The Home Office refuses to publish figures on what proportion of initial asylum decisions are eventually overturned on appeal. But IRR News estimates that, for some nationalities, two out of every five initial decisions are proven to be wrong on appeal: a shocking indictment of the Home Office’s decision-making process.
A case in point is Somalia: more claims for asylum are now submitted from Somali nationals than any other country. In its initial decision, the Home Office is currently rejecting three out of every four applications for asylum from Somali nationals. But almost all of those rejected appear to go on to exercise their right to appeal, of which 42 per cent are then accepted as genuine refugees by the immigration appeal adjudicators.
The high rate of successful appeals implies an exceptionally high rate of wrong initial decisions made by the Home Office in Somali asylum cases. Why is the Home Office getting so many initial decisions wrong?
Most of those coming from Somalia to Britain to seek asylum are basing their claims on membership of minority clans. Minority clan members are in potential danger from the larger clans who control the militias. If they can prove to the authorities in Britain that they are members of unprotected minority clans, they are usually accepted as refugees.
Obviously, assessing such claims is a difficult process. But the Home Office takes the line that most of those coming are not who they claim to be. It believes that many are ethnic Somalis who are actually citizens of neighbouring East African states and not in real danger; skilled interviews, it claims, can identify these distinctions.
Perhaps. But the rate at which the Home Office wrongly rejects applications suggests that its caseworkers are overly suspicious of applicants’ claims. That Somali asylum seekers are then forced to use the appeal courts to get a fair hearing for their case, causes them unnecessary distress and adds greatly to the cost of administering the asylum system. It could also, of course, lead to a person’s life being put at risk following a deportation – although, with no central government, deportations to Somalia have proved difficult.
Two out of every five Somalis are able to prove on appeal that the Home Office got it wrong. This is done either by submitting their own expert evidence or by drawing on the support of family or clan members who have already been granted refugee status. Obviously, the resources needed to overturn an initial Home Office decision may not be available to all wrongfully rejected Somali asylum seekers.
Unfortunately, the ‘culture of suspicion’ against Somalis may be about to deepen. Beverley Hughes, the Immigration Minister, announced last week that she is to take advantage of Section 19d of the Race Relations Amendment Act which permits immigration officers to lawfully discriminate subject to ministerial authorisation. A special authorisation is likely to be drafted enabling Somalis to be ‘examined more rigorously than would otherwise be the case’. Immigration Officers will thus be free to target anyone they believe to be ‘of Somali origin’ at any of the ports where they are stationed.
The Home Office is also seeking to arrange a deal with Tanzania for the deportation of asylum seekers. The British government claims that any deal would only be aimed at deporting asylum seekers who are identified as Tanzanian citizens with a Somali ethnic background, rather than Somali nationals themselves. But there were suggestions, reported last week in the Guardian, that Somali nationals might also be sent to Tanzania for ‘processing’ in exchange for an extra £4 million a year in aid. Currently deportations to Somalia itself are effectively impossible.
Negotiations are currently continuing on the establishment of a camp in Tanzania for processing Somali asylum claims and, possibly, accommodating those Somalis whose applications have failed in the UK. There are already 470,000 refugees in Tanzanian camps, according to figures from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Surge in appeals
The rejection rate for Somali asylum seekers in the UK has increased dramatically over the last two years. So too has the rate of successful appeals against these initial decisions.
In the first quarter of 2002, three out of every five Somali applicants were accepted as genuine refugees or in need of other forms of protection, at the initial Home Office decision. In the last quarter of 2003, only one in four was accepted.
Figures for the last year suggest that almost every negative decision in Somali asylum cases is being appealed. The number of appeals determined each quarter in Somali asylum cases has been consistently higher than the number of initial decisions made, indicating a combination of a backlog of cases and a large rate of new appeals.
This surge in appeals seems to reflect genuine flaws in the decision-making process: the percentage of appeals in Somali asylum cases which are successful has increased from one in three a year ago to 42 per cent in the last quarter. The average for other nationalities is around 20 per cent.
Concerns about the decision-making process have been expressed by a number of organisations over the last month. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said that the Home Office’s decision-making process is based on ‘a staggering lack of accurate information’ and ‘a negative culture that means many claims simply aren’t taken seriously’. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture also recently claimed that Home Office caseworkers frequently make ‘unsubstantiated, sometimes baseless, assumptions’ leading them ‘to conclude that the applicant’s account lacks credibility’.
The need for asylum applications to be given greater credence by Home Office caseworkers will be all the greater if the drastic reduction in appeal rights proposed in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill goes ahead. The Bill is currently before parliament.