UK: Asylum - new figures show dramatic rise in wrong decisions

An Amnesty International report released earlier this month, based on analysis of the Home Office's own refusal letters to asylum seekers, exposed asylum decisions based on inaccurate and out-of-date country information, unreasoned decisions about people's credibility and a failure to properly consider complex torture cases. One man alleging persecution due to membership of a banned political party in Syria was refused because the Home Office had not heard of the party (known to Amnesty International since the 1980s).

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'These figures show a staggering number of wrong asylum decisions overturned on appeal. The Home Office continues to focus on getting numbers down, when it should concentrate on getting decisions right.

'A wrong decision on an asylum case could mean returning someone to face torture, rape or execution.'

Amnesty International warned that the new Asylum and Immigration Bill, to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday 1 March, would reduce the right to appeal against a wrong decision. The Bill proposes the removal of one tier of the appeals procedure, and would put decisions of the new appeals body beyond the scrutiny of the law courts.

Kate Allen said:

'When over 16,000 wrong asylum decisions are overturned in the space of one year, it is essential that we have a robust appeals procedure to ensure that people are not wrongly returned into the hands of their persecutors.

'Instead, the Home Office proposes to reduce the right to appeal. This could put people's lives at risk.

'Improving decision-making from the start would mean fewer costly appeals, speedier results and better protection for refugees.'

Amnesty International is calling on the government to 'front-load' the asylum process to ensure that it gets more decisions right from the start. The organisation is calling for:

  • Better training for asylum caseworkers, including external training in refugee and human rights law and country information;
  • An Independent Documentation Centre to provide up-to-date and objective information on asylum seekers' countries of origin;
  • A mechanism for the Home Office to reconsider wrong decisions in some circumstances without recourse to costly appeals;
  • Asylum applicants who allege that they have been tortured to be referred to specialist interviewers who have in-depth knowledge of specific countries and torture methods;
  • A legal representative for asylum seekers to be present at their initial interview to take their own record of the interview.

To read Amnesty International's February 2004 report on Home Office initial decision-making, go to:

Case Study
Cameroon Refusal letter, April 2003

You claim during the time you were in detention you were ill-treated and forced to watch your father being beaten after he stopped the officers having sex with you.

You claim you have suffered from nightmares since your arrival in the United Kingdom and that your experiences have left you 'very traumatised and nervous'. But you have sought no help to improve your mental health following your experiences in the Cameroon. Given this claim and that you were sent to the United Kingdom to find a place of safety, the Secretary of State would have expected you to seek medical help, or have been offered such help for this serious problem on your arrival.

Amnesty International:
This letter is addressed to a fifteen-year-old girl. It appears that the allegation of 'ill-treatment' (which constitutes torture) in detention is not believed because the applicant did not obtain medical treatment in the UK. In addition, the applicant's credibility appears to be doubted because she was not offered treatment on her arrival in the UK. This applicant claims that she is traumatised by her experiences, giving rise to psychological problems including nightmares. How this would be immediately obvious to medically unqualified immigration officers at the airport is not clear.

Aside from overlooking the applicant's age in consideration of her account, the Home Office has failed to consider whether seeking medical help for a psychological complaint would be culturally appropriate.

Her asylum statement reads:

They asked my father many questions and they beat him in front of us as well. They used a long black stick to beat him. I do not know how many times they did this in front of us, but it was more than once. Sometimes they would just pull him out of the room and beat him. When he came back he would have a swollen eye, a swollen mouth and injuries on his shoulders. They did not ask the questions in front of us. They did not ask me or my siblings any questions.

Whilst at the police station, some of the male police officers undressed me. They wanted to have sex with me and my father said no and they beat my father up. They did not have sex with me or beat me - I see this scene at night now all the time.

Amnesty International:
A sensitive analysis of this account would include consideration of the account in full and the commissioning of corroborative medical evidence if questions of credibility arose. The age and capabilities of the applicant would be borne in mind throughout consideration of the case. The account of 'attempted' rape should not be assumed to mean that rape did not actually take place - it may be that the applicant is too afraid to admit that full rape was carried out.

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