Today the Home Affairs Committee has published a report on the work of the Immigration Directorate, raising a number of serious concerns about the way authorities handle asylum claims, and how asylum seekers are treated in the UK.
The committee has condemned the ‘appalling’ episodes of prejudice in which asylum seekers in Middlesbrough apparently had their front doors painted red, and asylum seekers in Cardiff were issued coloured wristbands which they had to wear in exchange for meals.
There are still unanswered questions about how these things could have been allowed to happen; the owner of the company that rents the properties claims the doors were painted 20 years ago, but immigration minister James Brokenshire concluded they had been painted as a way for subcontractors to manage maintenance issues.
Of the wristband policy, the Committee says:
“This stigmatises asylum seekers, and makes them easily identifiable and therefore open to harassment and abuse. We struggle to see how this practice could ever have been considered acceptable in the first place. It risks besmirching the UK’s reputation in relation to its asylum practices.”
The report also warns about the continued policy of detaining children for immigration purposes. The government has stated its commitment to ending the practice, but in the third quarter of 2015, 31 children entered immigration detention, an increase on the same time last year when 26 children entered detention
Questions have also been raised about the fall in the number of Eritrean asylum applications being accepted. In 2013 and 2014 over 82 per cent of applications from Eritreans resulted in some form of protection. In Q1 of 2015, 77 per cent of applications from Eritreans were granted some form of protection; in Q2 of 2015 this fell sharply to 34 per cent, and was at 39 per cent in Q3.
The committee recommends that ‘the Home Office reconsider its country guidance on Eritrea, taking into account the findings of the Independent Advisory Group on Country of Origin Information.’
In March 2015 the Home Office updated its country guidance on Eritrea, making it easier to return people to Eritrea. The Home Office claimed in March that many Eritreans who left voluntarily would not face persecution if they returned, to loud protest from human rights groups. This new advice resulted in the number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK plummeting, as outlined in the Committee report.
Human Rights Watch warned at the time that the change was based on the findings of a flawed and widely discredited Danish report, and accused the Home Office of being ‘more interested in keeping asylum seekers out than in protecting people in danger’.
With funds and resources straining under the pressure of increased asylum applications from Syria and Iraq, is it possible that the Home Office jumped on this dubious research as an easy way of quickly turning away some of the paperwork?
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward