Particular Areas of Policy. DCRSC finds that the Home Office legislates policies that sound tough, but in reality create more problems and public expense than they solve.

    —  Section 9 is an ugly example of this. Barnardos have made a report regarding how the ineffectiveness of this policy, as well as the suffering it has caused during its pilot operation.

    —  Section 55 was another example in the same vein, achieving nothing, but proving in court to be inhumane.

    —  Section 4 support relies on a voucher system, the inadequacies of which have already been acknowledged by the Home Office.

    —  Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, undermining their self-worth, and reinforcing a negative public perception that asylum seekers are "spongers."

    —  DCRSC has grave concerns about destitute refused asylum seekers, catering for their humanitarian needs falls on the voluntary sector which does not have the resources to cope.

    —  DCRSC does not believe it is safe to remove failed asylum seekers, this is due to the fact that we have no confidence in the Home Office or the AIT to properly identify those whose lives are at risk on return to their Home Countries due to poor initial Home Office decision making, and a rushed and under resourced appeals process—refer to paragraph 5.

    —  DCRSC also has grave concerns about the way in which the N case is implemented, that those people with medical needs that are such that they would shortly die without continuing care, are not granted leave to remain on human rights grounds. DCRSC finds the "Human Rights Threshold" to be set too high, as to make the Human Rights Act almost meaningless.

    —  DCRSC does not have the necessary time and resources to give these matters the qualification that they deserve, but would refer the Inquiry to national charities with regard to them.

  (The inhumane thread running through all these policies undermines all of the IND's purposes and aims.)

  5.   Appeals and Judicial Review. Five days is not long enough for someone to submit an application for reconsideration to the AIT. Solicitors do not have sufficient time to do good work. By the time a solicitor has a response from a barrister as to whether there are merits, it is too late for an asylum seeker to lodge their own appeal in time. Often, determinations on reconsideration applications appear to be "cut and paste" from a selection of stock judgements. It is rare that any of these determinations allude to any specific argument or fact that demonstrates that a judge has actually read the grounds of appeal. DCRSC prepared a paper for Alison Seabeck MP highlighting our concerns regarding the lack of legal provision, particularly cuts to legal aid.

  6.   Reporting, investigating and punishing immigration offenders/Race equality issues. DCRSC does not believe that Immigration Control should be exempt from the Race Relations Act. Refugee clients and asylum seekers with current claims are often arrested and detained with a view to deportation, following phone calls with racist motivations from members of the public to the Police. DCRSC would like to request that the Inquiry sets out to compare how many BME immigrants, particularly those already granted asylum, are falsely arrested and detained by Immigration on suspicion of having no immigration status and later released, with, for example, white Americans or Australians whose work visas have expired. (Undermining Aim 1—a "just and tolerant society" Undermining Aim 2—"enhance social cohesion and enjoy their home and public spaces peacefully" Undermining Home Office Aim 6—the interests of social inclusion.)

  7.   Immigration statistics. DCRSC requests that the Inquiry compares the numbers of appeals granted at court, with the number of asylum cases granted CLR. As those granted CLR are deemed to have better than a 50% chance of success, more than 50% of asylum appeals engaging representation should win at appeal stage. DCRSC suspects that this is not the case.

2 December 2005

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