Written evidence from Central Asylum Yorkshire (NBB0033)
Central Asylum Yorkshire (CAY) is a charity founded in 2019 principally to support refused asylum seekers in West Yorkshire. I also founded DASH – Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield – in 2011 to host refused asylum seekers and this organisation grew into an exceptionally successful large needs-based charity, holistically supporting migrants in the asylum community at all stages of their claims, from which I retired in 2018.
I have extensive experience of working with asylum seekers and living in countries where human rights are under constant threat. Having lived in Israel, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I have first hand experience of what it is like to live in places where the freedoms I grew up with are continually abused.
In the 1970s I spent time in a kibbutz near Beersheva, Beit Kama, amongst mostly Argentine Jewish kibbutzniks who were part of the Peace Now movement, which opposes the settlements in the West Bank and supports Palestinian autonomy. I was there when Israeli soldiers went into Hebron and ousted Palestinian families in a land grab.
In 1981-2 I lived and worked in Iraq, teaching at the international school, a time when Iraq was at war with Iran. Many houses flew a black flag to show a family member had died in the war and this was considered a patriotic duty not to be shirked. Footage of dead Iranian soldiers being buried was a familiar feature on the evening news, designed to show that the Iraqi military were honouring the Islamic strictures, where graves are marked so bodies can be reclaimed after hostilities have ceased. I witnessed the fear in which my colleagues, many of them expat women married to Iraqis, lived, knowing that speaking or acting out of turn could result in swift arrest. Many spoke of the hostility they faced because they were not Iraqi-born and the difficulties they experienced in obtaining exit visas to be able to visit their families in the UK, US and Australia. My British husband, who worked at the university, had Iraqi colleagues who were also very careful as to what they might say and do, and his migrant colleagues came from places such as Poland and spoke of human rights abuses and poverty in their home countries.
I returned to Iraq to produce my children’s opera in the international school in 1992, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to find that I was welcome partly because many foreign missions had closed their embassies and there was a sense of isolation amongst the expat community remaining. Most of the pupils at time were in fact Iraqi, sent to the school to be educated in English as a precursor to taking up positions of power in future governments. These included the nephews of Saddam Hussein. At that time, poverty brought on by various factors including international sanctions had risen to levels previously unknown in the country and legislation was introduced to combat the corresponding rise in theft (which had previously been minimal) whereby the traditional punishment of hand amputation would be applicable for even minor infractions. My friend and colleague, wife of the then US representative, William Eagleton, had the hub caps stolen from her car and was obliged to plead for mercy for the culprits. I spent time living with a Kurdish couple where the husband had been banned from employment and was engaged in writing a Kurdish-English dictionary. It was a great privilege to be able to present a children’s opera with themes of freedom and justice in such a place, under the guise of culture, education and entertainment.
In 1995-6 I lived in Istanbul for a year, also working at the international school there. This was a time when the party of President Erdogan was gaining in power and women were coming under increased pressure to wear the hijab and relinquish their public personae. Although not directly involved, I had Christian friends who regularly visited the prison in Uskadar to take food and clothing, since conditions there were known to be very bad. The newspapers were hostile to people of Kurdish origin and the PKK was constantly cited as a terrorist organisation.
In 1996 I moved to Jordan where I taught at the National Music Conservatory and wrote textbooks for the emerging national curriculum. I married my second (now ex-) husband, an Iraqi doctor, now a prominent British psychiatrist, whilst I was there. Despite being able to prove we could fulfil the criteria for him to be granted a visa to come to the UK – we were married, had phone bills showing extensive calls from the UK to his home in Iraq and that I owned property and had a job waiting for me in the UK – he was turned down, and we were able to access the visa only when the Blair government abolished the primary purpose rule where one had to prove that the marriage was genuine in the sense that it was a love match.
My husband knew many people in Jordan who had fled Iraq and our house was a haven for them where they were always welcome for a meal, as many were acutely impoverished, not being allowed to work in Jordan and mostly surviving by selling coffee in the streets. These included a young man who had been tortured by having hot screwdrivers pushed into his back, the scars of which he showed me. My husband was in Jordan on a three month visa, renewable up to six months, after which he would have been obliged to leave the country and return for a further three month visa on a revolving door basis. Many Iraqis did not have the luxury of being able to comply with this and after a six month period would become illegal immigrants, desperately trying to access the assistance of the UNHCR. Some went to Syria where they said there were fewer immigration checks but, being a poorer country, fewer opportunities to support themselves and, of course, send money home to their families. My husband would have been in this position had he not been married to me and thus eligible for a spouse visa. In the first instance he was refused the spouse visa because the legislation was intended for husbands to access the visa for their wives, but the Conservatory assisted with this as they knew I would have to leave my post if his visa was not renewed.
Whilst there we assisted an Iraqi anaesthetist who had fallen foul of the visa regulations and was due for deportation. His options were that he could return to Iraq or go to Yemen or Malaysia, countries which did not require a visa for Iraqis. Prior to his planned deportation he was imprisoned and we saw letters from his family in Iraq saying his brothers and cousins had been arrested and tortured, urging him not to return. We paid half his air fare so he could fly to Yemen to be safe and about eighteen months later he came to the UK on a flight mostly with Yemeni passengers in some kind of deal with the UK government to accept these people as asylum seekers.
In 1997 I returned to the UK and began visiting at the Harmondsworth removals centre where I found it was a frequent occurrence that inmates were unable to access medical support or have adequate legal support, or adequate contact with their solicitors when they did have legal support.
In 2010 I moved to Huddersfield and in 2011 set up DASH – Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield – primarily as an organisation intended to host refused asylum seekers whilst they revisited their cases in order to put in a fresh claim. Realising that hosting and finding solicitors for clients – we preferred this nomenclature in favour of ‘beneficiaries’, ‘service users’ or ‘visitors’ as we felt it gave more dignity to those seeking our assistance – was insufficient, we evolved into a needs-based service and eventually offered support which continued over into our involvement with Central Asylum Yorkshire with:
- hosting in the homes of local people, the longest stay being just under two years in duration; the last client stayed in my home for three weeks prior to the first lockdown just before which he went to stay with a friend;
- accessing appropriate legal advice to further their cases;
- assistance with evidence gathering such as requesting a referral for a medical report, writing to legal bodies in countries of origin for documentation, requesting school reports;
- offering small cash sums and referrals to the local food bank for destitute clients;
- accessing benefits to which clients were entitled from the Home Office and offering small amounts of cash when benefits were not forthcoming;
- ensuring clients had funds to travel to report in Leeds and encouraging them to do so to remain within the law; taking them to report when they were afraid to go;
- support with accessing medical treatment and reports;
- support for clients in detention including visiting them in Morton Hall and Yarl’s Wood;
- standing bail for detained clients;
- accessing ESOL classes, some of which we ran ourselves;
- fresh food for families when the benefit rate for children was reduced from around £51pw to the then adult rate of around £35pw at a few weeks’ notice, beginning in the school summer holidays in 2015;
- support with accessing schools near to their accommodation;
- issues with accommodation maintenance including infestations, damp, leaks and ceiling collapses;
- supporting clients on spouse visas to access domestic violence provision;
- offering trips and entertainment for clients including being part of Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Encore scheme;
- offering food supplied by Tesco under their Fare Share scheme;
- offering hot meals twice a week;
- assistance with accessing benefits and support when clients gained leave to remain;
- celebrating successful applications for asylum with candles and cake to symbolise new life;
- other assistance as required.
We quickly became aware that clients were poorly placed to present their evidence to solicitors in the short time available and to prepare for their substantive interview at the Home Office and offered assistance in getting them to prepare a coherent account of why they needed to seek sanctuary in the UK. Many clients were traumatised by their experiences and had mental health issues. Some, particularly women, were illiterate, had no concept of the calendar beyond seasonal changes and struggled to cope with living alone or alone with their children as single mothers.
Because of the holistic approach we adopted, the patience and respect with which we treated our clients, and because none of our clients were deported, a record which we carried over to Central Asylum Yorkshire and which now extends to a ten year period, we found that clients trusted us and were prepared to reveal details of their situations.
I am sorry to say that DASH is no longer willing to offer these types of support, although CAY continues to offer as many as possible within the restrictions imposed by Covid.
The above are all factors which have influenced and guided the evidence which I propose to submit below. Of course I am also familiar with the activities of other agencies offering support to asylum seekers and refugees, both in West Yorkshire and nationally and may draw on my experience of this too.
1. Do these reforms adequately address any remaining areas of unjustified discrimination in British nationality law?
There is no detailed provision for improving access to legal advice and the current situation, partly due to previous changes in legal aid and partly due to Covid, has meant that the number of solicitor’s firms handling asylum claims has significantly reduced. At CAY we are finding it increasingly difficult to find solicitors for our clients and forced to support them with services which, ideally, should be provided by a solicitor, such as reviewing their evidence and suggesting other evidence they might provide before actually accessing a solicitor appointment. Solicitors are unwilling to take on more difficult cases. Mr Q’s papers were passed between solicitors in one firm over a period of six years without any progress being made and this was clearly because of the amount of work which needed to be done and, this firm clearly decided, could not be done at the rates paid by the Legal Aid Board. The quality of legal advice varies considerably and we find we are forced to approach more than one solicitor in some cases to be able to assist a client reliably. It would be helpful if the quality of advice were regulated more stringently.
Clients are not aware that their solicitor appointments will often be limited to one or two hours and come from cultures where it is customary to take a considerable length of time to give an account of what happened. This can result in the facts of the case being obscured, creating (sometimes multiple) refusal results through no fault of the client, which can take years to address effectively.
The family of Mr A were in limbo for twelve years following inadequate legal advice, exacerbated by language difficulties and lived in fear. For a large part of the time the family of six, with some children under eighteen for some of the time, were without any support, since they were part of the pilot scheme in West Yorkshire run in 2005-6 to deny support to refused families to encourage return. When the pilot was abandoned they were too frightened to access support and thus give the Home Office reliable information as to their whereabouts, and relied on members of their community and DASH for the remaining seven years for sustenance. It is not uncommon for CAY to see clients who, following poor legal advice, are afraid to access support to which they may be entitled and prefer to remain destitute and operate to their severe detriment in the black economy, sometimes being prey to sexual advances from the people with whom they are forced to seek shelter.
The interpreting services used in casework should be improved substantially as there are many cases in which unqualified interpreters have missed vital information.
Ms B, a lady who has been in the UK for thirteen years, is a victim of this. Traumatised by her experiences when she first tried to seek asylum, and recently referred to a new solicitor, to date no female interpreter has been found who speaks her language since she comes from a village in a remote area. She has taught herself to communicate in another language, adequately enough to cope with everyday life, but not to relate properly the circumstances which led to her claiming asylum. She is illiterate and remains unable to speak English virtually at all. In her first appointment with the new solicitor she revealed shocking details of abuse which she had hidden for many years due to being unable to explain what had happened to her first solicitor, and which she had not trusted anyone to deal with adequately since then, relying on other less strong evidence for her case.
There is no provision for mental health support. A significant number of CAY’s clients are traumatised and require specialist mental health support, particularly early support soon after arrival. Local practitioners do their best but there is little or no provision for counselling, none for counselling in languages other than English, and no specialist support such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR).
This is a major factor in the work of CAY and previously at DASH, in that we take the time to sit with clients and let them relate their histories so they are better able to present a coherent account to the Home Office. This has substantial benefits and employing this approach before the substantive interview, with sympathetic advisors, would yield benefits for both asylum seekers and the Home Office.
Ms C was eventually granted asylum on mental health grounds as she had expressed suicidal ideation in a particularly horrific form on many occasions. She would have benefited from earlier intervention from mental health services, which were excellent once accessed. Her condition deteriorated when her solicitor informed her she had been refused without the right of appeal, but on examination of the papers this was not the case: it was that he did not wish to take on the appeal so had not informed her she was eligible. Fortunately she was taken to a solicitor who processed the appeal successfully.
The information being used by the Home Office to determine whether or not a country is safe is frequently not compatible with current events or with the advice being given to British nationals by the Foreign Office about visiting such countries.
Mr D received a decision where in one section it was acknowledged that certain areas of his country would be unsafe for him to return to, and further on he was advised to returned to one of these places. He waited several frustrating months for his case to be heard on appeal where it was obvious that he could not return and he was granted leave to remain.
Mr E, a person who had declared himself to be an atheist, received a decision stating that it was safe for him to return to his country, despite the fact that information on the internet was easily available showing that members of his government had said such people would be executed.
There are many cases involving Iranian Christians where there is no clear policy at the Home Office. It is unclear what the criteria are for establishing whether a person would be at risk on returning to Iran and we have seen many cases which are exactly the same – sometimes involving members of the same extended family – where one party is given asylum and another refused. The asylum system frequently fails to take account of the wide variations in the beliefs and rituals of Christianity and appears to rely upon the practices laid down by the Catholic and Anglican churches. However, in the north of England in particular, there are many very welcoming small sects which do not follow these practices and it is unjust to use the yardsticks of the two main branches of the church to make decisions on whether or not a person has a Christian belief.
I would also like to say that the way in which the Home Office determines whether or not a person is a Christian involves double standards culturally. Ms B, cited above, has been attending church services on a regular basis for the past seven years, yet the Home Office do not accept she has a Christian faith. Such habits in a British person would result in them unquestionably being labelled as Christian.
Generally I would say that many decisions I have seen given by the Home Office appear to require a higher standard of proof than one which would normally be accepted in British society. There is also little understanding of the cultural practices of other nationalities, or of their access to services and support a British person would assume was normal, such as access to medical facilities.
Mr E was tortured in his country, yet because his injuries could not be conclusively attributed to torture and because he could not provide a medical record of the help he had sought immediately following the torture, he was deemed not to be credible.
Credibility is frequently cited as a reason for refusing an asylum claim and the attitude appears to be that the burden of proof is quite high. Clients I have seen – and the numbers on successful appeals bear this out – have often been accused of lying, yet their decisions have been overturned in the courts, either when they have attended in person or more recently when the decisions have been reviewed on paper.
Ms G’s son had been abducted at the age of twelve and forced to work many hours a day on a cannabis farm. There was a substantive interview at which I was present, Ms G having previously had a panic attack during her first interview and being unable to face having a further interview for the following three years. Her account of what had happened and their situation in their country was entirely credible and appeared to be accepted by the interviewer, yet they were refused and only granted asylum on appeal.
The provisions for victims of domestic violence are currently discriminatory. Many women, particularly those who have grown up in Pakistani villages, do not understand their rights and are unwilling or unable to make complaints to the police, which constitute the bulk of the evidence which is acceptable to the Home Office. This needs to change. Women whose life chances have been limited by being confined to the home, unable to learn English and experience British cultural norms where the police force can largely be trusted to investigate incidents in a professional manner, cannot be expected to conform to the Home Office’s ideal of reporting to the police as a prerequisite for being believed and granted asylum.
Ms H experienced domestic violence but did not report it to the police on every occasion and did not press charges. This was in accordance with her cultural beliefs that the police should not be involved in family matters. As a consequence she was unable to prove she had been a victim of domestic violence to the satisfaction of the Home Office and remains without status, at the mercy of the families who take her in and the sexual advances of the male members of those families.
There is no provision in the Bill for improving the benefit levels for asylum seekers. When I first set up DASH in 2011 children received approximately 40% more than adults, depending on the age of the child. This was abolished in, I believe, 2015, when the child rate was reduced to match that of adults except for meagre amounts for the very young, presumably to cover the cost of nappies. Current levels of benefit – less than £40pppw – are shockingly low, particularly when one takes account of the recent rises in basic food prices, detailed in the media once again only this week. The argument for keeping the levels low is that accommodation and utilities are provided, but this does not cover items such as clothes and shoes for growing children. Benefits need to be properly costed against other support such as Universal Credit, and calculated in terms of percentages rather than bald figures which quickly become out of date.
Ms I informed me that during lockdown her children mostly wore their pyjamas since they had outgrown their clothes and shoes.
The current practice of giving some asylum seekers five years’ protection and full refugee status and others limited leave to remain, most frequently of thirty months, is illogical and punitive. Whilst it is possible for our clients who are required to pay large sums of money for themselves and their families to renew their visas at four thirty month intervals, we find that many people do not know of the fee waiver system whereby those on low incomes can be exempted from paying the fees, and it is not always pointed out by legal representatives. Some do not do this because of the extra work involved, others seem to take the view that the grant of a fee waiver is exceptional and not worth applying for.
Ms J needed to renew the visas for herself and her two children. She was on benefits since she has severe health conditions. Before consulting us she had approached a well-respected legal charity to make the application for her. She borrowed the money for the fees and when the solicitor handling the case was asked why he had not recommended applying for the fee waiver, he said that it was not worth the extra work since she was unlikely to succeed.
In the experience of CAY, all clients who have applied for the fee waiver have been successful. Since the advent of Covid, when many organisations offering free services for applying for the renewal of visas have not been operating, CAY has sourced the cheapest offer for this and guaranteed the fees of the solicitor against their return when the fee waiver is granted. In every case the fee waiver has been granted.
The fees for applications for citizenship are punitive and should be adjusted to reflect the administrative cost incurred.
Mr K has three children. When the eldest became eligible for citizenship he approached CAY to ask if someone could act as a referee. Knowing he has limited funds, and respecting both the need for citizenship for the children in terms of their future in the UK as well as his love for his family, a trustee of CAY paid the fees for one of the children so he would not have to take out such heavy loans to provide for his children.
The practices currently in use of housing asylum seekers in barracks should be banned immediately. I do not have experience of clients who have been housed in these circumstances but it is obvious that Covid protocols are being breached and the physical conditions of the barracks are unsuitable for people who are likely to be traumatised.
The accommodation for asylum seekers has been generally poorly managed and has been the subject of media attention for many years. I would cite only one particularly bad case:
Ms L and her three children were placed in a property where the ceiling fell down due to a leak from the toilet. It was winter time and the accommodation providers refused to rehouse them, despite the fact that the carpet in the lounge was sodden and it was not safe for the children who were very young to be left alone in a room not affected by the leak. I attended the property with a trustee who is a social worker and we called the accommodation provider to request they be moved, but were unsuccessful. I paid for the family to go to a hotel for the Saturday and Sunday nights. The children were already unwell and the mattresses at the hotel had to be taken to be cleaned since they had vomited and excreted profusely on them. On the Monday the accommodation provider said they would find a new place for the family but did not do so. I contacted the local manager whom I knew and he placed them in house he was preparing for occupation but which was not yet quite ready. He did his best. There was no heating, and none available, so I bought heaters. The accommodation was very unsuitable in many ways but was at least a roof over their heads. The family were rehoused about a week later.
Other incidents frequently occurring are properties with infestations, leaks making electrical equipment unsafe, holes in the floor, one property built over a spring which causes excessive dampness, a wait for heating to be fixed (in one case for five months, several of them winter months) and long waits for washing machines to be plumbed in. In one case the occupants of the house paid themselves for the washing machine to be plumbed in as they were tired of waiting.
The original purpose for which DASH was established remains a source of the violation of human rights. Single adult asylum seekers who are refused are very quickly denied any kind of support. The advent of Covid has meant that some of them are able to access s4 support.
Traditionally this has been accommodation and voucher access, available to those able to prove medical vulnerability, and has been extended during Covid to, in theory, all refused asylum seekers. However, the use of the voucher system is demeaning and causes difficulties where clients are housed away from large supermarkets. This is particularly stressful if clients are experiencing pain or stomach upsets and cannot access suitable medication easily.
At the moment, since I do not deal with this aspect of care, it is unclear to me exactly who is eligible for s4 support and how they would access it, but I am certain that there are many asylum seekers who are not claiming this and operating ‘under the radar’. A quick Google of the situation revealed the advice on offer (and therefore most likely to be accessed by those in need of it) is that currently single adults will be made destitute 21 days after refusal, and this is in clear violation of human rights and has been ever since I began my involvement with the sector.
2. Do proposed changes to the application and appeals process for asylum applicants provide adequate human rights protection, including provisions providing for credibility and the weight given to evidence to be affected by the timeliness of applications and supportive evidence?
Section 10 (2)(a) of the Bill states that the person needs to have come directly from the country where they have experienced persecution to the UK. This is in contravention of international human rights legislation and contrary to the stated policy regarding asylum seekers currently originating in Afghanistan, where it has been accepted without question that since there are now no flights available, those needing protection will have to come via other routes, principally Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. This will undoubtedly mean that the use of people smugglers will have to be sanctioned, yet the Bill would make this unacceptable.
There is also the question of whether the EU countries through which people have travelled are suitable places where they might claim asylum.
Ms M, a mother with three children, was raped in France and the authorities were unable to protect her. She became pregnant and the father stamped upon her stomach causing her to miscarry. When she became pregnant again, with the same perpetrator, she was able to escape and gave birth to her fourth child in the UK.
Section 10 (2)(b) of the Bill requires the application to be made ‘without delay’ and this would have severe repercussions for those who, as outlined in 1c) of this submission, are unable to do so because of trauma or because of fear of reprisal from fellow nationals from opposition groups or even government representatives resident in the UK.
This section also would impact upon those in country applications made by those in the following categories:
women experiencing domestic violence
students on visas in the UK who find the situation in their country has made it unsafe for them to return where the visa expires
other foreign nationals in a similar situations
Mr N was studying in the UK, living here with his wife and four children, when the situation in his country deteriorated to the extent that he felt he could not return. He made an application for asylum and was eventually granted it. At what point would ‘timeliness’ apply to his case? Since Huddersfield is a town with a university popular with foreign students, other families I have come across from the same country have had the same experience. It is obvious that the personal circumstances of different families would impact upon their decisions on whether or not and when to apply for asylum, and there is also the factor that they frequently wait until the situation is extremely bad before making their final decision to apply for asylum. It should also be taken into account that applying for asylum in itself, even unsuccessfully, could impact negatively on any return to the country of origin.
The sections regarding the two-tier system are particularly unpalatable and I will deal with these elsewhere.
The provisions in sub-section 5 of Section 10 are punitive. Once an individual has been accepted as having need of humanitarian protection, this should not be compromised by a league table prioritising deserving cases. Please see my comments on current discriminatory practices regarding leave to remain.
The provisions in sub-sections 5(d) and 6 that whether or not family members have been permitted to come to the UK as a result of a successful claim is open to interpretation that those who have brought family here will be treated less favourably than those whose claim relates solely to themselves, and this would be particularly so if the provisions of the Human Rights Act were to be amended, as may be the government’s intention in the near future. Some see this Bill as a precursor to such changes.
In Part 4A it states that a claim by an EU national would not be admissible. This is in clear contravention of the basic right to claim asylum and, given the current situations in countries such as Hungary and Poland, where regressive policies are contravening human rights already, this part of the Bill should be struck out.
The provisions regarding ‘safe states’ are also in direct contravention of international human rights legislation, with particular regard to the Home Office’s view as to what constitutes a ‘safe state’, as detailed above.
Subsection 80B (6) is somewhat peculiar in that it appears to be advocating the removal of individuals to a third ‘safe state’ where they may not have the right to work, to educate their children or access to medical facilities because they are not nationals of that country.
Section 16: it is unclear how the use of the requirement to serve evidence will operate in practice, but given the general tenor of the Bill I would expect that it would be used to the detriment of asylum seekers’ human rights.
Section 17 deals with credibility and I would draw your attention to the case of a family from the Czech republic with which I was involved in 2000. The father had made two return visits to his country to make provision for his mother who was very ill and it is, I believe, not unusual for people to do this in extreme circumstances. The judge at the time granted the family status but this section would have a severe impact on the credibility of the claim. It is unclear how this section would work in practice and please see my previous remarks on credibility.
Section 20 on credibility and timeliness is particularly damaging to human rights provision. One simply cannot know what is around the corner, what new evidence may come to light. I refer you to the case study of Ms B and the following:
Ms O had revealed to her child’s teacher, a person she trusted, that she had been gang raped, but had not mentioned this in her asylum claim because of the taboo surrounding rape in her culture. She had been insufficiently aware at the time of her claim that rape is viewed differently in the UK and was embarrassed to reveal details of this. She was estranged from family in her home country when she attempted to explain what had happened and why she had left with her three youngest children. When a fresh claim was prepared for her, following accessing counselling and much support from volunteers for her and her family (husband on a separate claim and three children), the Home Office refused her without right of appeal. Volunteers were provided to sit with her on a 24 hour basis for a few days following this because of her state of mind. Her solicitor then prepared a JR which was successful and succeeding circumstances where she was again refused without the right of appeal necessitated a further JR, which the Home Office withdrew from at the last moment and later they granted the family limited leave to remain. The youngest child was found, after several years in the UK and unpleasant treatment at the hands of her school, to be suffering from a genetic disability, which would have been much easier to support had the family been able to access the right medical advice at an early stage, since the child was not permitted to leave the home except for education and accompanied short visits to shops.
As someone who has dealt with thousands of asylum seekers over the course of the last ten years, I am extremely proud to say that NOBODY I have been assisting has been removed under my watch. This begs the question as to whether Border Force in my region – West Yorkshire – are not interested in apprehending refused asylum seekers in areas outside cities, or whether the support offered formerly at DASH and now at CAY is sufficient to prevent this. Only four clients have received visits from Border Force with a view to removal, two who were allegedly but not found to be in my own home. Certainly we have had clients detained – I cannot remember exact numbers but I would say not more than twenty over the entire period – but they have all been released back into the community.
It seems to me that the purpose of the legislation currently in force and that proposed in the Bill is to act to create fear and therefore compliance in the minds of asylum seekers. It certainly creates fear, but it does not have the desired effect of making them decide to take assisted voluntary return. I have assisted in only one case of voluntary return, in 2011, where the person decided he had been in the UK for ten years, the situation in his country had changed, he would no longer be considered a threat and he wished to be with his family.
Removal is not a practical option to many countries, such as Palestine or Somalia, and it is a waste of scarce resources to charter planes which end up being populated in only 10% or so of the available seats. The practice is touted as the exercise of justice, but, where it is operated, as in the case of the recent removals to Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Jamaica, it is merely signalling, and very expensive signalling at that.
It should be borne in mind that removing women to countries where it is unsafe for women to be single households, such as India and Pakistan, is contrary to human rights and culturally insensitive.
Ms P is unable to return to her country as she was subjected to forced marriage and domestic violence. She comes from a culture where it is not acceptable for women to live alone and her personal circumstances meant that she was eventually, after being in the system for eight years, given leave to remain. Unfortunately during that period her mental health suffered and she self-harmed and attempted suicide several times. She is now safe but unable to work or pursue normal activities with any regularity.
Considering the numbers of people I have worked with and the successful outcomes they have achieved, I am completely disgusted at the larger refugee charities who put scarce resources into promoting voluntary return. Only a handful of people I have worked with have not eventually been granted leave to remain, through persistence on evidence gathering and support, for some for many years, both moral and financial.
3. Does introducing a two-tier system of rights for refugees meet the UK’s obligations under refugee law and human rights law?
It is obvious from the current situation in Afghanistan that there are refugees who are unable to come directly to the UK from the persecution they are undergoing and the existing legislation on human rights deals with this adequately. It should not be open to the Home Office to create special cases for particular countries or groups, such as former interpreters in Afghanistan or Uighers.
4. Do proposed new powers for UK Border Force to direct vessels out of UK territorial waters, and for the Home Office to return people to “safe countries” risk undermining refugees’ human rights as well as the principle that refugees should not be expelled or returned to the frontiers of territories in any manner whatsoever where they risk persecution (the principle of non-refoulement)?
I am appalled at the prospect of this and have had a letter published in The Guardian (13 September 2021) on the subject. This is in direct contravention of maritime law. I would make the moral argument for this and leave the details to those more qualified in the legal aspects to express their views on this point.
5. What are the implications of extending the offence of helping an asylum seeker facilitate irregular entry to the UK so that it also covers those that may help asylum seekers with no benefit to themselves?
I am in touch with an Afghan family who are currently trying to assist relatives in Afghanistan who have worked with the UK forces in leaving the country. Clearly they are not going to be able to leave on the planes which were provided for such people and will now have to attempt other routes to gain entry, most likely ones which involved ‘irregular entry’ and the services of people smugglers. I have given them money to assist their relatives with whatever they need – food, shelter, transport and, I presume, fees to traffickers – so does this mean that I would in future, or indeed, am already, committing an offence?
Such legislation would severely impact on the mental health of asylum seekers and refugees already in the UK because they would fear being able to assist their families in escaping persecution, either knowingly or unwittingly. It is the case that people naturally tend to hide the distressing aspects of their lives from their loved ones to protect them from anxiety. Indeed I have known many asylum seekers who have hidden their UK status – either in process or refused – from their families to prevent further distress and to hold out to them the hope that they will be able to be reunited soon, so I would think it an all too regular occurrence that those on the other side might not reveal the true nature of their distress or the reason for their pleas for funds. Social services in the countries asylum seekers often come from are usually non-existent so a request for funds for medical treatment or social care might well be diverted into the hands of traffickers without the knowledge of the person providing them.
6. Do the changes proposed by the Bill adequately protect the right to life for those at sea?
I have written to The Guardian newspaper about this and they printed my letter on 13 September. The practice of refoulement is dangerous and unprecedented in the English Channel which is known to be a waterway affording significant risk to life. It is, I believe, a significant indicator of public opinion that, following Nigel Farage’s condemnation of the RNLI for coming to the aid of those crossing the Channel, the RNLI then received substantial public donations for their actions.
7. Do the proposed powers to remove asylum seekers to “safe countries” while their asylum claim are pending, with a view to supporting the processing of asylum claims outside the UK in future, comply with the UK’s obligations under refugee law and human rights law?
I am not legally qualified but I have been informed that this is not the case. I would say that idle chatter about accommodating asylum seekers in places such as Ascension Island operates merely as signalling to the xenophobic elements in the population. It is obvious that a place as small and isolated as Ascension Island would need vast amounts of money spending to make such a proposal viable and I would venture to say that it is time the more blue sky thinking of government ministers were opposed not only in human rights terms but in terms of practicality and cost.
I would not want to emulate the system operated in Australia which is opposed by many Australians and sadly given insufficient attention internationally.
I presume that some of the “safe countries” mentioned which are in Africa have significant refugee populations of their own and would be willing to take UK asylum seekers only on the basis that sufficient revenue would be raised thereby, making it a foil to the reduced income they are receiving due to the downgrading of the international aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.
I find all suggestions to house asylum seekers during processing abhorrent and contrary to human rights.
8. Will the proposed instructions to decision-makers on how to interpret the Refugee Convention secure or restrict the protections that Convention guarantees?
Most certainly, and I leave the details of this to those legally qualified to argue.
9. Do the changes that the Bill would make to the law regarding modern slavery ensure appropriate protections for victims? What will be the consequences of the presumptions that compliance with procedural requirements should affect a person’s credibility as a victim?
Again I can only cite my personal experience in this area, but I would say that the clients who have been subjected to modern slavery have, even with the current provisions, found it very difficult to prove and are mostly very fearful of coming forward in case they are removed from the UK.
10. Is Home Office decision-making in immigration matters that raise human rights concerns sufficiently independent and rigorous to ensure that human rights are properly respected?
a) I would say not.
I have seen a decision where the Home Office has recommended someone return to a part of Yemen which specifically, in another place in the decision, is cited as being unsafe.
I have seen a decision where the Home Office has refused to recognise that a Sudanese person who has publicly declared himself to have no faith would be unsafe, according to evidence adduced from the internet by the authorities there making it clear the death penalty is appropriate for these cases.
Earlier this year Ms G and her son were granted leave to remain. They had been in the UK for four years. Ms G was sufficiently afraid of the Home Office interviewer that she suffered a panic attack and refused to return for a substantive interview for three years. She has substantial health issues which deteriorated during this time. She agreed to attend if I was present. Her son was abducted at the age of twelve and forced to work in a cannabis farm for twelve hours a day for several months. She was a very credible witness, yet the claim was refused. This caused her further stress and a further deterioration in her health. Her claim was upheld on appeal. The Home Office refuses to take into account that Ms G’s country of origin has a significant problem with gangs, particularly in rural areas, and I was shocked to hear Priti Patel say at a Home Office Committee meeting that she is negotiating with that country’s government to facilitate the return of refused asylum seekers.
We currently have a client of former Iraqi nationality, Mr Q, who had his British citizenship revoked after he served time for possession of drugs. He appealed against this and has been waiting six years for a decision. He has an estranged British partner and two sons with whom he has a close and loving relationship. Despite being in poor health, for a significant period of time he was without support and when he was granted support it was in Middlesbrough, and it was only on pressing the Home Office that we were able to have him relocated near to his family. He had a solicitor in whom he lost confidence, before we referred him elsewhere and found that perhaps the problem with the solicitor was that there were more than two thousand pages in his file. He is currently attempting to get a judicial review. The Home Office have requested evidence of his previous nationality, despite the fact that he was granted citizenship on the basis on being stateless since he cannot get travel documents to be able to return to Iraq. This is having a significant impact on his health. The children are also affected in that they know their father is unable to support them as he would wish and fear he may ultimately be removed from the UK.
11. Is the Bill otherwise compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings, and international refugee conventions that the UK has ratified?
I will leave this question for those better legally qualified to answer in detail, but from what I have been told I understand that it is not. If the Bill were to be passed I believe this departure from adhering to treaties of many years’ standing would have severe repercussions for human rights globally, and would also affect the reputation of the UK in terms of whether we can be trusted to abide by treaties in general.
In conclusion I would like to say that the human rights of asylum seekers are currently being abused on a consistent basis and this proposed legislation would make the situation much worse. I believe if enacted it would be a signal to other countries to downgrade their commitment to human rights significantly and this is entirely unacceptable.