A new report into asylum casework at the Home Office has just been published by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. The inspection took place between March and July 2015 and was presented to Theresa May on 9 December 2015, so publication has been delayed for quite some time. Things have certainly moved on, with a steep rise in asylum claims and growing backlogs at the Home Office since that time.
The inspection reveals serious failings even before the recent rise in asylum claims. Problems begin at the very start of the asylum process, with over 40% of the Asylum Intake Unit screening records assessed as ‘weak’ or ‘fail’, 1 in 5 sets of paper records (including original documents) being improperly stored, that there was no management information at all on failures in the third country Dublin removals process, failings in main asylum interviews and 40% of asylum decisions not being considered appropriately in line with Home Office policy.
The most serious failing was in the handling of detention of torture survivors. Of 1,400 Rule 35 reports by qualified medical practitioners raising concerns about detention of a possible torture survivor, 85% were rejected by the Home Office. This is described rather neutrally by the inspectors as “inefficient”, particularly given that a significant number went on to be released later anyway on referral to outside organisations.
The unwillingness of the Home Office to accept medico-legal reports from organisations other than Freedom From Torture and the Helen Bamber Foundation was causing huge delays of up to two and a half years to the resolution of asylum claims by torture survivors. This is bad public policy but the uncertainty is also devastating for the asylum claimant and the delay will often make it harder for them ultimately to succeed in their asylum claim.
Asylum interviews and decisions
Over 20% of main asylum interviews were found to be flawed, with criticisms including that material facts had not been effectively identified, established or tested, the claimant had not been provided the opportunity to address inconsistencies and unfair questions being posed. One victim of Female Genital Mutilation whose claim was based on her daughter being exposed to the same mutilation if they were returned was asked an “inappropriate” and unnecessary line of questions about her own experience when she had been a girl.
25% of asylum interviews were found to have started over 30 minutes late, with the reasons not being recorded.
The inspection also criticised the practice of conducting lengthy asylum interviews in excess of four hours long, finding that 3 out of 5 of such interviews in the sample failed to identify, establish and test material facts effectively. It seems that longer interviews tend to be poor quality and meandering rather than more in depth.
Only 60% of asylum decisions sampled complied with the quality standards used by the Inspectors. In one example given in the report, an Afghan who had interpreted for the UK armed forces was refused on the basis that he had “not established a high profile” but in fact Home Office guidance stated that former interpreters were at enhanced risk. The interpreter’s appeal against the Home Office decision was ultimately allowed and asylum was eventually granted, but at considerable and unnecessary stress for the interpreter as well as public expense.
New training on credibility assessment is apparently due to be delivered within the Home Office and it is hoped that this will address these rather serious issues.
Overall, the tone of the report is favourable to the Home Office. The actual findings on key elements of asylum casework do not seem to justify that tone.