Friday, 30 July 2010

Borders Agency cleared of racism - but “significant concern” so will make changes

Source: Wales Online

By Sam Malone, South Wales Echo

Am investigation has rejected claims of institutional racism at the UK Border Agency in Cardiff following complaints by a former employee.

Yet AM Bethan Jenkins has questioned the credibility of the internal inquiry into allegations that asylum seekers were mistreated at the agency’s Newport Road offices last summer.

Louise Perrett, who was employed as a case worker at the office for three and a half months, alleged officials expressed fiercely anti-immigration views, took pride in refusing applications and kept a stuffed gorilla known as a “grant monkey”, which was placed as a badge of shame on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application.

But despite gathering evidence from 22 people, including Ms Perrett, the investigation found “all allegations are unsubstantiated except for the concerns about the toy monkey”.

As a result it ruled no disciplinary proceedings should take place.

However, it did conclude there is reason for “significant concern” in relation to the office’s day to day workings.

It recommended a number of changes, including the introduction of a new asylum instruction and new training interventions.

After viewing the report, Plaid AM Ms Jenkins said she was glad there was no apparent endemic racism but added the thoroughness of the investigation may have been limited after it appeared the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) had advised at least two employees not to co-operate with it.

She added the fact the agency was making changes implied it had recognised a certain office culture which needed to change.

“If there was not anything wrong in the first place then why do they need to change things.

“It seems clear to me they have identified something wrong but just don’t have the hard evidence to prove it.”

Ms Jenkins also said questions needed to be asked as to why the investigation was not carried out externally.

“I think it would have been more appropriate if the European Human Rights Commission were involved.

“That should be the first port of call for people who have concerns about these issues and I also think the investigation would have more credibility as well.”

Cathy Owens, of Amnesty International, agreed with Ms Jenkins and said it was worrying staff may have been directed not to cooperate with the investigation by their union.

She also questioned why there had been an “overhaul” of training processes if the behaviour alleged was not corroborated.

A UK Boarder Agency spokesman said: “We believe that this has been a useful exercise for the UK Border Agency and are sure that our agency will be better for it.

“We welcome the chance this has given us to have a focused look at ourselves and devise a response accordingly.”


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