More unfit for purpose at the Home Office

It’s reliance on a fraudulent expert in asylum cases fits a pattern of worrying disregard

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It could well be true, as the right-wing mayor of Calais claimed recently, that Britain is held up as an “El Dorado” among the undocumented migrants who congregate in squalid limbo in one or other of that town’s informal camps. Certainly the willingness to risk death on a crossing – clinging to the undercarriage of a lorry, or braving the waters of the Channel – suggests some basis in fact. But the reality of life for asylum-seekers who do make it past Dover increasingly contradicts any idea that a life of plenty greets the exhausted traveller.

The United Kingdom boasts a proud history of offering asylum to those most in need, from Ugandans fleeing the purges of Idi Amin to Vietnamese uprooted by the intervention of Uncle Sam. The system remains superior to that in France and many other European nations, who fail to provide even a basic level of decency.

Yet as immigration has changed the make-up of Britain and risen to its current primacy among the concerns of voters, asylum has been pared back and tightened up.

This is partly to be welcomed: no country should feel obligated to host migrants who travel out of economic aspiration, but make the false claim, on arrival, that it was persecution that drove them from their homeland. But in the drive to save money and meet Coalition immigration targets, the balance looks to have tipped too far against the 27,000 men and women who are currently waiting for their asylum case to be heard.

Today we report exclusively on how against a backdrop of outsourcing, the Home Office may have wrongly deported hundreds of Somalis. Immigration officials supported asylum decisions with the testimony of a supposed expert from the Swedish firm Sprakab, who has been accused of not holding the qualifications he claimed to, and who has a conviction for drug smuggling. The fierce criticism of this man’s reports by a bona fide linguistics expert, Professor Peter Patrick, puts both Sprakab and the British Government to shame.

Somalis with a genuine case for asylum may be killed if forcibly sent home. To rely on a foreign firm, which has been criticised over its accuracy in the past, and linguistic analysis of taped conversations, which is in many ways subjective, puts too many degrees of separation between the Home Office and the men and women on whose lives it must adjudicate.

This forms part of a pattern that will not please anybody who believes Britain has a moral standing in the world – and should do all it can to develop and protect such a position. In August, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, froze the £36 weekly allowance for asylum-seekers for the third consecutive year (despite a High Court ruling that to do so was “irrational”), while an earlier report by the Home Affairs Select Committee condemned a backlog of 33,000 asylum cases – with some delayed by as many as 16 years.

Furthermore, while Germany this year vowed to offer sanctuary to 5,000 more refugees from Syria, Britain has taken in just 50 since the start of the crisis. And that is not just because Germany is larger than Britain. Per capita, Germany has already allowed in three times as many asylum-seekers as Britain, which ranks 16th out of the 27 EU countries on that basis.

The UK has been or is involved in many of the conflicts that have led to a mass exodus across the Middle East. It seeks to project an image of tolerance and humanity. A safe, speedy and generous asylum system should be a sine qua non for both these national traits.