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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Disgraceful Home Office delays on asylum seeker verdicts

It is not often nowadays that a newspaper article shocks me, but this one in yesterday's Guardian did exactly that. The paper reports that data they have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the Home Office has left some people waiting more than 20 years for decisions on their asylum claims.

The paper says that the data refers to the time the Home Office takes to make an initial decision on an asylum claim. It does not include any extra time taken for an appeal or fresh claim. Seventeen people received decisions from the Home Office last year on claims they had submitted more than 15 years ago, four of whom had waited more than 20 years for a decision. The worst case was a delay of 26 years and one month after the person initially applied for asylum:

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while they wait for a decision on their claim. They are provided with an allowance of £37.75 a week. There are reports of people forgoing meals in order to afford phone bills so they can communicate with their families in their home countries, being forced to travel everywhere on foot, including to meetings with solicitors and to charities, or going without winter clothing.

The Home Office provides accommodation, most often a room in a shared house with other asylum seekers, but lodgings have routinely been criticised for being of poor quality, having infestations of rats, mould and bedbugs and being located in the poorest parts of towns and cities. In a damning report last year, Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, said asylum seekers’ housing conditions were disgraceful.

“Forcing some people to wait more than 15 years for a decision on their asylum claim while banned from work and living below the poverty line is utterly barbaric,” said Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action.

Of the decisions the Home Office made in 2017, 18,189 or 75% were taken within six months of application, 2,832 took between six months and a year, 3,059 between one and three years, and 243 between three and five years.

Of the 40 people who waited more than five years to receive an answer, seven were granted asylum or another protection visa, 22 were refused and 11 either withdrew their application, left the country, or died while waiting for a decision. They came from a range of countries, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen.

“This is just the wait for an initial decision,” said Maurice Wren, the chief executive of the Refugee Council. “Many people must face a lengthy appeals process if their first claim is refused.”

Of the initial refusals that went to appeal last year, 35% were overturned by a judge. For some nationalities the rate of successful appeals was above 50% and for Yemenis the figure was 70%.

The Guardian adds that the Home Office has a six-month target for deciding on asylum claims it deems as “straightforward”. However, a report by the chief inspector of borders and immigration last year revealed that almost half of the claims lodged were classified as “non-straightforward”, exempting them from the six-month target.

As a result many asylum seekers are forced to live in abject poverty for long periods of time, forbidden from working, having to survive on a little over £5 a day, many being treated for anxiety and depression, isolated and excluded from much social interaction and support.

A humane system would seek to avoid this by processing applications and any appeals expeditiously so that at least those seeking asylum know where they stand and can deal with that accordingly. Surely it is time the UK Government addressed this.
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