Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 09:41 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - United Kingdom , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e16b0.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, refugees and asylum seekers in about 87,800 cases were in need of protection in the United Kingdom. These included 66,195 cases awaiting an initial decision, 11,365 granted humanitarian status based on their asylum claims, and 10,186 cases granted asylum during the year.

Some 76,040 persons (excluding dependents) applied for asylum in 2000, the highest number of annual applications ever in the United Kingdom and more than in any other Western European country during the year. The 66,195 applications pending an initial decision at year's end represent a 36 percent decrease from the 1999 backlog of 102,870.

The largest number of asylum seekers who filed applications in the United Kingdom in 2000 arrived from Iraq (7,080), Sri Lanka (6,040), Yugoslavia (5,695), Afghanistan (5,230), Iran (5,170), Somalia (4,795), and the former Soviet Union (4,140).

In 2000, the government made initial decisions on 110,065 cases, of which 74,405 were given full consideration, more than three times the 16,920 cases given full consideration in 1999. The approval rate for admissible first-instance decisions on cases was 15 percent (10,185 cases), a large drop from the 42 percent granted asylum in 1999. However, at the appeal stage, an additional 17 percent of rejected cases were accorded refugee status.

In 2000, the United Kingdom granted "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR) to 16 percent of rejected asylum seekers' cases (11,365), an increase from the 12 percent it granted in 1999. ELR is an extendable four-year protection from deportation, based on unsettled home country conditions or other humanitarian grounds. Normally, failed asylum applicants only receive ELR if compelling humanitarian reasons exist for not enforcing their removal from the United Kingdom.

In an attempt to reduce the number of outstanding asylum applications, the government announced in July 1998 a backlog clearance exercise for applications made before December 1995. During 2000, 11,665 decisions were made under this exercise, of which, 10,330 were granted exceptional leave to stay.

In April, sweeping changes in the support and housing of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom came into effect, under the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999).

Asylum Procedure

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the Home Office is responsible for all decisions relating to claims for asylum, whether made on arrival or after entry into the country, including the recognition of refugee status. Asylum seekers can make their application either with an immigration service officer at a port, or with the screening unit of the IND in London, if they apply after entering the country. The IND or the immigration service "screens" asylum seekers to establish their identity and nationality, and takes their fingerprints.

Beginning in April 2000, all new asylum applicants who are not immediately interviewed in full must complete in English a new form – Statement of Evidence Form (SEF) – which they must return to the IND within 14 days. Immigration officers or asylum caseworkers in the IND usually then interview asylum seekers within a few weeks.

In 2000, some 26,630 asylum applications were refused on "noncompliance" grounds, either because they failed to submit their SEF in time, failed to complete the form in full in English, or failed to attend, or were late for, their asylum interviews. In 1999, there were just 1,085 refusals on noncompliance grounds. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) charged that asylum seekers dispersed outside London faced huge difficulties in obtaining the information, legal advice, and interpreters needed for completing the forms within the tight two-week deadline, resulting in the high numbers of noncompliance refusals.

According to the government, the Home Office determines most asylum applications as "manifestly unfounded" and considers such cases under a "short procedure" – interviewing applicants either on the date of their claim or shortly afterwards. The government does not provide statistics on the exact number of claims deemed "manifestly unfounded," however.

A new "processing center" in Oakington, Cambridge opened in March 2000 to process people quickly who had asylum claims the government deemed to be "manifestly unfounded." Asylum applicants in the "semi-secure" center receive decisions on their applications within severn days of arriving. The center processed about 400 applicants per week during 2000.

Asylum seekers are officially entitled to free legal advice and representation at all stages of the asylum procedure, including (from the beginning of 2000) for representation at appeals, subject to testing of financial means and legal merit. However, as some applicants have their cases dealt with in a period of days, often while they remain detained, they frequently cannot obtain legal assistance. Also, asylum seekers accommodated outside London face difficulty finding asylum or immigration law specialists because more than half the country's immigration lawyers are located in London. The government will not pay asylum seekers' travel expenses to visit legal advisers.

Under the new legislation, in an attempt to prevent unscrupulous or incompetent advisers, all immigration advisers will have to register with a new Immigration Services Commissioner, who will monitor their performance. This measure was expected to come into effect early in 2001.

Interviewing officers have no obligation to ensure that applicants are aware that they may seek legal assistance. All applicants are offered the services of an interpreter for their asylum interviews. In December, the government introduced long-awaited "gender guidelines" for determination of gender-based persecution asylum claims.

Applicants accorded refugee status receive settlement rights, "Indefinite Leave to Remain" (ILR). Persons granted ELR have to wait four years before receiving ILR. People with ILR have rights equivalent to those of British citizens, except the right to vote (unless they come from a Commonwealth country.)

Safe Third Country Cases

Asylum applicants who have traveled through a European Union (EU) country, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, or Norway may be refused entry and removed from the United Kingdom without having their claims considered at all. The decision to return the applicant to a "safe third country" normally occurs within 24 hours of arrival.

The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) holds that asylum seekers rejected on safe third country grounds must appeal the United Kingdom's decision from within the previous country. It also prevents second-stage appeals (judicial review) of safe third country rulings. In December, however, the House of Lords upheld a Court of Appeal ruling from July 1999 that said a Somali and an Algerian asylum seeker could not be sent back to Germany and France respectively because those countries reject persecution from non-state agents as a ground for asylum. The ruling could improve the possibility of being granted asylum for an estimated 200 asylum seekers in similar situations.

Appeals

Rejected asylum applicants, except those who are rejected on safe third country grounds, have the right to appeal their denials in the United Kingdom in several stages. Appellants who have not been "certified" have seven work days to lodge an appeal with an independent special appeal adjudicator, who must decide the appeal within 42 days. (This is often extended in practice, however.) If the adjudicator decides that the case is not unfounded, the rejected claimant may appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal may review the Tribunal's decision.

In October, the government adopted the UN Human Rights Convention into domestic legislation – the Human Rights Act. Under the Immigration and Asylum Act, appellants can appeal on grounds arising directly from the European Convention on Human Rights. The time limits for appeals also changed. Appellants now have ten days to appeal to an independent adjudicator. If that is unsuccessful, they will have another ten days to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or Court of Appeal.

Support, Accommodations

The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) radically overhauled the support and accommodation system for asylum seekers in the United Kingdom by removing welfare benefits from all asylum seekers and mandating that they be accommodated outside London and the southeast on a no-choice basis.

In April, a new national agency, the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) within the Home Office, became responsible for supporting asylum seekers with vouchers redeemable in certain supermarkets and stores. Asylum seekers who applied before April were gradually phased into the new system during the year.

Single asylum seekers without means of support are entitled to the equivalent of about $56 (35 pounds) per week, of which the equivalent of $16 (10 pounds) is redeemable as cash. Asylum seekers cannot receive change for their vouchers at supermarkets, a hardship highly criticized by NGOs, unions, and even the supermarkets themselves. In December, following widespread criticism, the government called for a review of the voucher system.

Asylum seekers who can demonstrate that they need assistance or housing must apply for support to NASS, waiting in "emergency accommodations" for two to eight weeks before being assigned dispersal accommodations outside London or in the southeast. The government secures accommodations for asylum seekers through local authority consortia and contracts with private landlords. The government stated that it would take existing ethnic community presence and language into account when deciding where in the country to disperse asylum seekers. However, the majority of the 11,000 asylum seekers dispersed during the year went to the north of England and Scotland, where low-cost and often poor-quality housing was readily available. Asylum seekers who leave NASS accommodations forfeit their right to receive housing assistance.

During the first nine months of the new arrangements, the administration of the voucher scheme was fraught with problems. NASS frequently sent vouchers to the wrong address, sent them late, or not all, leaving asylum seekers without food, often for days. Asylum seekers faced record levels of racial abuse and violence in the towns and cities to which they were dispersed. Unscrupulous landlords profited from their contracts without providing adequate standards of accommodation or basic utilities to asylum seekers.

The government contracted with five NGOs based in twelve regions around the country to help asylum seekers complete their applications for support, and to receive asylum seekers dispersed into their areas. In many of the regions, NGOs received as much as tenfold the predicted number of asylum-seeking clients, stretching their resources. In Liverpool, the primary dispersal area in the country, the NGO, Refugee Action, closed its offices in November to protest the problems.

Before April 2000, only asylum seekers who applied at the port of entry were entitled to state welfare and income support, while those who applied inside the country were local authorities' responsibility.

Detention and Deportation

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, asylum seekers may be detained pending an interview with an immigration officer or pending a decision on their asylum application. The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) increased the number of asylum seekers detained at the end of their asylum process, as a precursor to deportation after appellants are refused. During the year, some 1,000 asylum seekers were detained at any one time, compared to about 800 in 1999. The United Kingdom deported 49,163 people during the year, including 11,493 asylum seekers compared to some 7,000 in 1999.

In November, Home Secretary Jack Straw announced that the government would invest the equivalent of about $960 million (600 million pounds) on new detention centers for asylum seekers, increasing detention capacity to 2,400 spaces.

Other Restrictive Measures

Under the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), beginning on April 4, 2000, truck drivers traveling into the United Kingdom faced carrier's liability fines of the equivalent of about $3,200 (2,000 pounds) for each undocumented person found in their vehicles. In a tragic incident in June, 60 undocumented Chinese migrants were found in the back of a truck in the port of Dover, 58 of whom had suffocated.

(In February 2001, a Dutch national was charged with 58 counts of manslaughter for turning off the air supply to the back of the truck, knowing that people were hiding there.)

During the year, under the new legislation, the government doubled the number of airline liaison officers – quasi-immigration officers – it posted in airports around the world. In November, British liaison officers arrived at Prague Airport to check the travel documents of Czech nationals bound for the United Kingdom. The new legislation also extended search and arrest powers to immigration officers.

In June, the United Kingdom agreed to share asylum seekers' fingerprint data with Ireland. Three months later, the government unveiled new technology compatible with the European Automated Fingerprint Recognition system (EURODAC), which helps states determine if applicants had applied for asylum in another European Union state.

In February, in a highly publicized incident, Afghan nationals hijacked a plane, landing it in London, where most of the passengers claimed asylum. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, vowed to determine the Afghans' claims personally in an attempt to quell public furor over the event. Out of 51 asylum applicants, three were granted refugee status. The British Refugee Council noted in August that general recognition rates for Afghans in the United Kingdom had fallen by more than 60 percent since the hijacking.

Elements of the British press continued to exacerbate negative public opinion about asylum seekers and refugees during the year, with some 80 percent of respondents in a national survey saying they felt that asylum seekers chose the country for its liberal asylum laws and generous public benefits. The same respondents believed that asylum seekers received the equivalent of $180 per week (113 pounds) rather than the actual amount – the equivalent of $56 (35 pounds).

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