31. Memorandum submitted by Refugee
Support Group Devon |
Refugee Support Group Devon (RSG) is a local
charity providing support to asylum seekers and refugees in the
Devon County area. We operate an enquiry and signposting service
and on a daily basis receive requests for help regarding asylum
applications and appeals. We do not provide legal advice or services,
but in the remit of referring to other agencies and assisting
individuals to make sense of correspondence, we are made aware
of difficulties and errors within the immigration processes. It
is with this knowledge and evidence we are submitting a report
to this enquiry.
RSG would like to bring to attention of the
committee concerns in five areas:
Quality of initial decisions
There are poor quality initial decisions due
to mistakes at initial interviewsthis could be through
interpreters, dates, no allowance for the trauma individuals have
suffered. There also appears to be a lack of knowledge of the
cultural, social and political reality of the country of origin
which has led to poor decisions based on assumptions of what could
Appeals and Judicial Reviews
Changes in the legal system and access to public
funded legal help have forced many asylum seekers to pursue cases
without solicitors. Without expert legal help individuals are
finding obtaining advice difficult, and at times receiving poor
advice, particularly with regard to timescales and deadlines for
We refer to arguments in Mary Coussey's Independent
Race Monitor report of July 2005.
The extent of implementation of recommendations
of recent reports and enquiries
Recommendations from the above report and UNHCR
guidelines on Burden and Standard of Proof (1998) clearly call
for better training for asylum caseworkers and yet errors as detailed
earlier are still occurring.
Lessons to be learnt from the operation of the
Again we refer to The Independent Race Monitor
Report and reiterate that the initial decision process is not
working. Asylum applications and appeals are time consuming and
costly, and contribute to continued hardship of asylum seekers
1. Quality of initial decisions from the
Home Office (Asylum Claims).
1.1 An accumulation of small mistakes takes
away credibility at this early stage and it is difficult to re-establish.
There are poor quality initial decisions due to many mistakes
at initial interviews.
1.1.1 There are understandable reasons for
claimants making mistakes. After exhausting harrowing journeys,
lack of sleep and food and money, disorientation, not able to
speak English, little or no advice, legal or otherwise, applicants
have to find own way to Croydon and wait.
1.1.2 Frequently mistakes occur through
inaccuracies in remembering or translating the dates (eg from
Islamic to Western Calendar.) These have seriously undermined
credibility. These mistakes are often acknowledged at Appeal and
can lead to overturning the initial decision, though it can take
considerable effort, time and expense to do so.
1.1.3 Language problems. Interpreters not
always appropriate eg Farsi speakers for Kurdish speaking Iranians
or Afghanis, or differences of dialect.
1.1.4 Some clients also complain that interpreters
1.1.5 There is an apparent lack of independent
assessment of the interpreters.
1.1.6 Applicants who more or less understand
their translator, rarely state that they are not happy even if
they are. It is often not till the refusal letter comes in that
they realise that certain points have been misunderstood or mis-communicated
by the interpreter.
1.1.7 Before the Asylum Interview (or Court/Tribunal
appearance) applicants need to be better informed that it is important
to let the HO (or IAA or AIT) interviewers know that that there
are communication problems. It is crucial that applicants realise
they need to make this clear as soon as possible not weeks/months
later, after the refusal letter has arrived (and credibility lost).
We suggest this is best done by an independent person like a solicitor
or Refugee Council rep) who is able to spend enough time with
them (ie significantly more than a pro forma three minute
1.1.8 A real concern has been expressed
by one applicant that he did tell the interpreter he was not happy
with her services but he could not tell whether or not she passed
this on to the HO interviewer. He suspects she didn't as the interview
carried on as if he hadn't said anything. He was concerned that
the interpreter in question was reluctant to pass on information
that could appear to suggest that she was concerned that if she
had passed on his remark this would have impacted her future career
as a HO translator. There is a real potential for a conflict of
interest and abuse of position.
1.1.9 Now interviews can be tape-recorded
this danger is less, as long as all applicants are made aware
of this option and are explained in detail how important the interpretation
1.2 Home Office Caseworkers.
1.2.1 A lack of knowledge of the cultural,
social and political reality of the country of origin has led
to poor decisions based on assumptions of what should have occurred.
1.2.2 There are examples of assumptions
about family life, how relatives or neighbours might behave, how
informers and secret police work, how homosexuality is treated,
how converts to Christianity might be treated.
"it is not accepted
that the incident happened as you stated" There
are no reasons given for not accepting the account.
The Home Office offers no
evidence to discredit oral statement of events. The arguments
the HO uses to discredit statements rely on distorting the picture
through misinterpretations, assumptions, omissions and errors
and everywhere lack of knowledge and understanding of the reality
of life in Iran. (Refer to United Nations guidelines on Standard
The objective evidence
from Iran does show that bribery is common, but without any
other evidence it is assumed that it is "Highly unlikelythat
any individual officer would take the risk."
1.2.3 Caseworkers ignorance of basic facts
about the Country of Origin or specific information has added
to the accumulation of doubts that have undermined credibility.
A simple example is where the claimant gave the "wrong date"
for Christmas: but in fact he had converted to Orthodox Christianity
so his answer was "right".
"The adjudicator says
that my activities for the KDPI were at a low level. In fact the
village people like me and my family who support Peshmerga are
very important to the Kurdish struggle. People who help the fighting
men of Peshmerga do `attract adverse attention' from the Eleaat
(Iranian authorities). The Peshmerga are young men who hide in
the mountains. They are difficult to find. They only survive with
the help from Kurdish villages. The best way, the only way the
Iranian government has to fight them is to frighten people like
my family who support them". Country of origin reports
supported this but was not sufficient to re-establish credibility
The activities "were
sufficiently low-level" and would not "have brought
you to the adverse attention of the authorities" Country
of Origin reports are ignored.
More complex was the claim by
the Home Office that a particular group had had no leader since
1978, when in fact a simple internet search showed that the leader
the claimant was talking about had been killed only a few years
ago. The Caseworker had obviously researched but not found accurate
1.2.4 There have been recommendations made
about training of Caseworkers in making initial decisions in the
attached reports. The UNHCR guidelines on Burden and Standard
of Proof deal with the matter of credibility, assumption and country
of origin information. Do they play a part in any training?
2. Appeals and Judicial Review.
2.1 Solicitors and legal advice agencies
are experiencing serious pressure to advise and process claims
in a very short time scale. The changes to the access to legal
aid make it difficult to present the best case.
2.2 There have been many changes to procedures
which are not clearly understood it seems even by officials employed
to implement them.
2.3 We have come across examples of this
particularly with the right to appeal to decisions. The deadlines
to do this are already short. There are times when people are
not given time-lines or relevant forms/information or the right
address for return. This confusion adds to the pressure and ability
2.4 Acceptable evidence. People supporting
asylum cases are not being told of the unspoken change in standards
of proof. For example:
fax version of an arrest warrant,
for example, is no longer acceptableonly original. Do they
know how hard that is to get if it is issued after your escape?
Families are put at risk in trying to send the original so some
won't even ask to have it sent. This is another example of applying
western standards and assumptions completely ignorantly and inappropriately.
(two years ago faxes were accepted!)
only a consultant, not a doctor's
statement is acceptable; a psychiatrist's not a counsellor. Some
could get this "higher" standard of evidence but don't
know they should until it is too late. If they introduce it later
it is seen as "imbellishment" and therefore the applicant
3. Immigration Statistics.
Please consider the arguments in Mary Coussey's
Report which raise concerns about the justification for the increase
in refusal of claims for Asylum.
"3.4 The overall proportion granted
asylum in the initial decision was 3% a further fall from 2003
when the proportion was 6% and 2002 when the proportion was 10%.
The drop in 2003 was attributed to falls in grants of asylum to
nationals of Sri Lanka, Iraq and Zimbabwe. The overall allowed
appeal rate has also declined, although less steeply, from 22%
in 2002, 20% in 2003 to 19% in 2004. (These do not include appeals
and decisions to grant Exceptional Leave to Remain, now replaced
by Discretionary Leave, and Humanitarian Protection). The question
which arises is why the initial grant rate has gone down. This
is especially pertinent, as the numbers of claimants has dropped
significantly. If it is correct that economic migrants and other
invalid claimants have been deterred from using the asylum process
by the introduction of tighter controls, one might expect an increase
in the success rates of remaining claimants, as a larger proportion
should be genuine."
4. The extent of implementation of recommendations
of recent reports and inquiries.
4.1 RSG recommends to the Committee that
they look at the following report and consider implementing the
recommendations: Annual Report 2004-05, Independent Race Monitor,
Mary Coussey, 5 July 2005.
4.2 In particular we would like to draw
attention to the following paragraphs Executive Summary Report
on authorisations: asylum decisions (paragraphs 16-21).
"I reviewed samples of initial decisions
and concluded that there was evidenceof inappropriate decision-making"
and Section 3 Asylum Decisions:
"3.11 Another regular feature noted
was for refusal letters to contain assumptions without explanation
on what could or could not have occurred.
3.12 Several such unsupported assumptions
in one refusal letter give the impression that whatever the claimant's
experience, some grounds for refusal will be found. It is troubling
that assumptions about whether an applicant's action was plausible
seem to be based on western metropolitan experience.
3.23 Several refusals relied on small
discrepancies in a claimant's statement as the basis for disbelieving
the account. Sometimes the discrepancies could have been clarified
with further probing by the case officer. The impression given
was that the officer was going to reject the claim, and was looking
for evidence to justify a refusal."
3.24 Determining credibility is difficult.
This small analysis has demonstrated to me that case officers
make apparently irreconcilable decisions on very similar facts.
It confirms my view that there are indications that some case
officers may become cynical and discount similar stories or the
authenticity of documents.
4.3 These observations in the Coussey Report
are substantiated by many of the concerns raised by Claimants
who have come to RSG Exeter for help in understanding their Refusal
decisions. Examples given earlierparagraphs 1.2.2 and 1.2.3
These assumptions are common in initial decisions and continue
5. The lessons to be learnt from the operation
of the current system that might inform the implementation of
the new Government policy.
5.1 It is well documented now by the above
report and other organisations and in the media (Refugee Action,
File on 4) that the initial decision process is not working well.
If 20% of all decisions made at Magistrates Courts were found
to be wrong and overturned on appeal, then there would be an understandable
outcry and the system would be dismantled.
5.2 The experiences that individuals have
had going through the process and their reaction to negative decisions
has led to real disillusion on their part that our government
does not seriously uphold the Refugee Convention. There is now
a prevailing belief that there are hidden quota systems and that
their individual fears of persecution are being considered in
a political climate that seeks first and formost to get the numbers
5.3 The reputation of the UK's Asylum policy
rests on the quality of the decisions made.
5.4 At RSG we are concerned that Asylum
Law is now viewed cynically. It cannot be good either for our
society, the individuals involved or for the credibility and respect
for International law in the long term.
5.5 The prolonged Appeal process is a drain
on public funds.
5.6 It leads to real hardship on the part
of refused Asylum claimants, who will not agree to return voluntarily
as they truly believe their lives to be at risk. It is not a simple
matter to deport these individuals for many reasons, (essentially
lack of documentation) and detention is financially prohibitive
and not a real alternative on such a scale.
5.7 Prohibiting asylum seekers from working
contributes to this hardship. Even where asylum seekers may be
eligible for permission to work, they have not necessarily been
made aware, eg those who arrived prior to March 2002. The general
views of asylum seekers RSG meets is that they would prefer to
work than accept government support.
5.8 We agree with the conclusion of Mary
Coussey's report that some independence in initial decisions would
be welcome. In the long run this could mean less time and particularly
less expense in determining claims as sounder initial decisions
would lead to less appeals.
5.9 We also recommend with Mary Coussey
the need for a balanced public discussion.
"7.1 As indicated in my previous
reports I am concerned about the effect of hostile, inaccurate
and derogatory press comment and comments by a few politicians.
I do not doubt that this negative atmosphere can affect decision-making
on individual cases, as it makes caution and suspicion more likely.
The Government has an important role to play in helping to set
the tone and encouraging balanced and well-informed discussions
on immigration. Repeated references to abuse and reducing the
numbers of asylum applicants tend to reinforce popular misconceptions
that abuse is enormous in scale when in fact it is a small proportion
ofpeople who enter the UK."
13 December 2005