Report reveals serious problems with asylum decision-making process

The number of decisions overturned on appeal is testament to on-going problems with the asylum decision-making process, Amnesty International and the Still Human Still Here coalition have said in a new report.

The report “A question of credibility: Why so many initial asylum decisions are overturned on appeal in the UK” examines why so many initial decisions to refuse asylum are being overturned by Immigration Judges.

Home Office statistics show 25% of initial decisions to refuse asylum are being overturned on appeal.

For this report, researchers examined a sample of 50 randomly selected cases and found that in the vast majority – over 80% – a flawed credibility assessment resulted in the wrong decision being arrived at in the first instance.

Researchers analysed refusal letters and appeal determinations in cases concerning asylum applicants from four countries with particularly high appeal overturn rates; Syria, Sri Lanka, Iran and Zimbabwe.

The findings come just weeks after Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UK Border Agency is to be abolished and asylum decisions brought back within the Home Office.

Jan Shaw, Refugee Affairs Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said: “We need an asylum system that gets the decision right first time. Getting the decision wrong in the first instance causes a great deal of anxiety for asylum seekers and prolongs the period in which they are left in limbo. It is also wasting tax-payers’ money by refusing people on patently spurious grounds, leading to costly and unnecessary appeals.

“In disbanding the UK Border Agency, Theresa May has acknowledged defects in the process as it stands, and she must now ensure that this is a watershed moment where a break with flawed practices is made once and for all.”

Citing the letters written to the applicants informing them of the decision in their case, and drawing on comments from the Immigration Judges who overturned the original decisions, the report identifies a number of key factors which contributed towards the consistently poor standard of these first-instance decisions.

In more than 80% of cases examined, a flawed credibility assessment resulted in the dismissal of the application.

The approach adopted by some of the case workers was identified as a key factor in the flawed decision, wherein they would typically identify an action that they considered implausible, such as a minor inconsistency or a lack of documentary evidence, and then consider that issue in isolation.

The Immigration Judges who reviewed the initial decisions pointed out the shortcomings in the case workers’ analysis and drew attention to their inflexible approach.

In one instance a case worker had refused to believe an asylum seeker from Iran was a journalist, despite being presented with a journalism card as they had not been able to translate the card in the interview to confirm what it said. When it was subsequently translated it was found to be legitimate.

In another instance, the decision maker had not believed it possible that a Syrian would not be able to name all the countries that border Syria, but the Judge found it entirely plausible that an uneducated farmer from a rural area might not have that knowledge.

Amnesty and Still Human have recommended that more flexibility be built into the asylum process to allow relevant materials to be properly considered.

The case owners, they say, should have discretion to delay a decision or an interview in order to obtain relevant evidence.

Amnesty and Still Human have also recommended that policy alerts on fast changing country situations be issued to case workers who should also defend their own decisions at appeal so they learn from their mistakes.

The report also recommends that access to free expert legal advice and representation should be guaranteed to all asylum seekers prior to their initial interview and throughout the asylum process.

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