A devastating list of failings in the Home Office’s “flawed and inefficient” asylum system has been exposed in a damning UN report.
An eight-month audit of the UK’s asylum system by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tore apart the government’s immigration policy, revealing a highly dysfunctional department.
The 200-page report found that children were wrongly detained as adults, victims of trafficking were potentially missed, children were locked up and laws and government policies were violated .
It concluded that:
- Officers had “inadequate training” and interviewing skills to identify victims of torture, trafficking and rape
- Asylum seekers were receiving “incomplete, inaccurate or unreliable” information
- Children were being accused of lying about their ages “without any formal training or guidance” by officers
- Home Office staff were unfairly discouraging people from claiming asylum, or trying to persuade them to withdraw claims
- Asylum seekers were being “left in the lurch at high cost” because they were deemed ineligible after passing through safe countries
The report, in which Home Office staff spoke of their “frustration” that government policies were slowing down the system and driving up costs, came a day after Independent It was learned that officials were considering strike action over plans to send people to Rwanda.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the report “highlights a host of failures” in the initial process of asylum seekers – failures that are clogging up the system and contributing to harmful delays.
“The Home Secretary must stop showing off and start fixing the asylum system which he and his party have broken,” he said. Independent,
John Fittonby, chief policy analyst at the Refugee Council, said the men, women and children had already been “left in limbo for too long”.
“The Illegal Immigration Bill will potentially leave hundreds of thousands of people in a permanent state, unable to move on with their lives,” he said.
“If the government is serious about tackling the backlog of refugees and reducing the number of people making the perilous journey to the UK, it urgently needs to change direction. Instead of this impractical and unprincipled plan, people in the UK The focus should be on giving fair and timely hearings and creating more secure ways for people to commute.
The following are among the tragic cases revealed by UNHCR.
Abused child shelter seeker treated as adult
A teenager arrived on a small boat on 1 July 2021 and was assessed by an immigration officer as “obviously over the age of 25”, despite being told he was 17.
Official notes on the Home Office database said: “My initial instinct was that the age of the applicant is over 17 years. Based on her size, hair, skin, demeanor and my experience I am not satisfied that she is the age claimed “
Without any formal evaluation, the applicant was transferred to the Wood Immigration Removal Center in Yarl for detention.
When a screening interview was conducted by a member of a separate Home Office unit, the boy said he had “suffered a lot through my journey”, including being tortured, and had nightmares and blackouts. He also said that he has a brother in Britain.
When the age was assessed four months later, the Home Office accepted that he was 17, and he was granted asylum in July 2022.
The girl was not helped after reporting sexual harassment
UNHCR observed a screening interview in which an asylum seeker woman revealed that her young daughter had been sexually assaulted shortly before her arrival in the UK.
The mother said the child – who was sleeping on the floor of the interview room at the time – was clearly in shock, was not sleeping well, and was constantly biting her nails.
The woman had requested an interpreter, but one was not provided, and she was struggling to remember the incident.
She said her daughter was attacked after going to the bathroom, telling the Home Office officer the men “took her into a dark room and didn’t touch anything nice”.
UNHCR said a security team did not follow up on the report or attend to the child’s welfare.
Alone child found to be over 25 because he was ‘disturbed’
In November 2021, a teenager was sent to a hotel for adult asylum seekers, but said he was a minor on arrival and was taxied back to the Kent Asylum Intake Unit.
A Home Office official estimated his age to be over 25, but the boy gave his year of birth as 2004.
When he was later told about the age assessment in an interview, UNHCR said, the asylum seeker “looked very surprised and pointed to his thin arms and lack of facial hair”.
When the UNHCR asked the official how age was assessed, he said he had received no formal training, but believed that “adults tend to be more ‘confident’ and ‘aggressive’, and teenagers more There are ‘nervous’ ones.” Later the applicant was accepted to be a child.
Asylum seekers ‘blocked’ from accessing accommodation by locals
Potential trafficking victims not followed up
UNHCR said it had seen several cases directly that did not follow indicators of trafficking or exploitation, including one person who said he was imprisoned and forced to work in Libya was, a Vietnamese woman whose case was flagged but who had disappeared, and two others who described being victims of violent abuse by their traffickers.
Children under the age of 12 sent to adult detention centers
Home Office staff told the agency that children and vulnerable adults were “routinely sent” to detention centers in breach of Home Office policy.
“Officials tell us that a 12-year-old boy was sent to Yarl Wood for detention,” UNHCR said.
Home Office official allows woman’s ‘husband’ to answer security questions
UNHCR warned that a lack of training among those who may be victims of domestic violence or other abuse is posing serious risks.
In one asylum interview, its officials observed, an “experienced” interviewer allowed a man whom the claimant identified as her UK-based husband to be present during the interview.
The only phone number taken from the claimant was that of the man, but a formal note recorded “no security concerns”.
interpreters guiding interviewers
The UNHCR said it has seen some interpreters play a “significant role beyond interpretation”, guiding asylum seekers, interacting with Home Ministry officials without having to translate for them, and even in some cases argue.
When an interpreter was to ask a man a series of security questions, they told him: “You have to answer ‘no’ to all seven of these questions.”
UNHCR warned that there is a widespread belief that refugees will answer “no” to all questions about security and criminality, implying that these questions were not properly asked or their answers were not recorded.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This report is based on audits carried out in 2021 and early 2022. Since then, significant improvements have been made to the small boat arrival process. Specialist facilities have been made available to accommodate young people, including children, who are unaccompanied asylum seekers.
“Our staff are working tirelessly to safely register and screen the unprecedented number of migrants arriving in the UK illegally. We are pleased that his professionalism was appreciated and we thank the UNHCR for his report.”