35. Memorandum submitted by Settle
Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)|
Settle Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society
of Friends (Quakers) includes people with practical experience
of working with refugees in the UK in voluntary and professional
It is our experience that the present system
for dealing with asylum cases:
1. Fails to conform reliably to national
and international standards of justice.
2. Causes unnecessary suffering to those
3. Wastes resources by denying asylum
seekers the opportunity to support themselves.
It appears that the Government's focus on asylum
numbers lies at the root of this situation.
1. That each decision on an asylum
application be based on an accurate and sensitive appreciation
of its merits, and to that end that the Home Office be again asked
to review the calibre and training of the relevant caseworkers,
and that all refused applicants have the right to an effective
in-country appeal with such legal support as may be necessary
to put their case to best effect.
2. That throughout their time here,
all asylum-seekers are treated with respect and consideration
for their mental and physical well-being.
3. That they be given the chance, where
feasible, to take employment and thus contribute to the UK economy.
1.1 Our central concern is with what happens
to those who seek asylum here. We believe that all should be treated
with justice and compassion, a principle underlying the 1951 United
Nations Convention on Refugees, to which 140 states, including
the UK, have committed themselves. In the words of Alvaro Gil-Robles,
United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights,
"a society that loses its sensitivity
to the sufferings of foreigners, merely because they are foreigners,
has lost something very precious indeed." (Gil-Robles, para
1.2 Ultimately, it is to the global extension
of human rights and the elimination of war and persecution that
we should look to reduce the flow of refugees. As things are,
though, there are many millions throughout the world for whom
asylum is the only escape from a life otherwise crushed by fear
1.3 From our experience of working closely
with individual refugees in East Lancashire, we are aware of dozens
of cases of individuals who have been refused asylum, despite
it being quite clear to us that they have fled their homelands
because of "a well-founded fear of persecution".
1.4 The failure of the system to protect
clearly frightened people stems from two prime causes. The first
would appear to be a numbers-driven, rather than justice-driven,
asylum application system. Parliamentary debate and government
responses include regular instances of linking "asylum"
with "numbers": for example, this reply to a question
from Lord Dholakia about the possibility of asylum seekers working
(Hansard 2004 Vol 667 Col 896):
Lord Rooker (Minister of State, Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister): "My Lords, with all due respect,
that is the way to make the asylum numbers go through the roof.
We all know that."
1.5 The second cause would appear to be
poor processing of claims and appeals. As a recent study by Amnesty
International UK (February 2004) showed, the Home Office's initial
decisions in asylum cases are "failing many applicants".
(Amnesty, p 46)
1.6 This is not merely a question of increasing
staff numbers. We support the Committee's recommendation that
Home Office should review the overall calibre and training of
the caseworkers who take the initial decisions. Gil-Robles (para
70) regards the total of 30 days training, including interview
training, that new caseworkers apparently receive, as
"manifestly inadequate to handle
complex cases, which require a detailed knowledge of country situations
and considerable experience of the psychological behaviour of
those fleeing persecution."
1.7 The Amnesty study claims that Home Office
caseworkers frequently make
"unreasoned and unjustifiable
assertions about asylum applicants which cast doubt on the applicant's
individual credibility." (Amnesty, p 19)
1.8 In our view, justice demands that asylum-seekers
have a right to be told on what grounds their stories have been
judged "incredible" and given an opportunity to rebut
that judgment. We are also concerned there are significant errors
in interview transcripts where translation is involved; and that
interviewees are asked to sign the transcripts without being asked
to read them through first. This can prejudice the whole of their
1.9 We are extremely concerned by the limited
legal support then provided to enable an appeal. As an appellant's
lawyer can now claim payment for only five hours time it becomes
difficult to secure adequate legal advice and representation.
1.10 The most serious obstacle to justice,
though, arises out of the 2002 Act, which allows the Home Office
to designate countries as "safe"; applications from
nationals of these countries, if initially refused, are considered
"manifestly ill-founded", and they are then deported.
If they appeal, they must do so from the country from which they
1.11 In our view, justice requires that
appellants are able to be present at their appeal, so that they
can answer, and challenge, points made by those opposing it. Moreover,
though few such appeals are successfulGil-Robles (para
67) was told that only four out of 200 had been since the adoption
of the 2002 Actthat means that, in violation of the Refugees
Convention, the UK sent four people, eventually acknowledged to
have a "well-founded fear of persecution", back to the
very source of that threat.
1.12 There are also some who do not appeal
against an initial refusal, not because they do not have a "well-founded
fear of persecution", but because of the difficulty of obtaining
competent, or indeed any, legal assistance. (Flavin, p 17)
1.13 A further reason for the unsatisfactory
character of decisions on asylum, both initial decisions and those
come to on appeal, is the "inaccurate and unduly optimistic
view" which the Home Office has promoted, in its elaborate
"Country Reports", about the state of human rights in
the countries from which applicants come. The intention is that
these will help caseworkers and those who sit on what is now the
only appellate Tribunal. Analyses of these reports by the Immigration
Advisory Service have been very critical. In 2004, they concluded
that 12 of the 23 reports they examined (those for Afghanistan,
Albania, Angola, China, Colombia, DRC (The Democratic Republic
of the Congo, ie, the former Zaire), Eritrea, Iran, Northern Iraq,
Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe) were
"unreliable sources for use in
asylum decisions". (IAS 2004, p 9)
1.14 The IAS noted considerable improvements
in the four country reports for 2005 that it examined recently,
but still had some serious criticisms to make. That for the DRC,
for instance, was said to give "an overly positive representation
of the situation that real or perceived Tutsis face in the DRC",
and it detected "a positive tilt" elsewhere in the report,
"achieved largely by selectively choosing sections of reports,
or by quoting a section out of context". (IAS 2005, p 39)
1.15 Such defects can be critical when the
Home Office classifies a given country of origin either as "safe",
thus denying applicants "in-country" appeals, or suitable
for "straightforward" and therefore rapid, and usually
negative, decisions, which include the right to in-country appeal.
A judge this year declared that to designate Bangladesh as "safe"
was "unlawful", since "no rational decision-maker
could have been satisfied that there was, in general, in Bangladesh,
no serious risk of persecution of persons entitled to reside there."
(Justice Wilson, in case summarized in Travis) As stated earlier,
we regard the denial of "in-country" appeals as unjust;
for the "straightforward" list, we would recommend that
a Home Office designation of a country as suitable should require
confirmation by an independent panel of experts.
2. Unnecessary suffering
2.1 Our experience is that under the existing
system refugees suffer unnecessarily; for instance, pregnant women
are put through harrowingly lengthy interviews, without any real
concern for their condition; and there is a lack of medical care,
particularly for those suffering (often understandably) from psychiatric
2.2 We know, for example, of a 7-month-pregnant
asylum seeker with hepatitis-C who was called for her screening
interview at 8 am on the day she had arrived from Africa. The
interview started at 10 am and lasted until 5 pm with just a 25
minute break, which she found immensely gruelling. Called back
a week later, she was given a break in the five-hour interview
only because the translator pointed out her medical condition
2.3 We see pregnant women being dispersed
late in pregnancy.
2.4 We see the disruption of social support
networks when refugees with mental illness are dispersed, and
feel that the problems which this causes are insufficiently recognised.
2.5 We see the separation of adult children
from their families causing distress to, and withdrawal of support
from, the whole family.
2.6 We fear that the withdrawal of non-life-threatening
medical services once an asylum claim has been rejected causes
great suffering, especially to those with psychiatric illness.
Furthermore, the withdrawal of housing and support from anyone
compulsorily admitted to hospital under section means that, at
the vulnerable point of discharge, they are homeless and penniless.
2.7 Multi-occupancy housing provides special
problems. Whilst efforts are often made to respect religious,
linguistic and cultural differences, we are aware of occasions
where lack of consideration has led to communication difficulties
and friction within the household.
2.8 The most telling indicator of the need
for more compassion towards asylum-seekers in the circumstances
in which we now put them is the fact that, in the last five years,
34 are known to have committed suicide. (IRR) We know of three
of those on the list, and can add one other name, who all committed
suicide on the day that the notification of their failed appeal
arrivedhardly the act of someone who did not have "a
well-founded fear of persecution". We need to recognize that
seeking asylum, particularly in an island like ours, often requires
an upheaval in itself. Given the desolation of then finding oneself
detained, apparently indefinitely, or even if not, left in an
impoverished limbo without adequate physical, mental or medical
support, such suicides are understandable. We need to know the
specific circumstances in which they are liable to occur and means
by which they can be prevented.
2.9 Some applicants, including some with
families, remain in a very protracted asylum process and over
the years put down roots. In October 2003, the Home Office announced
an amnesty for all who had applied for asylum more than three
years earlier, if they had at least one child under 18. More than
13,000 families benefited from this compassionate decision. Now,
however, there are dawn raids on families who have been here for
more than four years. We would recommend that those families who
have now been here for three years be treated with similar compassion.
2.10 Finally, we have to say that there
have been cases recently when the process of deportation has been
accompanied by violence and racial abuse. The Medical Foundation
for the Care of Victims of Torture has investigated complaints
to this effect by 14 black deportees, and found injuries consistent
with their complaints. It accepted, as do we, that in the process
of deporting reluctant passengers who have failed to gain asylum
force may have to be usedforce, but not violence, and nothing
of a physically damaging nature, and certainly not racial abuse.
The Medical Foundation included in its report a list of recommendations
to ensure that deportations were carried out with respect for
the dignity of those being deported, and avoided any possibility
of doing them physical harm in the process. We would ask the Committee
to investigate whether these recommendations have been accepted
by the Home Office, and how far they have been implemented.
3. Economic issues
3.1 We have accepted a legal obligation
to offer asylum to those who seek it here who have a "well-founded
fear of persecution". This is an obligation in international
law. We should not, however, think of this as purely altruistic.
This country has, over the centuries, absorbed many influxes of
refugees from whom, we believe, it has gained much. Applicants
for asylum tend to be among the more active and vigorous members
of a society, with a ratio of people of working age to dependents,
particularly retired dependents, higher than that in our own population.
3.2 Our experience is that those whose asylum
rights have been exhausted (ARE) can quickly become destitute
as they are entitled to no benefits once the NASS support stops
(a month after their appeal fails). (Flavin, p 12) Some eventually
get limited support as "hard cases", but this may require
removal to another part of the country, or agreement to perform
"community activities" (none having yet been negotiated
with prospective "employers") or to take active steps
to return voluntarily to their country of origin, which would
invalidate any subsequent human rights claim. Others fail to pursue
their rights of appeal and then lose all entitlement to benefit.
Sometimes, even when they do appeal, this fact is not passed on
within the Home Office to those who pay benefits to asylum-seekers,
and their support is delayed for several weeks as a result of
this mistake. A Leicester study found over 30 asylum-seekers sleeping
rough. Incidence of physical and mental illness among them is
high. It is left to their families (if they have any in the UK)
or friends or charities to keep them alive.
3.3 We believe that those who have had a
fair hearing, and failed to win asylum or leave to remain, should
normally be deported as soon as possible, subject, first, to the
general state of human rights in their country of origin, and,
secondly, to their right to contest their deportation, on human
rights grounds, in the courts. If delay is unavoidable, they should
either continue to receive benefit, or be allowed to work.
Amnesty (AIUK): Get It Right: How Home Office
decision making fails refugees (February 2004)
Flavin, Piers: A Report on Destitution in
the Asylum System in Leicester, Leicester Refugee and Asylum Seekers'
Voluntary Sector Forum (June 2005)
Gil-Robles, Alvaro (UN Commissioner for Human
Rights): Report on his visit to the UK, 4-12 November 2004,
Home Office Asylum Statistics, 3rd Quarter
IAS (Immigration Advisory Service) Research
and Information Unit: Home Office Country reports: An Analysis
IAS Review of Home Office April 2005 Country
Report on the DRC (August 2005)
IRR (Institute of Race Relations): Suicides
of Asylum Seekers in the UK (October 2005)
Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of
Torture: Harm on Removal: Excessive Force against Failed Asylum
Seekers (October 2004)
Travis, Alan: Bangladesh not safe, says asylum
judge (Guardian, 25 February 2005)
2 December 2005