New research reveals the human impact of Home Office asylum failures

New research by Refugee Action reveals Home Office failings, including long delays and poor decision-making, are having a devastating effect on people seeking safety in Britain.

The report, Waiting in the Dark, reveals an asylum system that is too often damaging, dehumanising and disempowering those who rely on it to make life-changing decisions.

More people than ever are waiting longer than the Home Office’s target of six months for a decision on their asylum claim. At the end of 2017, this figure had risen to 14,306 cases – a 25% increase on the previous year.

Refugee Action’s report shows the impact of this growing backlog of cases on vulnerable people, who are spending longer in a state of uncertainty. They are living below the poverty line, banned from working and unable to rebuild their lives.

Rose*, a victim of human trafficking who was forced into prostitution in the UK, has been waiting a year and half for a decision.

She said: “I feel like my life has been rotating, I don’t move forward, it’s the same thing: I’m always a slave to someone.

“I thought that once I went to the Home Office that things would be better. But you cannot work and you cannot provide for yourself. You just want to make your life better.

“When they say it will be between three weeks or six months, they should try to make the process work in that time, even if it’s negative, not just leave people in limbo.”

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, says:

“Britain’s asylum system often does immense damage to people who come to this country to claim protection.

“Refugees are being forced to wait years for a decision on their asylum claim. Our research shows the huge stress and anxiety this is causing, as people struggle to provide for their families and survive on little over £5 a day. Banned from work or study, they feel hopeless, isolated and excluded.

“The Home Office is systematically failing to respect the rights of vulnerable people. This is devastating for people who could be using their skills and experiences to boost our economy and enrich our culture. The Government must urgently reform the asylum system to ensure it is fair, effective and compassionate.”

Based on 40 interviews with people seeking asylum, the charity’s research shows:

• Waiting more than six months – often years – for a decision on their asylum claim is taking a tremendous toll on people’s wellbeing. The uncertainty and fear for what the future might hold is putting a strain on their health and that of their families.

During the five years they waited for a decision, Tristan’s wife was diagnosed with a brain aneurism, which the doctors said was brought on by the stress she had experienced since the family had arrived in the UK.

Many of the people interviewed said they are receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. The latest figures show that more people than ever before are waiting longer than the Home Office’s six-month target for a decision on their claim, at the end of 2017 this included almost half of all people seeking asylum*. During this time, people are prevented from working and studying, and struggle to survive on just over £5 a day.

• Bad practices and poor decision-making are putting lives at risk. Nationally, one in three refusals are overturned on appeal. For some nationalities, the number of people wrongly refused is much higher – for example, more than half of people from Afghanistan are granted refugee status when they challenge a negative decision on their claim. Much that goes wrong can be traced back to interviews, where people should have the opportunity to speak about their experiences without fear or judgement. But the report shows many people find these interviews distressing and face interrogative methods that leave them scared and anxious about future contact with the Home Office.

When Kassim’s refusal was overturned at appeal, the judge said “the interviewer is apparently wholly ignorant” of the situation in his home country, and that his “uninformed questions” led to the poor quality of the interview, and, ultimately, the wrong decision.

Nora said: “The interview was horrible: they are very cruel. They asked ‘how many clients did you have in one night’. It was difficult to bring back all the memories. When I finished, I just couldn’t cope… I went into the toilet and I was screaming.”

• People are being kept in the dark by a lack of information and legal advice. Everyone interviewed for the report mentioned how difficult it was to get information from the Home Office about the progress of their case. People seeking asylum have also been hard hit by restrictions to legal aid due to the reduced availability of solicitors to work on their cases.

Refugee Action’s research shows seven in 10 (71%)* frontline organisations supporting those claiming asylum said they were finding it more difficult to refer people to immigration solicitors than six years ago.

Refugee Action is calling on the Government to take urgent action to reform the system, its recommendations include:

• The Home Office must address delays in the asylum process so that people are not living in limbo for indefinite periods. Their own policies must be upheld, including the current target of resolving all ‘straightforward’ cases within six months.

• The Government should be accountable to its decision-making timeframes:
 People should be given the right to work after six months of waiting
 Those forced to wait for longer than 12 months should be given discretionary leave to remain.

• People seeking asylum must have access to good quality legal advice – the Government should urgently review current legal aid provision and identify gaps to ensure needs are met.

• Access to independent information about the asylum process is vital so that people understand their rights and what they will be asked. Interviews must be fair and transparent.

• People seeking asylum should have access to free English language classes from arrival, to ensure they can integrate and rebuild their lives if they are granted refugee status.

For more information and interviews contact the Refugee Action press office by emailing jennap@refugee-action.org.uk or call 07771748159.

Notes to editors:

*Many of the people seeking asylum who contributed to the report chose to share their stories under a pseudonym to protect their identities.

The figures showing the number of people waiting longer than six months for a decision on their asylum claim, along with the proportion of refusals over turned at appeal, can be found in the latest quarterly immigration stats released by the Office for National Statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2017

*In March 2018, Refugee Action surveyed 50 organisations that provide frontline support to people seeking asylum. The aim was to understand some of the problems that organisations were experiences referring clients to legal representatives, following cuts to legal aid.