‘Mary’ was from Nigeria. She arrived in the UK by plane having been trafficked to Italy and sold on to the UK. She claimed asylum immediately informing the Home Office she feared bad people in Nigeria.

What she had not disclosed was that she was sold by her father to a much older man in Nigeria. She fled this man and ended up street homeless. Whilst living on the streets, she was approached in by a woman who offered her employment with a “good family” abroad only to find herself sold into prostitution in England. Mary did not disclose the abuse she suffered in Nigeria or in the UK immediately as she feared the reprisals from her traffickers.

Eventually, Mary was granted refugee status but only after years of unpicking her misguided loyalty to her traffickers.

Anonymised case study

I’ve spent a few weeks looking at some numbers which tell an extraordinary story about the asylum system, and the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ on which the Home Office are currently consulting. They are so extraordinary that they make me raise at least 1 eyebrow. If I hadn’t got the figures direct from the Home Office via a freedom of information request I’d be suspicious. Surely not even the Home Office can disregard such striking statistics? And yet here we are.

In short the asylum system is making many people street homeless and destitute to force them to return home. After submitting fresh information many turn out to have had a well founded fear of persecution all along and so are granted leave to remain in the UK. And the response to this in ‘A New Plan for Immigration’, rather than (say) not making them street homeless, is to try to stop them from submitting the new information on which their lives may depend.

For a while I’ve been trying to find out how many people get fully refused asylum – that is to say have an initial asylum decision and then an appeal refused – but then then go on to bring additional information to the courts and on the basis of this get granted refugee status or some other form of protection. This matters because, among other reasons, once fully refused a single adult without dependent children is left street homeless and destitute to force them to return ‘home’. They have no home, no benefits and no right to work. These are the people that Hope Projects and other NACCOM members support.  So how many people does this happen to? You can’t pull these numbers out of the Home Office asylum statistics so instead I used a freedom of information request.

“How many people have been granted asylum or some other form of leave to remain having had an asylum appeal refused and then making further submissions.” (FOI 61836)

I had a suspicion that there could be as many as hundreds of cases each year. That would be shocking but if it was true then 2 things follow:

Firstly that the right to further submissions is a vital part of the asylum protection system and is a mechanism that has saved many people from being wrongly returned to face persecution or the denial of their human rights.

Secondly that a policy of leaving people homeless and destitute following the refusal of an asylum appeal in order to force them to return is recklessly dangerous. We would be literally starving people to force them to return home when we knew that there was a reasonable chance that they would face persecution if they did. That would be deliberately working against the fundamental principle of asylum.

So finally after quite a lengthy process I got my response. If the figures the Home Office have provided are accurate – and I have no reason to believe otherwise – then it turns out I was wrong. There are not hundreds of cases. There are thousands. Every year.

“Please note that the data below applies to those who have been granted asylum or another form of leave to remain on the basis of Further Submissions lodged subsequent to a previous refusal of asylum. It is inclusive of all cases whether the applicant lodged an appeal against the previous asylum refusal or not.

The information you have requested can be found in the table below.

Year                       Number of People

2015                       1522

2016                       1614

2017                       2112

2018                       2717

2019                       3942

2020 (Jan-Sept) 2244

Total                     14151”

So what can we conclude?

Firstly, and maybe counterintuitively, I think this says something positive about the asylum system. It recognises that the nature of asylum is such that traumatised people are not realistically going to tell perfectly coherent stories backed up with meticulous documentation first off. It recognises that people who have been raped, or tortured, or persecuted on the basis of their sexuality may not go into detail when, frightened and traumatised, they first get interviewed by an immigration officer. Further representations allow for humane and robust decisions to come out of the messiness of real human experience. I’ve previously explained the good faith reasons why further submissions may be required here:

No second chances

Secondly, it says something profoundly negative about the asylum support system. When an asylum appeal is refused, unless you have dependent children, then you are evicted from your accommodation and your financial support stops. You are left street homeless and destitute with no right to work or to rent. You hit the hostile environment at its most raw. This is done to ensure that you return home. And yet we now know that thousands of people in this situation do have well founded fears of persecution and will eventually have this recognised through further submissions. Destitution as a tool of policy is never morally right. In this context it’s utterly abhorrent.

Falling…

Finally, back to the consultation on ‘A New Plan for Immigration’. Here is the whole document.

On page 27 we find:

“The number of further submissions applications made by people who are ‘Appeal Rights Exhausted’ (ARE), which means they have no further grounds on which to appeal their original decision, remains high. Whilst further submissions may be based on changes of circumstances since the original claim or appeal, this is not always the case. We want to ensure that people are able to bring all relevant evidence upfront and reduce the ability for claimants to draw out the process by introducing new elements to their claims and launching appeals, meaning they are kept within the system for extended periods of time.”

Further submissions should not be seen as “the ability for claimants to draw out the process by introducing new elements to their claims” but as a fundamental building block of a humane asylum system that have saved thousands of people from persecution and even death. You can take the opportunity to tell the Home Office this here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration

Picture by James Burke, https://www.flickr.com/photos/deburca/7195447168

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