Very quietly last week, the Country Information and Policy Unit (CIPU) of the Immigration and Nationality Department issued a Bulletin about its Algeria country information report, correcting an earlier report used in the asylum decision-making process.
The Bulletin, drawing on a UNHCR paper of December 2004, pointedly states that it ‘supersedes all previous UNHCR statements on this subject’.
It appears that the update has been published following tenacious lobbying by ‘Hassan’, an Algerian asylum seeker concerned about a significant error in the Algeria Country Information reports. The significance of his concerns was first highlighted in November 2004, in an article in the Guardian (A pile-up of shameful contradictions by Melanie McFadyean) which revealed ‘an anomaly in the current Home Office country information policy unit (CIPU) report on Algeria: a single sentence which may have had devastating consequences for hundreds of Algerians rejected by British authorities in the last three years.’
There is anecdotal evidence that Algerian nationals have been returned to Algeria after their asylum claims have been rejected, as a result of information contained in the old report. In that report, Brian Davis, a Canadian diplomat, is quoted as saying: ‘To the knowledge of the persons I met and to the local UNHCR office, there has never been any problem encountered by persons returned to Algeria.’
However, the recent amendments concede that the ‘UNHCR is concerned that asylum seekers found not to be in need of international protection, who are returned to Algeria may face hostile treatment due to the Algerian Government’s perception that such persons may have been involved in international terrorism.’ And the Bulletin goes on to comment that ‘Therefore, UNHCR continues to emphasize the need to exercise the utmost caution when considering the forced return of rejected asylum seekers to Algeria.’
In a further contradictory twist, the new Home Secretary Charles Clarke, has been holding discussions with several North African countries, including Algeria, on proposals to deport men held without trial under the Anti -Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. The countries in question have to provide assurances that they will not torture anyone so returned. The men, most of whom are asylum seekers, have all been held without trial [many] since December 2001, and cannot currently be deported because they face a risk of torture or death. A recent Law Lords judgement, in December, ruled that their continued detention was unlawful (see IRR News story Law Lords rule ‘terror detentions’ discriminatory and disproportionate) and the government is seeking a way out of this impasse.
‘Hassan’s’ solicitor, Sue Conlan, told IRR News, ‘The Home Office needs to go beyond an amendment to its report on Algeria and demonstrate the political will to re-examine asylum claims from nationals of a country with one of the worst human rights records for more than a decade. But given the negotiations over the return of “suspected international terrorists” it remains to be seen whether the forced change in the country report is anything more than rhetoric.’