How asylum system fails real refugees and the public


Last updated at 02:39 28 March 2008

Public confidence in the asylum system is being eroded by the Home Office's poor performance in deporting failed applicants, a highly-critical report warns today.

The 18-month study by an independent panel also claims the system is failing to deal "firmly" enough with bogus applicants or to give real refugees the protection they badly need.

The Independent Asylum Commission, which despite its official-sounding name has no formal status, says some asylum claims from persecuted refugees are being turned down, and calls their "inhumane" treatment a "shameful blemish" on Britain's reputation abroad.

Overall, the study concludes, the system fails to live up to Britain's tradition of "fair play" and is still not "fit for purpose" - two years after former Home Secretary John Reid castigated his own department for its chronic shortcomings.

Asylum claims are increasing sharply after several years of falling numbers, and Government efforts to send home those whose cases have been turned down are failing to keep pace with new arrivals.

The commission is a think-tank of lawyers, clerics, liberal campaigners and experts.

Former High Court judge Sir John Waite, its co-chairman, said the report reflected criticism on both sides of the debate - from those who believe the system is too lenient and others who claim cases are decided too harshly.

He said: "The British people want a system that is applied fairly, firmly and humanely - where people-who need sanctuary are able to find it on our shores, while those who don't are dealt with effectively and with humanity.

"Until that goal is met our asylum system will remain unfit for purpose."

"Efforts to deport failed applicants are 'not effective and sap credibility and public confidence", the report concludes.

It goes on to accuse the Government of not being "firm enough" with unfounded claimants but also condemns the way some genuine cases are handled, claiming a "cultureof disbelief" among officials causes "perverse decisions".

It reserves some of its strongest language for the Home Office's treatment of vulnerable claimants - particularly in the way officials force some failed applicants to leave Britain by cutting financial support and accommodation.

"The conduct of some enforced returns is tainted with inhumanity and causes unnecessary distress to the individuals and communities concerned," the report adds.

Sir Andrew Green, of the MigrationWatchthink-tank, said the report failed to note that around 70 per cent of recent asylum claims were rejected as not genuine.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis called the report a "shocking indictment" of a system where "nobody wins - neither the British taxpayer nor the genuine refugee".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "This Government has combined incompetence and inhumanity to create one of Europe's most inefficient and cruel asylum systems."

Lin Homer, who is in charge of the Border and Immigration Agency, said: "I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion.

Figures uncovered by the Lib-Dems show Home Office efforts to clear the backlog of 450,000 unresolved asylum claims are moving far more slowly than promised.

Almost 8,000 old cases need to be dealt with per month to clear the backlog by 2011. But officials are only managing 3,700, meaning the operation will drag on until 2016.

•The Independent Asylum Commission said its investigation would take account of a variety of viewpoints.

But critics were uneasy that it was influenced by charities and campaign groups involved with asylum issues, tilting the balance against more rigorous rules.

The body, set up by the Citizen Organising Foundation, which promotes community activism by training local leaders in campaigning techniques, is led by 12 commissioners, many of whom are associated with liberal causes.

They include Katie Ghose, a lawyer and director of the Institute for Human Rights pressure group.

Another is Zrinka Bralo, a journalist from Bosnia, who is executive director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum in West London.

Also on the board is Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey, who has called for the poorest in society to be exempt from fines and debts, and Dr Silvia Casale, a prison reformer, criminologist and member of the United Nations sub-committee on prevention of torture.

Others include Lord David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons and panel cochairman Ifath Nawaz, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, who has claimed tougher counter-terrorism laws fuel extremism.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now