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Refugee Action report finds the asylum system "dehumanises, disempowers and damages"

Date of Publication: 
17 May 2018

Concerns raised over long delays, poor decisions, and a total lack of information

Refugee Action report finds the asylum system "dehumanises, disempowers and damages"

17 May 2018

Refugee Action published a major new report yesterday looking at how problems in the UK asylum system are having a devastating effect on refugees and asylum seekers.

The 56-page report, Waiting in the Dark: How the Asylum System Dehumanises, Disempowers and Damages, is here.

In the report, Refugee Action says that too many refugees and asylum seekers find themselves confronted by a system that is hostile and characterised by long delays, poor decisions, and a total lack of information.

The report is based on interviews with 40 people who have first-hand experience of claiming asylum in the UK.

The report states: "During these interviews, we were told about traumatic encounters with the Home Office, as well as poor practice at all stages of an unfair and overly adversarial system. Our research reveals a process that dehumanises, disempowers and damages those who rely on it to make life-changing decisions. We highlight some of the individual stories behind the statistics that show a huge backlog of asylum cases waiting for a decision. The consequences of these delays are disastrous for the vulnerable people who live below the poverty line, banned from working and unable to rebuild their lives for so long."

Refugee Action says waiting months or years for an asylum decision takes a tremendous toll on people's wellbeing, with many of those interviewed receiving treatment for depression and anxiety.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said refugees and asylum seekers struggle to provide for their families and survive on little over £5 a day: "Banned from work or study, they feel hopeless, isolated and excluded."

In addition, the report found bad practices and poor decision-making by the Home Office is putting lives at risk. According to Refugee Action, much of what goes wrong can be traced back to asylum interviews. The report found many people find these interviews distressing and face interrogative methods that leave them scared and anxious about future contact with the Home Office. Poor interpreting was a common feature of such interviews. In the worst cases, poor interview practice was a key factor in an incorrect decision.

Another key concern raised in the report is a lack of information and legal advice. A survey carried out by Refugee Action and 50 other groups found that over 70% of organisations supporting people claiming asylum said they were finding it more difficult to refer people to legal aid immigration solicitors than six years ago, when reforms to legal aid were made.

"Research has pointed to the damaging effect that lack of legal representation can have on asylum applicants; one study into the specifics in the Canadian asylum process, for instance, concluded that an inability to access legal representation can undermine the fairness of the process. Given the gravity of asylum decisions, and the complexity of current UK legislation around immigration, the impact of such barriers to accessing good quality legal advice cannot be understated," the report states.

Refugee Action calls on the Government to take urgent action to reform the asylum system, and the report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • The Home Office must gather the right information from asylum applicants during interview, and use this to make correct decisions the first time around.
  • The Home Office should improve information provision to people seeking asylum.
  • The Government must ensure a comprehensive and public review of current legal aid provision.
  • The Government should make decisions far more quickly, and achieve the targets it sets for the time taken to make decisions.
  • People seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, should be given the right to work after 6 months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. They should have access to education – including free ESOL classes – from application.
  • If people have to wait 12 months for a decision, they should be granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.
  • The Home Office should listen to people seeking asylum and act upon their feedback.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson told the Huffington Post: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. In 2017 there were just under 15,000 grants of asylum, alternative protection or resettlement, of whom almost 6,000 were children.

"We are committed to transforming the asylum system. We are modernising our processes and have established a new team to focus on more complex cases to make sure that they are decided faster."