Memorandum submitted by UKBA |
I am writing to follow up a number of issues raised
by your Committee at my evidence session on 9 November.
The Committee requested information about the asylum
decision process. Making decisions on asylum applications is a
complex and difficult job and it is one that the UK Border Agency
and its case owners take very seriously. The claims of asylum
seekers are considered very carefully and on their individual
The agency's Foundation Training course, developed
with input from the UNHCR, trains case owners to investigate all
aspects of a claim taking into account oral evidence and written
evidence from the applicant as well as objective country evidence.
The case owner who conducts the asylum interview
is expected to research the issues raised in a claim and to ask
relevant questions about the applicant's experiences in the country
of origin and, where relevant, since arrival in the UK. Applications
are then assessed against detailed background information and
guidance available on the situation in the applicant's country
Operational Guidance Notes (OGNs) provide an evaluation
of the relevant country information and apply that together with
general asylum policy and caselaw to provide case owners with
clear guidance on how to deal with the main categories of asylum
and human rights claims received from applicants from the country
concerned. OGNs are informed by the country information provided
by the Home Office Country of Origin Information Service, which
closely monitors the human rights situation in all the countries
that generate asylum seekers to the UK. It provides accurate,
objective, sourced and up-to-date information on asylum seekers'
countries of origin, for use by UK Border Agency officials involved
in the asylum determination process.
Case owners within the UK Border Agency take decisions
following caselaw. We accept that this can change constantly but
that ultimately, the courts are the final arbiter of the decision
to grant or refuse leave.
Regarding the quality of our decision making, UNHCR
have praised our quality assurance system in respect of decision
making as one of the best there is. With European Commission and
UNHCR support. we are engaged in a UNHCR-led project (with Germany
and Austria) to export these assurance mechanisms to 14 EU states.
The agency recognises that more needs to be done
to speed up the process. We have set up the Asylum Improvement
Project to increase productivity and speed up the processing of
applications. Furthermore, we have designed a new performance
framework, to move from an exclusive focus on the six month conclusion
rate target to a broader focus which will show the health of the
overall asylum system. One of the indicators is the percentage
of adult initial decisions taken within 30 days. We are committed
to raising this performance and have seen performance rise from
25% in the August 2008 cohort to 72% for the August 2010 cohort
But, we know that speed is not everything which is why we will
also have a stretching quality indicator to ensure that we have
good quality speedy decisions. These indicators will form part
of the agency business plan.
I hope you can see from the above that the agency
takes its responsibilities very seriously and takes all decisions
only after careful consideration of the facts. The agency is well
aware of its obligations under the 1951 Convention and the ECHR
and is proud to provide protection under both. However, we are
equally determined that those applicants who both the agency and
the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and refuse
to leave voluntarily are removed in a timely fashion.
The Committee also requested information about the
numbers of children in detention, those who claim to be children
and alternative ways for dealing with children who are under the
control of organised crime gangs.
The Committee will be aware that the Coalition Government
is committed to ending the detention of children for immigration
purposes and we have been working with our partners to find suitable
We have already made considerable progress. Two pilots
are being conducted (one in the North West and one in London)
to test out new ways of affecting family returns. Both pilots
are following broadly the same process of working with the family
in the community, and seeking to give them every opportunity to
return by making their own preparations for departure. We need
to be sure that the process we adopt will work in practice.
Where we have had to detain as a very last resort
we have been doing so in much smaller numbers and for a shorter
length of time (the average now being less than four days compared
to around 13 days last year).
As I said to the Committee when I gave evidence,
this does however present challenges and we are now working to
find alternatives which in fact do not create a perverse incentive
and lead to poorer outcomes for children. In particular, we are
alert to the increased risk of trafficking and will continue to
The Committee also asked about the number of asylum
applicants whose claim to be a child is disputed by the UK Border
Agency and while that has reduced significantly over the last
year270 age disputes were recorded for the first six months
of 2010, which is 62% lower than the same period in 2009 (705)we
continue to monitor this closely.
RULE 35 OF
The Committee requested further information about
the publication of the audit of the implementation of Rule 35
of the Detention Centre Rules 2001. Rule 35 relates to special
illnesses and conditions, and the circumstances in which the medical
practitioner at an immigration removal centre must report and
handle those special illnesses and conditions. I can confirm that
an evaluation into Rule 35 is presently being conducted. The main
areas of focus (response compliance and timescales) were suggested
by the Medical Foundation and other NGOs. Following internal discussion
in September, it was decided to publish the report later than
planned to allow for further valuable analysis to be undertaken.
We have given a commitment to advise Ministers of our findings
on this issue by the end of November prior to publishing the report
before the end of 2010. I will ensure that the Committee receives
a copy once the report is published.
I informed the Committee in my letter of 4 February
2010 that we expected the cost of the Facilitated Return Scheme
(FRS) in 2009-10 to be approximately £6.3 million.
Actual expenditure for the year was £7.1 million (inclusive
of £2.3 million of EU funding). The higher spend was due
to higher than expected numbers of foreign nationals taking up
the scheme FRS had accounted for around 30% of the 5,530 foreign
national prisoner removals in 2009, but that proportion increased
to around 50% in the first two quarters of 2010 (against total
removals of 2425).
The cost of running the scheme in 2010-11 is
currently estimated at £9.7 million (including up to £2.7
million of EU funding). It is anticipated that the lower package
values awarded from 1 October 2010 will mean an overall reduction
in expenditure on the scheme In future. The financial impact may
not be immediate though, as those approved for FRS prior to 1
October 2010 and removed by March 2011 will have six months from
the date of their return to claim the assistance, and will still
be entitled to claim the higher values offered under the previous
terms of the scheme. I remain of the view that FRS is a practical
solution which saves the taxpayer money in the long-run, and means
foreign criminals can be removed as soon as possible denying them
the opportunity to re-offend or prolong the process with frivolous
Finally, I need to clarify that the Person Escort
Record (PER), a copy of which I gave to the Committee, is currently
used by the police and the Prison Service and is now being piloted
by the agency. Mr Mubenga's information was not recorded on this
particular form but on a collection of forms throughout the time
he was with us. I can assure the Committee that he had a full
risk assessment which considered his conduct and known medical
records as provided by a qualified medical practitioner, and the
information was made available to the escorts. I enclose a blank
copy of the actual form used in his case.
One of the reasons we are piloting the PER is to
ensure that risk assessment is conducted in a uniform manner and
is recorded in a common format. I trust this letter assures you
that we nonetheless take risk assessment very seriously.
I will write to you again In March 2011 with my next
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