Countries are being declared safe for refugees to return to, but only if they have criminal records, a new report by the government’s immigration inspector suggests.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, found that the Home Office unit that investigates migrants with criminal records is routinely stripping people from countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and the Congo of their refugee status on the ground that it is now safe for them to go home. Meanwhile, a different Home Office team that also has the power to remove refugee status for this reason hardly ever does so.
While some will welcome the deportation of people who have committed crimes, even if they are refugees, there is a separate process for this (“revocation”) that can be applied where the crime is sufficiently serious or constitutes a national security threat. The use of the “cessation” procedure instead will raise fears that refugees are being deported for relatively trivial offences under the excuse that their countries are now safe – even as other arms of the government acknowledge that they are not.
Mr Bolt describes this as “egregious” inconsistency.
His report investigated the work of three Home Office units that all deal with the removal, in various ways, of migrants’ citizenship, indefinite leave to remain or refugee status. They are:
- The Special Cases Unit
- The Status Review Unit
- The Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation team within Criminal Casework
Both the Status Review Unit and the Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation team have the power of “cessation”. That means removing someone’s refugee status where “the circumstances in connection with which they have been recognised as a refugee have ceased to exist” (paragraph 339A of the Immigration Rules, which also lists other reasons for cessation). Both rely on the same country of origin information to support a cessation decision.
The difference is that Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation only deals with migrants with criminal records, whereas the Status Review Unit deals with non-criminal cases. As Mr Bolt points out, that seems to make a big difference in how caseworkers view the safety of the home country.
In the past couple of years, the Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation team has ordered the cessation of refugee status in 309 cases. The Status Review Unit done the same to just 25 refugees – despite having a much bigger caseload.
During the inspection period, the Status Review Unit received an average of 44 potential cessation cases a month, compared to 19 for Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation. In other words, a refugee is far more likely to have their country declared safe if that country is examined by Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation rather than Status Review.
Mr Bolt’s report says:
Since caseworkers in CCR and SRU rely on the same country of origin information to support any such decision, the significant disparity in the overall numbers of cessations made by the 2 units is noteworthy, all the more so when the data is broken down further by nationality, and as [Foreign National Offenders] are in the minority within the total population of refugees for each nationality…
The numbers broken down by nationality are shown below.
|Cessations of refugee status, 1 January 2015 to 31 March 2017|
|Country of origin||Cessations by CCR||Cessations by SRU||Refugee population|
The report continues:
Inspectors were told that when UNHCR made representations in cessation cases it frequently pointed out that criminality is not grounds for cessation, to which the Home Office’s standard response was that, while the case may have come to its attention because the individual was an FNO, this was not why their refugee status was being ceased.
CCR told inspectors “There is a simple operational explanation why CCR investigates cessation of refugee status before revocation: our objective is to deport FNOs therefore we must first establish that there can be a safe return to the country of origin of a FNO without breach of the Refugee Convention and Article 2 or 3 rights.”
The report praised caseworkers as well versed in the legislation, Immigration Rules and policy relevant to their work. But as cessation example shows, decision-making is wildly inconsistent, with “little or no communication” between the three teams making similar decisions:
They work in isolation from one another, with no regular communication, no sharing of lessons learned or ‘best practice’, or of how they are interpreting and applying relevant legislation and policies.
The Home Office did not address this issue when asked about it by Free Movement earlier today, but referred to its formal response to the inspection report. The latter document is one of three reports by Mr Bolt sent to the Home Office last year but published for the first time yesterday – the other two have already been covered elsewhere on the blog.