Asylum seekers living across Britain will be forced to travel hundreds of miles to make their case for staying in the United Kingdom, under new Home Office rules.
The decision - which will force more than 1,000 asylum seekers a year to travel to Liverpool to submit documents, no matter where they live - has been condemned as “cruel and highly objectionable” by refugee campaigners.
They claim the Home Office wants to make it harder for people seeking sanctuary in the UK - most of whom are not allowed to work -to challenge unfavourable rulings.
From Monday the glass-clad Capital Building in Liverpool, which is home to the UBKA Further Submissions Unit, will be the only location in the country where failed asylum seekers will be able to make a fresh claim to have their case considered. They have to attend in person, as the unit does not accept email or fax submissions.
Until now failed asylum seekers, who often receive no financial support from government, have been able to present crucial new documentation at one of half a dozen regional centres or a their regular meetings with case workers prior to their deportation.
The rule change was quietly revealed in a letter last week to the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum. The letter, which has been seen by the Independent, admitted the change had been made “quickly”.
Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s programme director for refugee rights, said that the primary motivation was to reduce government spending on asylum support.
Gary Christie, head of policy at the Scottish Refugee Council, which helps many of those who will be worst affected by the change, said: “This change of policy by the Home Office is clearly obstructive and creates an additional barrier to people trying to access the UK’s asylum system.”
The rule change will affect asylum seekers who have had their first application rejected but are seeking to make a fresh claim in light of new evidence, a legal ruling or a change in the circumstances in their home country.
Mr Symonds added: “Many of these people have good claims. Obstructing fresh claims and exacerbating people’s hardships is cruel and wholly objectionable.”
Campaigners have warned that the nature of “last minute” meetings and regular delays and cancellations will make walk-on train fares to Liverpool, which can cost as much as £309 from London and £55 from Birmingham, “unaffordable” to most failed asylum seekers.
Refugee Council head of advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle said: “When a refugee reaches Britain; they hope to have found a place of safety where they can begin recovering from their ordeal. Instead, they are faced with a hostile and complex asylum system which can leave them homeless and living in poverty. It’s unreasonable to expect people who often don’t have enough money to eat to travel to Liverpool at the drop of a hat to drop off documents in person which could easily be emailed.”
Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who submitted an Early Day Motion to Parliament this week on the issue, said it was putting “unnecessary pressures and restrictions” on refugees who have already “suffered terribly”.
He said: “It seems absolutely absurd and incredible to me that anyone would expect asylum seekers on low incomes to have to trek across the country to submit applications to stay.”
The new policy has also been attacked as nearly a third of initial asylum decision are later overturned and many asylum seekers go on to make fresh claims as new information comes to light.
Labour’s David Hanson MP, shadow minister for immigration said: “The asylum system needs to be fair and efficient. These changes seem to be trying to distract from the fact that 27 per cent of initial Home Office decisions on asylum applications are overturned; these changes will just complicate the process of resolving asylum cases meaning more costs for everyone.”
The Home Office has faced repeated criticism over asylum appeals system after it the Independent revealed in May that hundreds of asylum seekers may have been wrongly deported due to the Home Office’s “wholly inappropriate” reliance on a Swedish firm to analyse their language.
This followed reports that Home Office staff were being rewarded with shopping vouchers if they met a target of winning 70 per cent of tribunal cases in which asylum seekers were appealing against a decision to deport them.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “These changes will apply only to failed asylum seekers whose claims have already been refused. They will significantly speed up decision-making, enabling us more quickly to grant protection to those who require it and to conclude the cases of those who do not."Reuse content