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Sunday, 1 August 2010

Why our immigration system needs an overhaul

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Source: Liberal Conspiracy

by Jessica Sims and Julie Gibbs

Tim Finch from ippr is right to call for the immigration system to be changed, highlighting the inequalities and injustices that scar the system.

However, we at Runnymede believe a credible immigration system must take seriously Britain’s commitment to human rights and justice, rather than focusing primarily on returning people who do not fit into narrowly defined categories.

In thinking about reforming our current system, it is more useful to emphasize return as it actually occurs in practice rather than how it is outlined in policy.

A fair and just immigration system is not created through quick removals, but rather through ensuring due process which takes into account people’s actual circumstances.

Two points, with regards to asylum seekers:

First, a system of return cannot be defended as credible when it does not offer adequate time for appeal or protection from human rights abuses.

The recent ruling found that fast-track removals are unlawful because those receiving a removal order must have the right to challenge it. Even when there has been time to appeal a refusal of leave to remain in the UK or a deportation order, evidence suggests that accessing a good quality asylum solicitor is becoming increasingly difficult for those facing removal.

If we agree that access to good quality legal advice is key to achieving justice, then it follows that removal and return must occur only after a fair and justified outcome. The Home Office decision making process leading to return has been found to be lacking in both cases.

Arguing that the immigration battles over the last decade have been good for the immigration lawyers at a time when many in the legal aid sector who help the most vulnerable clients are going out of business due to funding reforms is misguided .

Second, a credible and fair immigration system must be underpinned by well trained staff working in an environment committed to non-discrimination. The investigation into Louise Perrett’s allegations about her experiences working for the UK Border Agency has recently been released.

Perrett alleged that there was a culture of bad behaviour and discrimination in the Cardiff asylum team. This had included the use of a ‘grant monkey’ badge of shame given to staff approving asylum applications. While the investigation did not return evidence to corroborate Perrett’s 20 allegations, in response the UK Border Agency will increase the decisions being made in Cardiff assessed against the UNHCR quality assurance matrix from 20% to 50% and provide further training interventions for staff.

As Finch points out, the practice of return is controversial and contentious. However, it is important to not overlook the reality of policies of return (at least for asylum seekers): that the Home Office is fallible and that it is precisely the role of civil society to question when practices breach respect, fairness and justice.

A better immigration system will only be achieved through recognizing these flaws.

Jessica Mai Sims is Research and Policy Analyst, and Julie Gibbs is Senior Research and Information Officer at the Runnymede Trust
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