Government makes life tough for asylum seekers

The anti-judicial side of the Draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill 07 November 2008. The Independent newspaper reported that almost 80,000 people seeking asylum from 21 countries that the Foreign Office’s most recent human rights report has listed as “major countries of concern” have been refused sanctuary in Britain in the last five years.

Although countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Sudan are listed by the Foreign Office as places where citizens suffer persecution and discrimination, refugees from these countries are having their claims for asylum turned down.

The Refugee Legal Center (RLC) and Refugee Council expressed grave concern about new legislative proposals that they believe would erode justice for asylum seekers and put some lives at risk.

Caroline Slocock, Chief Executive of the RLC, said:
“Asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable people in Britain today. Many face huge delays in getting justice and are only granted leave to remain after exercising their full rights of appeal. We share the Government’s wish to make the decision-making process quicker. But these sweeping proposals would erode crucial judicial safeguards. The changes would literally put lives at risk, as many asylum seekers face violence or death if they fail to gain sanctuary here. The right way to speed up justice is to improve the quality of poor Home Office decision-making, so fewer cases have to go to appeal, not reduce the supervision of the courts.”

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
"These figures show just how tough our asylum system is. People claiming asylum struggle to get a fair hearing, despite coming from countries where human rights abuse is well documented. This results in a growing number of people who are unable to return home as it is too dangerous, but have no rights in the UK, so are left destitute, with an uncertain future, and unable to work and support themselves."This situation is unacceptable. The government needs to take a more enlightened approach, and offer people some sort of stability in the UK until it is safe for them to return."

The RLC and the Refugee Council answered to the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) consultation document ‘Fair Decisions, Faster Justice’: "This document outlines proposed changes to the immigration and asylum appeals process as part of the new Draft (Partial) Immigration and Citizenship Bill which will, if passed, radically overhaul the current immigration system."

The two organisations pointed out that the draft Bill undermines the independence of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, for example by giving the Home Office power to veto certain judicial decisions to grant bail. The new proposals restrain rights of appeal. For example, the Bill makes the right of appeal in certain cases contingent on the person not having used deception (and the Home Office merely has to assert deception to prevent an appeal). Also, the draft Bill introduces a new power of expulsion which applies the harshest aspects of the deportation regime across the board, including those who have done no wrong.

Among the more disturbing proposals, the Home Office intends to oust the jurisdiction of the High Court by abolishing Statutory Review. This will make the Tribunal’s decision final even in asylum decisions involving matters of life or death. At present where an appeal is dismissed, it may be challenged by an application to the Tribunal for its reconsideration. If this application is refused it may be submitted to the High Court under the Statutory Review process. Even though the Home Office acknowledge that many Statutory Review applications are made by unrepresented asylum seekers, 10% are still successful. The High Court has granted more than 1,000 applications (or one per day since the current regime began). Skilled representation makes a considerable difference: the RLC’s success rate in these applications is closer to 50%.

The RLC and the Refugee Council blame the UKBA consultation document which repeatedly fails to differentiate between simple immigration cases and asylum and human rights cases, although the issues involved in both types of case are importantly and significantly different. Mere procedural safeguards are inadequate and inappropriate in cases that involve torture or risk of death on removal.

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