Prejudice rules against asylum seekers

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S SYSTEM of dealing with asylum claims has been described as "institutionally racist" after an adjudicator hearing the case of a Czech gypsy said that black people use their skin colour as an "excuse" for claiming they suffer from discrimination.

The adjudicator, who was handling an appeal against a Home Office decision to reject the man's claim for asylum, also likened police prejudice towards gypsies to "the kind of pet hates we all have". The comments were found in a "determination", or report, compiled by the Immigration Appellate Authority, part of an executive agency of the Lord Chancellor's Department which deals with all claims turned down by the Home Office.

Human rights and asylum groups have seized on the report as evidence of "endemic racism" in the asylum system and have drawn parallels with the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which described the Metropolitan Police as "institutionally racist". They claim that many adjudicators sitting on asylum appeals panels are "politically unreconstructed".

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said he was "appalled" by the language. "This illustrates perfectly why many of us have so little confidence in the asylum decision-making process. It is part of the phenomenon of institutionalised racism which needs to be tackled with vigour," he said.

Like many gypsies, or roma, as they prefer to be called, Petr Hub cited three reasons for claiming asylum: that he had suffered persecution and violence because of his ethnic origin, that the Czech police did nothing to help him, and he had been excluded from jobs and education of his choice.

The report, which has been revealed as the Immigration and Asylum Bill makes its way through Parliament, suggests that many people use claims of persecution as an excuse. "Sometimes discrimination is real, sometimes of course it is imaginary and used as an excuse by the disadvantaged person, as one often hears it said, `it's because I am black' in the United Kingdom," wrote the adjudicator, listed only as "L J Smith".

Mr Smith adds that it is natural for policemen to hold prejudices, such as anti-gypsy views. "Although they should try and put them on one side, they are human like everybody else, and we all have our pet hates or dislikes, no matter how we try and disguise them," he writes.

Mr Hub admitted that he often did not bother to report attacks because he felt the police would take no action. Mr Smith observes that "if people do not report anything to the police then they cannot complain that the police do not give them the protection to which they claim they are entitled".

Mr Smith says that he "generally accepts" Mr Hub's evidence, but does not feel it qualifies him for asylum. He likens Mr Hub's claim that he was unfairly denied access to college to British students being rejected from Oxford University. "It is so easy for people to use as an excuse when they cannot go to the place they want to, that they are being discriminated against," he said.

Asylum Aid recently published a report detailing 90 cases in which asylum seekers claim to have had unfair hearings and has called for wholesale reform of the appeals procedure. It says many of the UK's 160 adjudicators, the vast majority of who are qualified lawyers, are unfit to hear cases, often pre-judging claims rather than dealing with them on their merits.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also voiced concerns, saying many adjudicators are out of date with political developments. "The language can be patronising and seem to come from another age," he said.