Immigration Bill

Written evidence submitted by Dr Trevor Trueman (IB 25)

1. The Oromia Support Group was established in 1994 to report on human rights abuses in Ethiopia. As Chair of the organisation, I have been asked to give my opinion, as a country expert, on over 420 asylum claims, mostly in the UK and mostly by Oromo people from Ethiopia.

2. I have been disappointed by the poor standard of decision-making by the Home Office asylum system and have published critical papers based on an audit of 200 Home Office refusals between 2000 and 2008. [1]

3. Since January 2010, I have written expert witness statements for 65 asylum claimants who were Oromo refugees from Ethiopia. All of these had been refused asylum by the Home Office and at least 50 had been dismissed at their first appeal. In only two cases did I have any doubt about the validity of their asylum claims.

4. The standard of decision-making by Home Office caseworkers in their Reasons for Refusal letters is appalling. They are marginally better informed than the 200 refusals I audited in 2009 but they still rely on manufactured discrepancies arising out of poor translation and transcription of asylum interviews and differences in cultural attitudes to accurate dating and timing of events.

5. Nonsensical conclusions concerning peripheral matters, such as means of travel and arrival in the UK, or unrealistic assessments of the feasibility of applying for asylum en route, are used to discredit whole accounts which include great detail about opposition political activity in Ethiopia, conditions in detention and methods of torture; detail which could only have been learnt from direct experience.

6. Eurocentric assumptions about bribery and escape from detention, and misinformed views on hospital access from detention and the sophistication and reach of the Ethiopian security services are asserted without any evidential base. Often applicants are found incredible (in contravention of Home Office and UNHCR guidelines) because they are unable to explain motives and actions of security forces in Ethiopia.

7. Merely comparing the proportion of refusals at first decision and the similar ratio at appeal indicates poor initial decision-making. A half-decent system of decision-making would be associated with a much higher fail rate at the second attempt.

8. By the end of the Solihull Project, where decisions were made after Home Office caseworkers had met representatives and experts, nearly two-thirds of applicants were successful. This is twice as many as were successful at initial level before and have been since that project concluded. Promises to expand the project have not been fulfilled.

9. It is very disappointing to see successive governments pandering to the barely-disguised xenophobia which is shouted from the Daily Mail, and chasing cheap votes from a misinformed public. The public remains misinformed and continues to entertain dangerous and biased attitudes against those who seek sanctuary in the UK.

10. This is a result of the scaremongering by xenophobic elements of the press combined with the perceived need of political parties to compete for the xenophobic vote. Education and leadership by example are necessary, not further entrenchment of hostility to asylum-seekers, which this Bill reflects.

11. Fortunately, only a small number of genuine asylum-seekers have been returned to Ethiopia. The majority have obtained leave to remain in the UK, but only after years of fear and destitution, often with psychiatric morbidity, multiple appeals and Judicial Review. Those who have returned have been imprisoned, have fled to neighbouring and dangerous countries or have disappeared from follow-up. At least some of those who were detained have been tortured.

12. Better decision-making is the key to a fair and efficient asylum process. Until there are vast improvements in decision-making, removing checks against incorrect decisions will cause great misery and cost lives.

13. I would welcome a more streamlined asylum system with fewer stages in the process. But until fairer and safer initial decisions are being made, and proved to be fairer and safer by a lower rate of successful appeals, no step at which erroneous decisions can be reversed should be removed.

November 2013

[1] Reasons for Refusal: an audit of 200 refusals of Ethiopian asylum-seekers in England. Presented at Seeking Refuge: caught between bureaucracy, lawyers and public indifference? 16-17 April 2009. School of Oriental and African Studies, London .

[1] 200%20asylum%20seekers%20in%20UK.%20April%202009l.pdf Audit of refusal letters on pp.33-79.

[1] Trueman , T (2009) ‘Reasons for Refusal: An Audit of 200 refusals of Ethiopian Asylum-Seekers in England.’ Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law, 23: 3 , 281-308. [Copy attached to email message.]

Prepared 8th November 2013