Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter: A new initiative has been launched to track what happens to failed asylum seekers after they have been deported. It aims to provide channels of support for deportees when they arrive in their countries of origin and build a body of evidence to inform policy in countries that deport failed asylum seekers. The project will be hosted by Fahamu Refugee Programme and aims to establish a network of NGOs and individuals identified via the website, who will serve as points of contact to link with counterparts in countries of origin.
This initiative is necessary because most states deny any responsibility for asylum seekers once they have been processed by their systems and deemed to be not at risk of persecution, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment. However, refugee support groups believe many deportees have genuine claims but are unable to prove them due to a lack of, or inadequate, legal representation.
What happens to failed asylum seekers after they have been deported is largely unrecorded, but evidence collected by human rights organisations suggests that deportees, often identified by their distinctive ‘travel documents’, are frequently detained on arrival and transferred directly to prison, where many are subjected to torture and degrading treatment. For example, Justice First reports harassment, imprisonment and torture of deportees to the Democratic Republic of Congo by state authorities upon return (Ramos 2011). The Refugee Law Project in Uganda similarly finds that deportees are arrested if they are suspected of politically dissident activities; some have even disappeared (Lyodu 2010). Both organisations have also reported that deportees were harassed, arrested and tortured simply for the act of having claimed asylum abroad. Indeed, in a number of countries, claiming asylum in another state is seen as an act of treason.
There is thus a twofold need to document what happens to deported asylum seekers: on the one hand, the individual needs to be saved from detention and torture; on the other, better documentation of the human rights violations against failed asylum seekers post-deportation might influence host states’ asylum policies. A number of organisations as well as academics have called for the establishment of such a network. Calls for a monitoring network were issued by Justice First, the Refugee Law Project, and at working meetings between interested NGOs and academics at City University (25 May 2011) and at the University of York (18 February 2012). The UK’s Independent Asylum Commission also recommended that a system be developed ‘which enables some record to be maintained of the subsequent history of refused asylum seekers after return to their country of origin. … Where there has been persecution on return, knowledge of such persecution would contribute towards better decision-making in the future’.
The Fahamu Refugee Programme is in the process of identifying organisations and individuals in host countries who support failed asylum seekers at risk of deportation, and contacts who might be willing to meet and assist them in the countries to which they are deported. When safe to do so, these will be uploaded to a directory on ourwebsite. This will list by country those organisations willing to assist failed asylum seekers after they have been deported. To ensure data protection, we will recruit trustworthy organisations for each country of origin who will act as points of contact in either deporting or receiving countries.
We envisage that when a failed asylum seeker is being deported, an organisation working with the individual in the host country would use this directory to make contact with an organisation in the country of origin. Ideally, the latter would then meet and pick up the individual from the airport. It has been our experience that the mere presence of a committed individual at the airport can prevent, or at least mitigate the consequences of police action when the deportee is arrested upon arrival. If arrested, the organisation might be able to initiate proceedings for their release and raise awareness about their case.
The Fahamu Refugee Programme also plans to set up a database to collect information about human rights violations against deportees, which can then be used by NGOs to lobby governments that deport failed asylum seekers concerning their asylum policies.
This is a timely initiative. As governments are speeding up asylum procedures across Europe and legal aid funding is being cut, more and more asylum seekers with genuine claims are at risk of being rejected and eventually deported. As Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council (UK), asserts, recent cuts in legal aid in the UK have meant that ‘clients will … not receive the help they need to accurately make their asylum applications – which means they will be wrongly returned to murderous regimes’.
The article first appeared in the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Network