UK: Asylum - new report exposes home office failures causing nearly 14,000 wrong asylum decisions in one year

A new report released today (Monday 9 February 2004) by Amnesty International reveals Home Office asylum decisions based on inaccurate and out-of-date country information, unreasoned decisions about people's credibility and a failure to properly consider complex torture cases.

Government figures show that the Home Office gets the initial decision wrong on nearly 14,000 asylum cases in the last reported calendar year (2002), meaning around 1in 5 cases are overturned after costly appeals. This figure rises to nearly 4 in 10 cases from Somalia, and more than 1 in 3 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum applications.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Getting an asylum decision wrong is not like a clerical error on a tax bill or parking fine. Wrongly refusing someone's claim could mean returning them to face torture or execution. These are life-or-death decisions and the Home Office is getting one in five of them wrong.

'Our study of Home Office refusal letters to asylum seekers shows a staggering lack of accurate information about the situations asylum seekers are fleeing from. This is compounded by a negative culture that means many claims simply aren't taken seriously.

'The Government should focus on improving decision-making from the start, leading to speedier results and fewer costly appeals.'

Get it right: How Home Office decision making fails refugees is based on analysis of over 170 Home Office asylum refusal letters received by Amnesty International in 2003. It exposes a startling lack of knowledge about the situation in countries that people are fleeing and documents unexplained assumptions about the actions of refugees and others: for example the refusal to believe that a prison guard might help a woman escape after she had been repeatedly raped.

The organisation warned that plans announced by Home Secretary David Blunkett last year would reduce rights to appeal, with a new one-tier appeals body that is beyond the scrutiny of the law courts. New guidelines will also severely limit the amount of legal aid granted to asylum applicants, making the process of lodging a claim and an appeal even more difficult.

Kate Allen added:

'The appeals system is presently the only thing keeping thousands of people each year from persecution. When initial decision-making is so frequently wrong, reducing appeal rights against these decisions could mean returning people to face torture or execution.'

Amnesty International is calling on the Government to urgently review the decision-making process to ensure that it gets more decisions right from the very start, including:

  • 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 should 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.

Case Studies taken from Get it right: How Home Office decision making fails refugees

Syrian Kurd, Refusal letter
The basis of your claim is that you fear persecution in Syria because of your political beliefs. You are a member of the Hergirtin. The Secretary of State is not aware that this political party actually exists

Amnesty International
According to Amnesty International's information, the 'Hergirtin' Party ('Hevgirtina Gel a Kurd li Sûriya' or 'Hevgirtina Gel') exists in Syria. The party is unauthorised by the Syrian state and therefore operates in secret. The party was founded in 1975, and was then named Partya Dêmokratî Kurd a Cep li Sûriya. It has been known as 'Hevgirtina Gel' since 1980.

In Syria, Kurdish parties are perceived as 'separatist', and involvement with such organisations at any level is a serious crime which can lead to imprisonment and torture. The consequences of return to Syria for this applicant would have been extremely serious.

Colombia, Refusal letter
The Secretary of State considers that the authorities of Colombia are capable of offering you effective protection. With regard to the offences committed against you, and the failure of the police to capture the perpetrators, the Secretary of State does not consider that the inability of the police to identify and apprehend such people can be construed as complicity in, or support for, such behaviour. He is aware that prosecutions are actively pursued through the courts when arrests are made.

Amnesty International
There are approximately 20 politically related killings a day in Colombia. Amnesty International is aware that in 2003 approximately 75% of non-combat politically-related killings and forced disappearances were attributed to paramilitaries acting in conjunction with, or with the acquiescence of the Colombian Security forces. Around 8% were attributed directly to the security forces. Amnesty International continues to document the on-going collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary forces.

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