The Asylum Process

The Government works with the UNHCR on four programmes – the Gateway Protection Project, Mandate Refugee Programme, Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme and the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Project. See ‘refugee programmes’. Under these programmes individuals are identified by the UNHCR in refugee camps and, with the agreement of the UK Home Office, are settled in this country. In 2017 6,212 refugees were settled in the UK in this way, most of them through the Syrian Scheme (supported locally by LOSRAS).

But for asylum seekers here the process is extremely tough, and the system is complex. 26,350 people sought asylum in the UK in 2017. Our immigration laws and policies are tortuous and frequently changing. Even experts in the field struggle to keep abreast of developments, so for asylum seekers, unfamiliar with our systems and language, the process is a minefield.

Despite targets of 6 months, the delay in reaching a decision on asylum applications is huge and the target almost never met. Many people, both children and adults, wait years for a decision.

During that time they are prohibited from working or claiming benefits. Destitute asylum seekers get accommodated in poor quality hostels via the Home Office in ‘dispersal areas’, set up to move asylum seekers away from the South East. Hastings is the only designated dispersal area in Sussex. They receive just over £5 per day subsistence and may be moved at any time.

Decision-making by the immigration service is notoriously poor. There is a culture of disbelief and whistle-blowers have described the extent of the negative approach and its impact on decision-making. In 2017 only 29% of decided cases were granted protection (either refugee status or humanitarian protection- see definitions here). Asylum seekers have a right of appeal to a tribunal and 29% of appeals over the same period were successful.

For those who don’t succeed, usually because they are not believed and cannot produce enough hard evidence to demonstrate that they have reason to fear persecution in their home country, life gets even worse. Some people voluntarily leave and some are removed forcibly; but many cannot go home, for instance because they cannot get papers or there is no safe route home and/or they still fear imprisonment, torture or death at home. Some people in this group have no support of any sort and are forced to live on the streets; others have even more minimal support than people still awaiting a decision. If new evidence comes to light, a fresh application for asylum can be made and the whole slow process starts again.

At any point in the process an asylum seeker can be arbitrarily detained without time limit at an Immigration Removal Centre (aka detention centres). Locally Brooke House and Tinsley House are at the perimeter fence of Gatwick Airport to facilitate forced removal. Ostensibly detention is a measure of last resort where there is a likelihood of the individual absconding and only immediately prior to removal from the UK. In practice immigration detention for administrative purposes is far more widespread then that. During the course of 2017, 27,331 people were detained in this way, many of whom were asylum seekers. 54% of detainees were not removed from the country, but released into the community, rendering their detention futile.