Written evidence from Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary (NBB0023)
Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary is a registered charity which is in contact with about 200 refugee and asylum seekers who live locally. We aim to help them in practical ways and to improve understanding and relations with the wider community.
We are not legal experts, but we do see many asylum cases. Our trustees include asylum seekers who have experienced the reality of what goes on in the asylum process in the UK. We know that in some cases the system does well, but in others it fails dismally, leaving individuals in difficult and sometimes desperate situations.
Response to the Bill’s overall aims
The three main objectives of the Bill, and the underlying policy statement, are:
In response to the three main objectives outlined for the Bill:
1) We do not believe it will increase fairness. Whilst the bill may remove a few anomalies it will undermine the fundamental human right for asylum seekers to have the cases adjudicated solely on each one’s merit.
2) The aim of reducing the business viability of people smugglers’ operations seems laudable. However we would like the select committees to ask what other options were considered to achieve this? People use such smugglers because there are no other safe routes to apply for asylum in the UK. Creating more safe routes would be the obvious way to undercut people smugglers – perhaps by creating consul type offices for this purpose in regional hubs in Africa and Asia. With the UK government currently engaged on setting up such safe routes in Kabul for Afghan refugees, why have options for safe routes from other countries with poor human rights records not been considered as a means of undercutting people smugglers?
3) The Home Office has a poor track record of determining who is in the country legally, and has frequently told people they are here illegally when they had every right to be in the UK. Without an improvement in its own decision-making processes the Home Office risks increasing such miscarriages of justice - particularly with the most vulnerable people.
Response to specific questions in the Call for Evidence by Joint Committee Human Rights
This question is very apt, and raises a matter of the greatest concern about the proposed changes.
In a small but significant number of cases asylum seekers only bring forward the material evidence at a late stage. This is for a number of quite understandable reasons; (1) they may not understand the system, (2) they may have been badly advised, (3) they may be traumatised or ashamed if it involves sexual or other taboo matters, (4) the evidence may not be available or they may not know it exists until a later point.
For example *Peter* is an asylum seeker whom we know well and whose case has similar aspects to others we know. It is dependent on evidence which has been produced after some years in the UK. He was an illiterate farmer from a remote area in a poor African country with a terrible human rights record who was involved in an opposition movement. He had no idea about the UK asylum system when he came here. He has been wholly dependent on the advice he received, which has been poor, and on the Home Office’s sensitivity to his situation, which has been entirely lacking. He witnessed the murder of his parents but the Home Office did not believe this happened; it was only much later after years in the UK that he found by chance a person who knew about their killing. He was tortured by the police in his country, but, again, it was only after a few years in the UK that anybody actually asked him if he had scars to prove it, which led to a medical report to back his case. He fled across the Sahara where he saw people tortured and killed in Libya, and across the Mediterranean where he witnessed people drown, so it is not surprising that he had PTSD when he arrived in the UK, but this was not picked up by the medical professionals or by the courts until quite recently.
We have seen a number of cases where evidence submitted late in the day has proved absolutely crucial to vulnerable people establishing their right to asylum and our concern is that the new proposals will lead to grave injustices and so endanger innocent people.
The “RNLI question” is an obvious concern here. We also have concerns about these proposals; for example if our charity volunteer gives assistance, such as providing free accommodation to a homeless and destitute person who has yet to seek asylum, will this be classified as facilitating irregular entry? Our volunteers have done this and helped people who have gone on to get Leave to Remain and /or Refugee Status showing that they were always legally in the country despite the Home Office having believed otherwise.
This is a key question. The rhetoric of the bill blames the Hoe Office’s present problems on too many asylum seekers and on the people smugglers. But almost everyone who works or volunteers in the sector knows that Home Office’s own decision making can be deeply flawed: we see it frequently.
Please note the following comments and questions :
a) Culture of Disbelief / Prejudice: In 2018 the outgoing Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, admitted they had lost sight of the people, and that there was a culture of disbelief. However the latest proposals seem to show no trace at all of having identified ongoing problems within the Home Office or to have learnt anything from past errors. We would like the Select Committee to ask the Home Office what mistakes they have identified in their own practices over the last two years and how these have informed the specific proposals in the bill?
b) Targets: Is Home Office decision making still driven by targets rather by judging individual cases on merit? Such targets or “internal performance indicators” are widely believed to influence the way that justice is administered, and, if true, it means that the Home Office’s previous handling of cases cannot be said to be independent and it should not be given extra quasi-judicial powers.
c) Late evidence: We have helped several people whose asylum cases were rejected by the Home Office and courts, but they got Leave to Remain when they eventually received the legal support they needed and their evidence was finally presented in a full and coherent way. The Home Office assumes too much, and at early stages does too little to help asylum seekers present their evidence.
d) Vulnerability: There is a pattern of rejecting people from less developed countries with unidentified trauma (PTSD) who have little or no English and who cannot get good advice. We see an aspect of institutional racism in the failure to address this.
e) Reviews: why are so many cases lost on appeal? The Home Secretary has blamed left-wing lawyers, but this is a charade, as people win cases because they have the evidence to prove their case. The long list of pending cases is partly because of inadequate management of reviews, especially when new evidence surfaces; at present the Home Office often carries on regardless of whether it can win the case. If the Home Office were better at identifying cases that it cannot win, then it would avoid wasting public money and adding to the waiting list of unresolved cases.
f) Staff Management: are the officials making life-changing decisions on asylum cases sufficiently trained? Or are decisions in fact being made by under-trained staff members?