Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Report demonstrates UKBA fail to make correct decisions on asylum applications

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In the last 3 years, more than a quarter of initial decisions made by the UKBA to refuse asylum have been overturned on appeal. A report published by Amnesty International and the Still Human Still Here coalition looks at why this is happening.

The report examined the refusal letters and appeal decisions of 50 cases. In 42 of the cases examined it was found the main reason the initial decision was overturned was that the UKBA wrongly made a negative assessment of the asylum seekers credibility. In all of these cases, UKBA case owners had not properly followed the UKBA’s own policies on assessing credibility.

The most common mistakes made by the UKBA relate to:

  • Relying on findings based on a case owner’s judgment of what was likely, rather than objective information;
  • Not considering the available evidence properly;
  • Rejecting the application because of a small number of inconsistencies;
  • Not using information from the asylum seekers country properly.

A question of credibility

The research shows that minor inconsistencies are often used to reduce the credibility of an asylum application. An Iranian asylum seeker was deemed not to have told the truth because he was unable to answer a number of historical questions correctly. However the Judge on appeal said that the asylum seeker was not given the opportunity to demonstrate such knowledge as he was only asked a small number of questions.

In a number of the cases examined, the initial refusal was mainly based on a case owner deciding that a fact raised by an asylum seeker was unbelievable. A Sri Lankan asylum seeker had his application rejected on the grounds that he did not know the nature of the injuries of people he had helped travel to India for medical treatment. His refusal letter stated “the fact that you did not know such basic information…casts doubt on the credibility of your claim”. However, on appeal, the Judge found that there would be no reason for him to know about the injuries, and considered his account believable.

Case owners have also, in some cases, failed to consider evidence such as photographs properly. One refusal letter said “you have produced photographs of scarring. However, it is not believed that they were consistent with your story of events”. The Judge, when overturning the decision noted that the photographs, and the scarring itself, were “highly significant”.

There were problems stemming from case owners not using information from an asylum seekers country correctly, for example, by selectively using information to undermine an asylum seeker’s credibility. One Sri Lankan asylum seeker was initially refused as the case owner felt the army wouldn’t have released them on the strength of a bribe. However, there was evidence from within the application that various other officials were bribed on behalf of the asylum seeker. This led to the decision being overturned.

There is also evidence of a ‘domino effect’ undermining an asylum seeker’s account. This is where one part of a case is considered inconsistent and then used to undermine other parts of the case. This is illustrated through the following refusal letter:

“it is not accepted that you were arrested…
As it has not been accepted you were arrested, it is not accepted that you were detained…
Given that it has not been accepted that you were arrested or detained, it is not accepted that you were released…
Given that it has not been accepted that you were arrested and released it is not accepted your father was arrested and questioned…”

The research also found problems in relation to the conduct of interviews, particularly where asylum seekers are not given the opportunity to comment on potential inconsistencies in their case.

How could the system be improved?

As so many decisions to refuse asylum are overturned on appeal, the most effective way of improving the system would be to make sure that the right decision is made at the first time of asking. This would speed up the asylum process and save a lot of money. More importantly, it would mean that asylum seekers themselves are not left in limbo for as long. Awaiting an asylum decision causes a great deal of anxiety and stress.

The report recommends that individual case owners are monitored by the Home Office, and that the process should be more flexible. It also recommends that access to free legal advice is available to all asylum seekers throughout the whole process. Finally, it is suggested that case owners participate in training programmes to improve interviewing techniques and to generate a better understanding of how cultural and personal issues may affect an individual asylum seeker’s actions during the process.

The full report is available here.

Posted by STAR team on 01/05/2013 at 02:39 PM