Rule change for asylum seekers
October 15, 2009 — News
Written by Harmit Athwal
New bureaucratic requirements will make life even more difficult for asylum seekers.
From 14 October, all asylum seekers who were unable to claim asylum when they arrived will have to go to the UK Border Agency Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon to make a claim. All those refused asylum who are now making a fresh claim will also have to do so in person, instead of, as previously, through written representations. Where they have to go to make the claim will depend on when they made their original claim: those who first claimed asylum before 5 March 2007 will have to travel to Liverpool, while those who first claimed after that date will be required to report ‘at a specified reporting centre within their region’, according to an announcement by immigration minister Phil Woolas on 13 October.
Refugee and human rights groups argue that the imposition of such bureaucratic restrictions impede the asylum process by making it more difficult for asylum seekers to make a claim. They ask how destitute asylum seekers are supposed to travel to make claims in person. The courts have long accepted that people can’t always claim asylum on arrival, sometimes through fear of officialdom arising from previous traumatic experiences, sometimes through lack of awareness of the process or for a variety of other reasons. In some cases, a coup, the outbreak of civil war or other changes in the person’s country of origin make an asylum claim necessary for someone who came for a visit or for study. Changes since refusal of an earlier asylum claim are behind most fresh claims from refused asylum seekers. But most refused asylum seekers either have no support at all or are eligible only for ‘hard cases’ support (available only to those who can’t leave or who are cooperating with arrangements to do so), which is basic workhouse-level non-cash support. The announcement provides no information about how applicants should travel to Croydon, Liverpool or anywhere else they will have to go to make a first or subsequent claim, and particularly, whether travel vouchers are available for the journey. This is not an academic question for someone dispersed in 2006 to Sunderland or Plymouth, who might have been receiving £35 per week in asylum support until their claim was rejected, and who has received no support since, who has to make the journey to Liverpool to make a fresh claim.
The fact that the announcement was made only twenty-four hours before it was due to take effect is something which has provoked anger, too. Immigration practitioners believe that the introduction of such changes with only twenty-four hours notice would not happen in any other branch of government.
UK Border Agency 13.10.09: ‘Changes to the asylum process’
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.