Hundreds of asylum seekers ‘wrongly deported’ after ‘inappropriate’ advice from Swedish linguistics firm


Senior Reporter

Hundreds of asylum seekers may have been wrongly deported from Britain due to the Home Office’s reliance on a Swedish firm to analyse their language, it was claimed last night.

Sprakab was criticised in a judgement handed down this week by the Supreme Court, which said its staff had given “wholly inappropriate” opinions to asylum tribunals on whether a claimant sounded convincing, instead of merely analysing the way they spoke. Critics told The Independent such behaviour was commonplace and may have negatively affected hundreds of asylum cases.

The linguistics company is used by the Home Office to analyse the language and dialect of asylum applicants over the phone in an attempt to establish if they are lying about their country of origin so they can remain in Britain. It carries out around 4,000 such analyses every year for various governments around the world. The Supreme Court judgment, which focused on the cases of two Somali asylum-seekers in Scotland, may trigger a flood of appeals. It said immigration officials had been relying too heavily on Sprakab’s reports and that some comments given by the firm’s staff “went beyond the proper role of a witness”.

The panel of five of the UK’s most senior judges stopped short of recommending the Government ceased using the company. The Home Office said it could not immediately say how many times it had called on Sprakab’s services, but confirmed that it had used the company since 2000.

The Independent has also established that the Government has previously been warned about the company. In April 2013, one submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee stated the “methodology, the analysts and the integrity of the Sprakab system as a whole is deeply flawed”.

Brian Allen, a nationality expert who has worked on the cases of more than 400 Somalis, said he feared that hundreds of asylum-seekers may have been wrongly deported.

Professor Derek Nurse, an emeritus professor of linguistics at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, also produced a series of reports about Sprakab in 2010 which have been submitted to UK asylum tribunals. “I know they are getting it wrong. The people who work for them are not competent,” he said.

Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We have long been critical of the use of language analysis in decision-making on asylum cases and have raised our concerns with the Home Office. Language testing is notoriously approximate and when a refugee’s life is at risk, that’s simply not good enough.”

Pia Enevi, a spokeswoman for Sprakab, said: “We have been working with languages for 14 years, so of course we are capable to analyse languages. I haven’t heard anything bad until now.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Language analysis is an important tool used to help detect bogus asylum claims and make sure genuine refugees receive our support. The Supreme Court ruling in this individual case is disappointing. The court found no reason for us not to rely on Sprakab in future.”

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