Asylum obstacle course gets new hurdle

A destitute man c.Kuzma/ iStock
Many people seeking asylum in the UK are left destitute

The recent Home Office move to force people seeking asylum to travel to Liverpool to submit fresh evidence for their claim is the latest obstacle in what is already an inaccessible asylum system. Our current system puts refugees through tremendous stress, even though  by definition they have often faced trauma and conflict, and many are women who have survived sexual violence or been trafficked.

People fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries, or who have been trafficked, have the right to apply for sanctuary. But their needs and experiences are often not taken into consideration when it comes to where and how they can apply for protection.

Often at the mercy of agents, smugglers or traffickers to get to the UK, people can end up anywhere from Inverness to Portsmouth – but if they miss the chance to apply at a port or airport they must submit their application for asylum at UK Visas and Immigration HQ in Croydon. Having left everything when they fled their homes and faced a cruel and gruelling journey to get here, many are destitute.

With no money in their pockets, no accommodation and no legal way to work, they may face exploitation. Many of the people who arrive at our office in Glasgow seeking help to claim asylum are women, and having often fled violence at home and faced unspeakable dangers on their journey, they find themselves made vulnerable by a system that is supposed to protect them..

If they manage to lodge their application for asylum, the next hurdle is the interview. With no childcare, women are often expected to recount stories of death and violence – or their own rape – in front of their children. Many can’t and choose silence, and so what happened to them is therefore not considered as evidence. Male interpreters and interviewers can be used, which can be triggering or otherwise difficult for many women. Little counselling or support is given for people recounting often the worst memories of their lives, and staff are often untrained in the effect that serious trauma can have on the ability to recall events in a clear way.

This is a system that puts walls up in front of those who have fled burning homes, rescued their daughter from the knife, made difficult journeys to seek international protection in Britain, a country that helped create the 1951 Refugee Convention, and then abused. We are putting these barriers in front of people for no seemingly good reason, when what they really need is to recount their experiences in a calm and supportive environment and then to rebuild their shattered lives in safety.

The announcement that people whose asylum applications have been turned down will now have to travel to Liverpool to lodge fresh evidence is the latest  in an ongoing series of changes in a process that is failing .

A beleaguered Home Office staff that is struggling to process applications (since the third quarter of 2010 to the third quarter of 2014 the number of people waiting for initial decisions rose from under 7000 to over 18,000) is unlikely to always make the right decisions, and a large number of decisions are turned over on appeal.

Nonetheless, it was announced just last month that the journey to Liverpool must be made. This decision was made with no consultation with stakeholders or proper analysis of the impact on real peoples lives.

This announcement has been widely criticised and the Mayor of Liverpool denounced the lack of consultation and said there was suspicion that the Home Office was trying to make things harder for people seeking asylum. In Westminster Cathy Jamieson MP queried the Home Office about the new policy and in Scotland, Ken Macintosh MSP has lodged a motion condemning the Liverpool announcement, which has already garnered healthy cross-party support, and we encourage you to write to your MSP asking them to sign the motion. You can use the text below or write your own message:


I am writing to you to ask you to support Ken Macintosh MSP’s motion S4M-12265 criticising the Home Office’s decision to oblige people seeking asylum, who already face an inaccessible asylum system and are often destitute, to travel to Liverpool to make fresh submissions to support their asylum application. Many of those who will be affected are extremely vulnerable, many are women who have survived unspeakable violence, and the risk of abuse and exploitation as a result of this decision is high. If you would like to find out more, please read Scottish Refugee Council’s article on this.

You can also support the current #ProtectionGap campaign, backed by over 350 organisations UK-wide, which calls on the Home Secretary to ensure that women in the asylum process who have experienced violence have access to the same protection as women at home and abroad.

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