Sunday, 16 January 2011

Thousands of UK asylum seekers 'left in limbo', delays effect fight for Iraqi LGBT

Waiting for emancipationImage via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

A new report from the British Parliament's Home Affairs Committee on the work of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) says that the system was "still failing" amid a "rush" to clear backlogs of tens of thousands of unresolved claims.

The committee has been asking the UKBA for regular updates on its attempts to clear up to 400,000 asylum applications. One in seven cases - about 61,000 - would probably be 'archived', the committee was told, because officials could not trace the individuals.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the committee, said:
"Much of the delay… stems from poor quality decision-making when the application is initially considered."
In a blog post at the end of last year, 'Bad decisions, detention, ignoring the courts: How the UK Home Office wastes money', the immigration lawyer Free Movement described decision making as "rubbish, awful, abysmal."
"In the official statistics for 2009," it wrote, "it was revealed that 28% of asylum appeals succeeded. 48% of non-asylum appeals succeeded. These statistics tell you something about the appalling quality of decision making."
"Each appeal requires tribunal time and resources and more implementation resources at the Home Office or FCO [Foreign Office] than would have been the case if the decision were made correctly in the first place. Some of these decisions have also be legal aid cases in the past, although that looks set to change. This is incredibly, criminally, wasteful of public resources."
Jonathan Ellis, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:
“It is unacceptable that thousands of people seeking safety in the UK have been left living in limbo with their cases unresolved because of UKBA’s administrative failures."

“Decisions on asylum cases must be made quickly and fairly. It is imperative that asylum seekers have adequate support and early access to good quality legal advice to pursue their case, but the culture of disbelief among UKBA caseworkers must also be eliminated."
"Getting decisions right first time is a win-win for everyone involved in the asylum system. It will not only ensure that those in need of protection can get it, it will also speed up the process and avoid lengthy appeals, saving taxpayers’ money."

"We urge the government through its asylum improvement project to ensure those fleeing conflict and persecution today can get the protection they need without waiting years to get it.”
One of those in limbo is the Iraqi LGBT leader Ali Hili. Although he has 'leave to remain', his asylum application has been outstanding for four years and while it is outstanding he is unable to travel.

Hili has received many requests to speak internationally and spread the word which he has been unable to pursue. The UK Foreign Office Human Rights Report for 2009 specifically names Iraqi LGBT over other NGOs as a key source of information. Hili has met with them numerous times. The report quotes then Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell condemning persecution of LGBT in Iraq.

His solicitor, Barry O'Leary, wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in August 2009 requesting that his case be expedited so he could travel "in order to further the aims of his organisation, that is, supporting lesbians and gay men in Iraq and bringing the world's attention to their plight."

Six months later, the UKBA told O'Leary that:
  • the assistance which Hili has given to the UK Foreign Office "does not count"
  • the fatwa (from inside Iraq which has led to him receiving protection from the Metropolitan Police) does not mean that Hilli "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
  • that the delay in deciding Hilli's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance", and
  • his case is not "compelling"
MEP Michael Cashman and MP Caroline Lucas are amongst those who have also written to the Home Office on Hili's behalf.

UKBA responded to Cashman last September, five months after he had written to them and in a letter signed by Chief Executive Lin Homer, that Hili's case "does not meet the criteria to be expedited".

Say Hili:
"The delay in my case is very stressful, I'm frustrated that I'm unable to continue to do my work to save lives and carry on with living my life."
The Committee's report also criticised those contracted by the Border Agency to remove failed asylum seekers.
"We are not at all convinced that the UK Border Agency is being effective in making sure that its contractors provide adequate training and supervision of their employees in respect of the use of force."

"This is a fundamental responsibility of the agency and is not simply a matter of clauses in contracts or formal procedural requirements," it said.
Last October Angolan Jimmy Mubenga died while being escorted on a flight from Heathrow airport in London after being heavily restrained by guards working for G4S, a private security firm contracted to escort deportees for the Home Office. Three guards were arrested and MPs called for a "wide-ranging and independent inquiry" into the UK's deportation system.
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