VOICES Network Consultation Response to the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration

About the VOICES Network

All too frequently services are delivered for people, policies are written about people, and stories are told on behalf of people. The VOICES Network creates a powerful way in which services, policy development, and media work can be co-produced to have more impact, and to close the gap for refugees and people seeking asylum to be able to speak up about, and achieve real change on the issues that affect us.

The VOICES Network is a collective of people with lived experience of the refugee and asylum system in the UK. Members of the Network, VOICES Ambassadors are experts by experience, and we speak up to:

1 .Change minds (through engaging with the media and communities),

2. Change policy (through engaging in advocacy with decision-makers) and,

3. Change practice (through co-producing services and strategy) VOICES Ambassadors are spread across Scotland, Wales and England and form an independent group that does not represent any organisation.

Concerns over the Consultation Process

The VOICES Network, like many other organisations and groups, is concerned with the consultation process, specifically:

1. Six weeks is not enough time for people to meaningfully participate in this consultation, particularly given how complex the New Immigration Plan is. This six-week period also covers the Easter holidays and the break for elections on May 6th. The government’s own Consultation Principles say ‘consultations should last for an appropriate amount of time’ and that ‘Consulting too quickly will not give enough time for consideration and will reduce the quality of responses.’

2. This consultation is not accessible to people with lived experience of seeking asylum in the UK. It is not available in any language other than English and the only way to submit a response if through the website which means people without adequate access the devices or data cannot respond.

2a. There has not been enough effort made to engage with people with lived experience from the start, despite the Windrush Lessons Learned report highlighted the importance of the Home Office engaging with people with lived experience. And under the recent legal agreement signed with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to improve practices following Windrush the Home Office commits to ction to demonstrate it considers ‘evidence and feedback from stakeholders representing affected groups to understand the equality impacts of policies and practices’.

3. The consultation content and questions are misleading, confusing and inadequate for gathering insights. The foreword contains several conflicting statements, yet respondents are asked at question one to confirm the extent that they agree with the entire section. It is difficult to see how quality, reliable information can be gathered in such a manner, and it would be useful for this to be clarified, perhaps with reference to the example we have given regarding question one. Overall our view is that the questions throughout the consultation are leading, and do not lend themselves to detailed understanding of how the proposals are likely to impact people.

The VOICES Network’s Vision for a Fairer and More Compassionate Asylum System

  • Focus on why people come to the UK to seek safety, not how they arrive.
  • Invest in people seeking asylum and let us contribute to society by giving people seeking asylum the right to work.
  • Tackle the root causes of forced migration by providing support and investment to other nations.We would not have fled from home if we were not forced to.
  • Provide tailored mental health support for refugees and people seeking asylum throughout the process.
  • Offer accessible safe routes for all who need protection. Resettlement is not enough. Provide additional routes such as work visas to reduce pressure on the asylum system.
  • Take an individual approach to asylum claims and clearly communicate timescales. The long delays, fear, lack of communication and uncertainty devastates our mental health.
  • Expand the family reunion criteria to reduce the need for people to make dangerous and desperate journeys.
  • Give people early access to legal advice so we can understand our rights and responsibilities in relation to claiming asylum. This will prevent negative decisions which are eventually overturned and destitution.

Chapter 2: Protecting Those Fleeing Persecution, Oppression and Tyranny.

Resettlement

  • The VOICES Network welcomes the proposal to expand the resettlement programme, but resettlement and regular routes alone cannot meet the government’s own target of “ensuring refugees have the freedom to succeed, ability to integrate and contribute fully to society when they arrive in the UK.”
  • We support resettlement as an important safe and legal route for refugees to enter the UK. However,people who arrive by ‘irregular’ routes are just as deserving and in need of protectionas people who are able to access resettlement programmesand we are deeply concerned about the proposed plan not to allow these people the chance to claim asylum in the UK.
  • We are concerned that the government has not given a timeframeor target for resettlementsimilar tothe “20,000 Syrians in five years” in place between 2015 and 2020. We are deeply worried that the previous target of resettling 5,000 people a year has beendropped, meaning that fewer people in need of protection will be resettled.Additionally, the Dubs scheme, similar to resettlement,for unaccompanied child refugeesalso endedafter accepting 480children across Europe. The UK hasnot committed toensureadditional resettlement targets for unaccompaniedchildren in the EU or globally.
  • It is well documented, and we know from our own lived experience that only a small minority of refugees in the UK arrive through official resettlement programmes, and an even smaller number access family reunion after being resettled. UNHCR estimates that 1.44 million refugees are in need of resettlement globally. Of these only 829 were resettled in the UK last year.
  • Many refugees, like ourselves,have been stranded in unsafe and overcrowded refugee camps where resettlement routes are not accessible, and feel they have no other choice than to make desperate journeys to find safety.
  • VOICES Ambassador and former asylum seeker from his war-torn home of Afghanistan, Anwar sponsored his family through family reunion emphasises how resettlement programmes excludes many and fails to provide adequate safe and legal routes:

“I do not think the refugee resettlement programmes work effectively, many families from Afghanistan have been staying in unsafe refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan so many years, without any hope for resettlement.”

Recommendations on Resettlement

  • We believe that the UK should build on its proud history of welcoming refugees, and base decisions on asylum claims on the need for protection, not how people have arrived.
  • We call for the government to commit to resettling a minimum of 10,000 people a year (to be increased if further conflicts occur). The UK is one of the richest nations in the world and should be leading the way on resettlement for refugees.In 2019 only 4.5 per cent of the global resettlement needs were met. If the UK is truly to ‘lead by example as a force for good in the world’, it must invest in this important pathway for helping refugees.
  • Resettled refugees should be allowed to sponsor elderly and vulnerable parents (e.g. parents without carer).
  • The government must commit to safe and legal routes for unaccompanied children in Europe to replace the Dubs Scheme which will reduce the chances of trafficking and modern slavery for children.

Community Sponsorship

  • We welcome the UK government’s plan to continue investing in the Community Sponsorship programme. Community Sponsorship enables community groups in the UK to welcome refugee families into their communities, this Community Sponsorship embodies British kindness and builds on the proud history of welcoming refugees.
  • However, Community Sponsorship resettles a very small minority of refugees. Current immigration statistics show that 47 Groups welcomed families between January 2019 and the end of December 2020. The New Immigration Plan does not create an environment for successful Community Sponsorship and integration.
  • Many families who arrived in the UK through Community Sponsorship have family members who are forced to arrive through ‘irregular routes’and are deeply worries about the New Plan for Immigration and the harmful impact it will have.
  • The VOICES Network Community Sponsorship research conducted in February 2021 exploring the experiences of people who have arrived in the UK through Community Sponsorship. The key insights include:
    • Arriving in the UK: Lack of accessible induction information on or before arrival in the families’ languages.
    • Housing – Rural and Urban Areas: Limited social connections and feelings of loneliness and isolation particularly in rural areas.
    • Wellbeing and Social Connections: Participants noted how limited social connections with the wider community has affected their wellbeing.
    • Health Care: Lack of understanding the health care system in the UK often impacts families’ health.
    • Language: Language barriers continue to be the most challenging element for most families and therefore has a significant impact on their lives.
    • Translation and interpretation: A majority of participants felt that the initial period of translation service provision was not long enough.
    • Education: College classes are not sufficient for learning the language.
    • Benefits System and Work Opportunities: Lack of understanding the benefits system; universal credit, housing benefits and council tax as well as finding employment.
    • Training and Volunteering: Lack of volunteering, training and placement opportunities has resulted in limited job opportunities.
    • Family Reunion: Participants stressed how desperate they are to reunite with their loved ones. All participants expressed confusion over the family reunion criteria and process and requested more support with this.
  • Community Sponsorship groups also have expressed real concern over the New Plan for Immigration. On 22nd April, the VOICES Network attended a session hosted by RESET with 43 people. The overriding message was strongly critical, particularly of a two-tier approach to the treatment of refugees. Words including ‘disgraceful’, ‘appalling’, ‘preposterous’, ‘illegal’, ‘horrifying’ and ‘barbaric’ were repeatedly used by Community Sponsors to express their opinions on the proposals.
  • Already, some sponsors are questioning whether they can remain involved in Community Sponsorship, or whether by supporting a Government programme they are tacitly supporting the rest of the proposals contained within the NPI.
  • From this feedback, it is clear to us that strengthening safe and legal routes like Community Sponsorship is intimately connected with the nature of asylum reform. Community Sponsors are public-spirited people who want to play a part in the immigration system –but only if that system is compassionate and underpinned by respect for human rights. We urge the Government to re-think its approach to asylum reform, putting such values at the core.

Recommendations on Community Sponsorship

  • Make it easier for Community Groups in the UK to sponsor refugees to arrive through Community Sponsorship.
  • Improve access to family reunion for all refugees, including those who have arrived through Community Sponsorship.
  • Invest in integration and employability programmes provided to enable refugees and people seeking asylum to be positive members of society, including those who have arrived through Community Sponsorship.

Refugee Family Reunion

  • We recognise Family Reunion as an important safe and legal route for refugees and welcome the UK Government’s plan to allow children under 21 to reunite with their parents in the UK. However, it should be noted that the impact of this plan will be minimal – only small numbers of refugees are resettled and children are often already resettled with their families. We call or the age limit to be extended to 25 in order to have greater impact.

    Family Reunion should be accessible for all, not only the small number of refugees who are resettled. We all deserve to live in safety with the members of our families; restricting family reunion for those granted temporary protection will inflict deep suffering for people who have already experienced great hardship.
  • The impact of family separation cannot be overstated. Our families are a part of who we are and without our families’ we are being denied happiness, the freedom to succeed, and the ability to integrate and contribute fully to society.

    Suzan, a VOICES Ambassador and person seeking asylum shares the pain of being without her loving family:

For 20 years I have lived in the UK but I still do not have a refugee status. My children and husband are my life but we remain permanently separated. My life has stopped. It is inhumane to treat people like this.

  • The existing family reunion process often forces family members to navigate war zones, flee sexual violence, hide for fear of imprisonment or abuse, and even pay smugglers in order to reach the place where their paperwork can be processed by officials acting for the Home Office. The British Red Cross’s recent report ‘The Long Road to Reunion: Making Family Reunion Safer’ found that 49% of families in the family reunion process were exposed to these enormous risks, just to provide documents and personal information like fingerprints.

    Saba, a VOICES Ambassador and refugee mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo was resettled to the UK from a refugee camp in Burundi. Saba faced many painful years without her husband due to the complexity of the UK’s family reunion rules. Saba’s husband had to cross the borders between Burundi and Uganda several times, putting his life at risk to submit the family reunion visa, undertake DNA and TB tests and collect the visa before travelling to the UK.
  • Many refugees who arrive through ‘regular routes’ still face agonizing delays in the asylum process which prolongs family separation, exacerbates suffering, poor mental health and negatively impacts integration. At the end of March 2020, 31,516 people (61%) had been waiting over six months for an outcome on their initial claim for asylum.
  • As people await a decision on their asylum claim their children or family members age and can become ineligible for family reunion, particularly when children turn 18 tearing families apart.
  • Maria, a refugee mother who entered the UK on a visa and subsequently claimed asylum due to a change in her circumstances, felt like her life was on pause for six years whilst she awaited a Home Office decision.

Six difficult years passed before I was granted refugee status, I had to lodge many further submissions and appeal negative decisions before I was finally granted refugee status. Only then could I sponsor my daughters who are now studying at university and college. I do not want other refugees to experience this heartache.

  • Temporary protection status will have a devastating impact on integration. We know how difficult it is to rebuild our lives without our families by our sides. Preventing family reunion will damage individuals, families and communities and will prevent any positive integration.
  • Ahmad, a VOICES Ambassador and refugee who arrived in the UK from Syria through ’irregular routes‘ and was able to reunite with this wife and children after 4 years, stresses the devastating impact of family separation:

My family are a part of me. Without them I lost my identity. I lost my hope to live. I felt like my oxygen had gone and I couldn’t breathe.

The government’s policy of keeping families apart is heartless. It does the opposite of the government’s own aim to ‘protect life and ensure access to our asylum system is preserved for the most vulnerable’.

The most vulnerable are our partners, children and loved ones who are stuck in danger and war at home. The most vulnerable are those of us left empty without our families.

Without our families we can never be okay. We can never be productive and healthy members of society. How can you live when your family are stuck in a war?

Recommendations on Refugee Family Reunion

  • Rather than restricting family reunion rights for some refugees, the government should be seeking to increase access to family reunion for all refugees, regardless of how they entered the UK.
  • If the government are serious in their ambition to expand ‘Safe’ routes, they should seek to change the existing family reunion rules, in line with the recommendations of the Families Together Coalition:
  • Expand the criteria of who qualifies as a family member for the purposes of refugee family reunion allowing adult refugees in the UK to sponsor their adult children and siblings who are under the age of 25, and their parents.
  • Give unaccompanied refugee children in the United Kingdom the right to sponsor their parents and siblings who are under the age of 25 to join them under the refugee family reunion rules.
  • Reintroduce legal aid for all refugee family reunion cases
  • Too many families face incredible risks and difficulties to make their family reunion happen through the existing route. The government should address problems of the existing family reunion route by implementing the British Red Cross’s recommendations in the “Long Road to Family Reunion” report:
  • Reduce the number of journeys a family must take to an Embassy, and only after a positive decision on their case has been made.
  • Be flexible on how and when a family submits their biometric information if they cannot reach a visa application centre safely.
  • To allow families to take a tuberculosis test on arrival rather than in advance, which requires an additional journey.
  • For the visa application centres to be flexible on their strict ID requirements that result in families being denied entry.

Temporary Protection Status

The proposal to grant a 30-month Temporary Protection visa is cruel and will cause further suffering to families who have already experienced high levels of trauma. Limiting access to family reunion and public funds will deny our ability to rebuild our lives in the UK and be positive members of society.

Chapter 4: Disrupting Criminal Networks and Reforming the Asylum System

Irregular and Regular Routes

  • These changes will inflict further suffering. The way someone arrives does not determine whether they are a genuine person seeking asylum. We have many members, colleagues and friends who arrived in the UK through ‘irregular’ routes and have their genuine need for protection recognised by the Home Office. With some support and rights (such as family reunion rights) people arriving through ‘irregular routes’ can go on to be thriving, contributing members of our society. The government’s primary concern should be why are people here and need protection, not how they arrived.

We agree that the asylum system is broken but it is broken for the people who have to go through it. In fact, it breaks us.

Refugees and asylum seekers are framed as the problem without the government even trying to help us address our problems to be positive members of society. Their new immigration plans will make our problems and suffering much worse.

Mo, VOICES Ambassador.
  • These changes will not prevent people coming to the UK to seek asylum. Those who enter in ‘irregular’ways are desperate, a lack of benefits and 30-month visas will not deter people who are willing to risk their lives to get here.Research shows that people who find are persecuted or displaced very rarely have knowledge of any national asylum system. Most only learn the details of access to work, welfare and the asylum policies once they arrive. People make desperate journeys to the UK to seek safety, and often to escape poor treatment in France or due to family or language connections in the UK.
  • The government should understand that rather than being disingenuous economic migrants, those who arrive ‘irregularly’ are some of the most vulnerable who have undertaken dangerous and traumatic journeys to flee from persecution. The planned reforms will perpetuate the insecurity and uncertainty of the lives of these people with damaging implications for their mental health. Such insecurity will result in an increased risk of trafficking and exploitation.
  • Many refugees who arrive ‘irregularly’ use every penny they have,to make the journey to safety in the hope of reuniting with family who remain in danger. People who use smugglers are often left in debt and exploited. Only vulnerable and desperate people would make these journeys.
  • Safe and Legal Routes are not accessible to everyone in need of protection. Seeking protection is by nature incredibly risky and can be rushed –leaving most people without the time to access safe and legal routes. Furthermore, safe and legal routes are only available to a small minority of refugees, in the correct place, with time, awareness of those routes and the resources to apply for them.

The UK Government don’t understand what it is to flee from danger. There shouldn’t be restrictions on how people get to safety in the UK.

In most cases there is no way to apply for visas or ‘safe and legal routes’. When you are in war the embassy closes first and you are left alone.

Ngozi, VOICES Ambassador.
  • If the option of asylum for those entering through ‘irregular’ routes is taken away, from our experience we believe that it is likely to result in an increase in people over-staying visas as well as increasing the opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage of those in desperate situations, for example increasing the sales of false documents.
  • Significant research shows that restrictive immigration policies do not reduce the number of people entering a country, rather, they increase the number who enter via other means, increasing their vulnerability and leaving them susceptible to becoming victims of modern slavery. Furthermore, illegal work in the UK is detrimental to the economy.

Recommendations on Regular and Irregular Routes

  • Instead of introducing the regular/ irregular (inadmissibility) rules to discriminate against people fleeing persecution, the UK should increase the rights of these people to access legal assistance and support with integration and family reunion. “Why” people come to the UK should be the criteria when assessing asylum cases, not “How” they arrived.
  • Increase safe and legal routes including family reunion, resettlement, work and study visas and community sponsorship to reduce to need for dangerous and ‘irregular’journeys.
  • Invest in conflict resolution to help address the root causes of forced displacement. The recent cuts to the UK foreign aid budget will negatively impact the lives of refugees globally. There have been significant cuts to countries including Syria (where the largest number of refugees come from) as well as the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan who between them host over 2 million Syrian refugees, (compared to the 20,000 in the UK). Such cuts will only increase the number of refugees leaving camps in these countries in order to improve their life chances.

Reception Centres

  • We are concerned that Reception Centres will be another form of indefinite detention, which would retraumatise refugees, many of whom have already suffered torture, war, human trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), particularly when there is no time limit.
  • Detention-like conditions are also a barrier for people to disclosing their experiences and therefore a fair assessment of our asylum claims.
  • The use of reception centres, detention, hotels, army barracks and all other institutional form of asylum accommodation is cruel. Research shows consistent evidence of the severe and harmful impact of detention which involves a loss of liberty and threat of return to the country of persecution. For many asylum seekers this experience is retraumatising as it is reminiscent of the deprivation of liberty and human rights which was experienced in the country of origin. Recent evidence shows the clinical harm caused by the use of barracks as housing for asylum seekers,increasing the experience of depression, re-traumatisation and suicidal ideation,. Refugees and people seeking asylum are far more likely to need mental health support.
  • The use of reception centres will isolate people seeking asylum from their communities which has a damaging impact on mental health and integration.

Recommendations on Reception Centres

  • Accommodate all people seeking asylum in their communities and end the use of institutional accommodation such as hotels, army barracks, detention and reception centres.
  • We believe that accommodation for people seeking asylum should be designed for human beings not ‘asylum seekers’, we are people who deserve to live in safe and dignified accommodation.
  • Accommodation for people seeking asylum should be monitored by an independent third party to ensure standards and accountability.
  • Staff working with people seeking asylum should have training on trauma-informed approaches to ensure good practice as they will be working with vulnerable people who have experienced great hardships including war, torture and persecution. A culture of care and respect should be cultivated to look after those who seek safety.

Temporary Protection Status

  • As the UN high commissioner for refugees has pointed out, to recognise our need for asylum, but then leave us in limbo forever, with repeated checks and the ongoing threat of removal, would not only be extremely cruel, it would also increase the burden on Home Office officials already unable to cope, and would likely lead to legal challenges, adding to the existing work load.
  • Saffie, a VOICES Ambassador and newly recognised refugee highlights the negative impact 30-month visas will have on people’s mental health and integration:

Refugees make unimaginable journeys and abandon everything to seek safety. The UK Government’s plan to introduce a 30-month visa with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and limited family reunion rights, to punish refugees who arrive through ‘irregular routes’ is deeply worrying.

We shouldn’t be forced to re-tell our traumas every 30 months. This will destroy people’s mental health. We cannot integrate or even survive without our families. This will damage communities and prevent us reaching our true potential.

  • By restricting access to public funds many refugees will be pushed into destitution, devastating our mental health and wellbeing,puttingmore pressure on the NHS and local authorities.
  • Mada, a Syrian mother of two and passionate French Teacher arrived in Scotland in 2018 through refugee family reunion and observes that almost everyone who she knows in the Syrian community has arrived in the UK through irregular routes:

My husband risked his life to enter the UK by boat while me and my kids stayed in a dangerous place because we wouldn’t survive the journey. Everybody knows about the horrors of the war in Syria, so why have the majority of us in this community been forced to come by boat or lorry.

  • Today Mada is a thriving, she volunteers, supports other women in her community and is studying hard to get qualified as a teacher in the UK. Mada’s young son and daughter love life in the UK and now have hope for their futures.
  • If the government’s New Plan for Immigration is implemented, Mada and children’s lives would still be in danger. The plans to restrict family reunion rights even further betray the UK’s proud history of welcoming refugees and the humanitarian spirit of Kindertransport.

Recommendations on Temporary Protection Status

  • Stop the punitive plans for a two-tier asylum system and judge asylum claims on the need for protection, not how people have entered the UK.
  • Allow Family reunion, including for children up to the age of 25, for all people seeking asylum; we should all have the right to family life.

Limiting Access to Public Funds

  • We wholeheartedly reject the proposed changes to access to public funds and asylum support eligibility which will increase homelessness and poverty amongst people seeking refugee protection, including children. For years, enforced destitution has been part of the Home Office’s approach to force people to return to their country of origin following a refusal of asylum. However, numerous reports have not only highlighted the inhumanity of this approach, but equally the fact that ‘hostile environment’ measures are not effective even on the Government’s own terms.
  • Enforced homelessness and poverty should never be a built-in feature of the UK’s asylum system; our asylum system should be designed to protect, not to punish.

Recommendations on Limiting Access to Public Funds

  • End the use of no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and do not restrict access to public funds for people who have arrived in the UK through irregular routes. This undermines our human rights and betrays the UK’s long history as a welcoming nation.

Age Assessments

  • We are deeply worried by the proposed changes to age assessments. These changes will increase the chances of children being wrongly deemed adults and consequently being put at risk in adult accommodation or in detention centres.
  • There is no scientific method of assessing age. X-rays (teeth or bones) and sexual maturity exams are invasive and do not lead to an accurate age determination and are widely criticized by medical professionals.
  • The experience of trauma, stress, fleeing home and being torn apart from loved ones can impact children and young people, at times making them appear older that they are. Aging is a nuanced process that does not impact everyone in the same way at the same time.
  • Legislating for frontline immigration officers to assess age on the basis that someone is significantly over the age of 25, rather than the current age of 18 is harmful and will result in children being denied their rights and adequate support at critical stages in their lives.
  • For an individual young person, the significance of the decision of their age assessment is enormous and an incorrect decision can cause significant trauma. When people first arrive in the UK they are often exhausted and confused after difficult journeys. Children and young people need safety and time to recuperate before proper assessments are carried out.

Recommendations on Age Assessments

  • The Home Office does not have the necessary tools to decide someone’s age. Young people who have experienced trauma and long journeys often look ‘older’ and it is not possible to ascertain age based on someone’s appearance. It should be social services that complete the age assessments rather than the Home Office.
  • Age assessments should not be conducted immediately after arrival and children and young people should be allowed time to rest and recuperate first.

Chapter 5: Streamlining Asylum Claims and Appeals

Appeals Process

  • We agree with former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, who takes the view that “getting to grips with the growing backlog of asylum decisions… will require investment”. The long waiting times that people seeking asylum experience cause great uncertainty and distress and we agree that the government needs to address this.
  • The systemic and historical failures of Home Office decision-making are extremely well-documented, including that Home Office decisions rely on unrealistic and unlawful demands for evidence, and that Home Office decision makers have a default position that people are not telling the truth. This proposal does not address those failings.
  • From our lived experience, we know the impracticality of providing the evidence which the Home Office demands. When we make the difficult decision to leave our homes and flee from war or persecution, we do not have the opportunity to fill a briefcase full of evidence. Furthermore, in cases where refugees have experienced persecution from the State, any evidence of persecution may have been destroyed.
  • We reject the idea of a One Stop Process: one of the reasons people submit more evidence is because the Home Office raises further questions which people then must provide evidence to answer; taking away this opportunity it will be unjust. In addition, new evidence can also emerge as situations in home countries evolve and make returning home increasingly dangerous for us and family members.
  • Having’approved experts’ is problematic, if provided by the Home Office they are not impartial. This is already the case within-country experts and there are known issues around this; so-called experts have been known to use out-dated reports which are not regionally specific.
  • In ‘Good faith’ should apply to the Home Office and Lawyers, they should trust and see people seeking asylum as human beings, not merely focus on winning their cases. Every single person’s story is different and should be listened to.
  • The experience of trauma and PTSD are well known to affect memory which often results in claimants’ stories being rejected and a culture of disbelief affects the decision-making process resulting in inaccurate decisions which are later overturned.
  • The government has provided no good reason to make the standard to test for a well-founded fear of persecution more rigorous. As it stands, the percentage of successful appeals demonstrates that people already aren’t receiving protection when they should; in 2019/20, the First-tier Tribunal success rate in asylum appeals was 48%.
  • Free Movement has highlighted that the courts found a split standard of proof overly complex and impractical in the 1990s. The government has not provided any detail as to why this would work now.

Recommendations on the Appeal Process

  • The right to appeal should not be restricted. Better initial assessments and decisions as well as improved access to legal representation would reduce the need for appeals. 44% of asylum appeals were successful last year which indicates that they are necessary as initial decisions are not accurate.
  • ‘In good faith’ is a principle that should apply to the Home Office as well as claimants and their representatives. Our claims should be believed and considered genuine unless proved otherwise.
  • The government must work to tackle the culture of disbelief that pervades the asylum system. The current system does not help asylum seekers to explain their cases, when cases are not well-presentedpoor decisions are made.
  • The Home Office should be using independent experts to provide up to date country reports which include regionally specific knowledge as different areas of countries can experience different levels of danger which should be considered.
  • People should be able to provide further submissions of evidence. The effects of trauma make it difficult for us to present our cases in one go –people may not be able to speak about traumatic events on demand and may suffer confusion over the details of specific events. Further, situations in home countries are not static but constantly evolving and further evidence may emerge which needs to be submitted.

Chapter 7: Disrupting Criminal Networks Behind People Smuggling

  • It is not illegal to claim asylum, it is a human right. The UK government has committed to uphold the right to asylum as a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and we challenge the intention to make it a criminal offence the seek to enter the UK.
  • As we have stated, those arriving by boat or lorry do so because there are no other viable options for them, only one placed in a desperate situation would risk their life in order to find sanctuary. To punish the people who have experienced significant trauma, not only in their home countries but often on their journeys as well, is cruel and unfair.
  • The Government’s proposed plans to prevent people from claiming asylum whilst limiting their chances of family reunion,their access to benefits as well as containing them in reception centres punishes the person seeking asylum rather than the smugglers.
  • The UK government needs to ensure that it is not adding to the trauma that those who seek asylum have already experienced.

‘We need someone who can help us. We are under stress, we do not want to die. If we wanted to die we would have stayed in our countries.

They [the UK government] are killing us emotionally. They don’t know the effect of what they are doing to us.’

Florence, VOICES Ambassador.

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