Refugee Council’s alternative reform action plan - Refugee Council
July 25, 2006

Refugee Council’s alternative reform action plan

With the Home Secretary John Reid due to announce plans on asylum and immigration today, the Refugee Council has put together its own proposals for a fair and effective asylum system.

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:

“It is clear that we need reform of our asylum system, but introducing ever tougher measures will not solve the problems. We already have a very tough system and yet it doesn’t command public confidence and it penalises people who have fled persecution. What is needed now is a radical new approach that is fair and effective. Our five point plan addresses the problems in a balanced way.”

“We need to take the politics out of the asylum system – that is why we are calling for an independent decision making body. Such a body would not be blown about by headlines or subjected to highly political targets – it could get on with making good decisions, first time round, about who needs protection in the UK and who doesn’t.”

The five points are:

1. Borders with doors for refugees
The UK has a right to manage its borders, but today, there is almost no legal route for someone to come to the UK and seek asylum. (1) Not only does this mean that people are being turned away to face persecution, it also forces people seeking asylum into the hands of smugglers and traffickers. We need to make sure that border controls do not prevent people fleeing persecution from being able to get to safety in the UK.

2. An independent decision-making body that gets decisions right first time.
The UK needs to invest in getting asylum decisions right first time. (2) This means making sure people have access to independent, high quality legal advice, giving them time to prepare their claim properly, and ensuring decision makers are highly trained and impartial. Not only would this build a fairer and more trusted system, but also a more cost effective one: appealing bad decisions is distressing, time consuming and costly. An arms length relationship between the Home Office and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is not enough: the UK should establish an independent decision making body. (3)

3. Supporting people to live with dignity
The UK should stop forcing people into poverty and destitution in the name of immigration control. (4) Whilst people are in the UK, they should be able to access housing, support and healthcare. Asylum seekers should be allowed to work when their claim remains undecided for more than six months, (5) so that they can support themselves and contribute to their local community. Detention should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is clear evidence to justify it, and no-one should be detained while their asylum claim is being processed.

4. Safe, dignified and sustainable returns
The UK should not seek to return people to countries where they are at risk of torture or persecution, nor should it seek to punish people into returning by withdrawing support, or using detention.

Where return is inhumane or unsafe, because people have lived in the UK for many years (6), or because their countries are dangerous and volatile, people should be given leave to remain and be supported to integrate into UK society.

Instead the UK should pilot a managed casework approach (7), working to ensure those that need protection get it, whilst those whose claims are refused are supported to understand their position and plan for a safe, dignified and sustainable return. Working with people, rather than against them, provides protection, builds trust in the system and increases uptake of voluntary return.

5. An informed and enlightened debate on asylum
Instead of continually responding to hostile public opinion by introducing ever tougher measures, the government should take a lead in generating an informed and reasoned debate on asylum. Constant legislative change only serves to fuel public fears, rather than calm them. Better use of tone and language when talking about asylum seekers and refugees, coupled with a system that treats them with dignity, would calm the flames of the debate and lead to better integration and closer communities.

Ends

For further information contact press office: Hannah Ward 020 7346 1213 (Switchboard: 020 7346 6700).
For urgent or out of hours inquiries ring 0870 0555500 & ask for pager 865169.

Further information:

‘Refugees: Renewing the Vision’ – By the Refugee Council in partnership with 11 other UK asylum NGOs (2004)

‘The Way Forward: An agenda for change’, written by the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, and supported by over 80 refugee supporting agencies across Europe (2006)

‘Providing Protection in the 21st Century: Refugee Rights at the heart of UK asylum policy’ – By the Asylum Rights Campaign (ARC), consisting of around 45 member agencies (2004).

Notes to the editor:

1. For example, in 2003, 33,000 people were prevented from travelling to the UK by Airline Liaison Officers working for the UK Immigration Service. There is no way of telling how many of these people were refugees, and there is no mechanism that would allow the ALOs to identify refugees and allow them into the UK to seek asylum.

2. Of the 28,025 appeals heard by immigration judges in 2005/6, 20% were successful (Home Office Asylum Statistics, First Quarter 2006). Further, snapshot analysis of court reports from the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal reveal that more than 10% of appellants have no legal representation.

3. In Canada, asylum decisions are made by an independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Its stated mission is “to make well-reasoned decisions in immigration and refugee matters, efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the law”.

4. The basic support given to asylum seekers by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) is set at approximately 70% of Income Support or £31.85 for a single adult. Under s55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, people who want cash support, but not housing from NASS, and who fail to apply for asylum ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’ after reaching the UK are not entitled to support. People whose claims have been refused are not entitled to any housing and support and are left totally destitute, unless they agree to co-operate with their return.

5. Until July 2002, asylum seekers were allowed to apply for permission to work when their claim remained unresolved for more than six months. Since February last year, under European Council Directive 2003/9/EC, asylum seekers have had to wait a year before being eligible to apply for the right to work.

6. A good example of this was the Family Leave to Remain Exercise, in which the UK granted leave to families who had at least one child under 18 in the UK on 2nd October 2000 or 24 October 2003, and whose principal applicant had lodged their asylum claim before 2nd October 2000. The exercise was based on recognition that removing children who had fully integrated into UK society, and may never have seen their parents’ country of origin, is inhumane.

7. The Refugee Council would like the UK to pilot the approach pioneered by Hotham Mission’s Asylum Seeker Project in Melbourne Australia. See http://asp.hothammission.org.au