The Chief Inspector of UKBA, John Vine, two weeks ago released a new report on the use of country information by the UK Border Agency in asylum claims. I’ve been too busy to finish writing about it, unfortunately, and am still catching up on various things that have happened recently.
The UK Border Agency had advance sight of the report and has already responded. Most of the recommendations were accepted, at least in theory. In reality the standard response is: “thanks, we’re actually doing that already as far as we are concerned but we’ll slightly adjust our policy documents (which no-one ever reads) to pay some lip service”.
The report found that 17% of reasons for refusal letters showed ‘either the selective use of country information or unjustified assertions based on the evidence available.’ Over 13% of reasons for refusal letters included country information which was, at best, tangential to the issues relevant to the asylum claim. Country information was found to be poorly referenced in 33% of cases, making it exceptionally difficult for applicants and legal representatives to check the information and consider whether the decision was justified. This included instances where the original source could not be found.
The report also revealed that there was almost no training for caseworkers at UKBA, and vast majority of the staff who produce COIS are not research trained. In some regions caseworkers were even discouraged or forbidden from conducting their own research – a significant problem given the lack of COI produced by UKBA for large number of countries. I saw Glamour referenced in a RFRL the other day, which perhaps illustrates the training issue.
Interestingly, the inspectors also found something of a postcode lottery with grants and refusals in asylum cases: 14% grant rate in one region compared with 47% and 62% in two other regions.
Time targets were said to be a problem, with UKBA staff saying they would regularly ignore the potential need for a COIS request in order to meet their targets and that country information submitted by asylum claimants was only partially considered or ignored.
Some good, typical examples are given highlighting the issue of UKBA using nonsensical reasoning and misusing COI to refuse a claim. Case Study 3 is my favourite because the reasoning is so familiar:
Mr X from Iran claimed to have been arrested at a demonstration. The Case Owner used the following quote in the refusal letter:
“At least 170 people were arrested on 13/6/2009 during clashes between security forces and hundreds of demonstrators around the Ministry of the Interior and other areas in central Tehran. Those arrested included leading political figures who were accused by the authorities to have ‘orchestrated’ the unrest. Some have since been released.”
The Case Owner then went on to state:
“It is considered that as a low level demonstrator, you would not fit the profile of those the Iranian authorities were looking to arrest. The objective evidence also confirms that some have been released after being arrested and therefore attendance of the demonstration would not amount to you being persecuted by the authorities.”
The Case Owner concluded that because those arrested included leading political figures then it would specifically exclude those who were not ‘high profile’ which was clearly not sustainable. It was not clear how the Case Owner supported the statement that the subsequent release of people who had been arrested meant that the applicant had not been persecuted.
Case Study 5, an Albanian woman who mentioned when asked that she was depressed, was also an interesting example. The mere mention of depression led to the inclusion of two full A4 pages of material on mental health services in Albania. This is perhaps a good example of what the right wing press consider to be pandering to human rights arguments, as being depressed is never going to lead to a grant of asylum. Some at UKBA might assert that it is important to deal with every possible aspect of a claim, not least because it is thought representatives will otherwise criticise UKBA. There is a role for common sense, though and, besides, the elephant in the room is that no-one gives any credence to what reasons for refusal letters say anyway because they are so stuffed full of this nonsense.
The inspection report was critical of the inclusion of country information in policy documents, called Operational Guidance Notes. These set out that the official UKBA position on certain asylum seeking groups from some countries but also include some country information, sometimes taken from the most recent main COIS report, sometimes not. The criticism was that this approach filters the COI that actually reaches officials on the coal face and confuses information with policy. UKBA reject the recommendation and say they plan to carry on. They also state that some external stakeholders ‘are working closely with us on OGNs to improve their quality’. I wonder who, and whether they would agree with that analysis of their work with UKBA.
As a footnote, the fact that the Agency was unable to provide the inspectors with the requested files for a specific date range is rather worrying and speaks volumes about the level of basic organisation behind the scenes: “The Agency was only able to provide 84 of the 100 files requested and only 42 of these were provided for the original period requested.”