In October 2009 the government changed the rules for submitting new evidence to support fresh asylum claims. The new rules have caused huge problems for destitute asylum seekers trying to present their evidence and strained the resources of support organisations.
Now anyone whose original claim for asylum was made after 4 March 2007 is required to submit fresh evidence in person at his or her reporting centre. Those who claimed before then are worst affected. They must now telephone the Further Submissions Unit (FSU) in Liverpool, arrange an appointment and then attend in person to submit their evidence.
The changes were implemented at short notice, without consultation, and place considerable obstacles in the path of people wishing to exercise their legal right to submit new evidence. In an open letter to ‘stakeholders’, Hugh Ind, UKBA Strategic Director for Asylum stated: “We believe that requiring individuals to attend in person will act as a deterrent”.
The people being deterred are almost uniformly destitute, surviving on merge handouts from charities, friends and their communities. They cannot afford the return journey to Liverpool.
The rules change appears to be another measure in the government’s long-term assault on the rights of asylum seekers and a way of both reducing the UKBA’s workload and externalising its costs. Since January 2010 PAFRAS has bought 24 service-users bus tickets for Liverpool at an average cost of £12.
Hugh Ind claims that the new system will ensure that applicants “are clear about the information they have submitted and the next steps in the process.” However, PAFRAS service users report that no discussions take place between themselves and UKBA staff about the evidence they are providing. It appears that they are merely acting as postmen.
Former Minister for Borders and Immigration, Phil Woolas told parliament that in “the very exceptional case where a person is genuinely unable to attend one of these sites, alternative arrangements will be made to ensure that person can still make further submissions.” The UKBA is clear however that it does not consider not being able to afford a ticket a genuine impediment to attending the FSU in person. Only people who are imprisoned, detained, disabled or too ill to travel warrant flexibility.
Illegal and unjust
The Asylum Support Appeal Project, a legal charity which provides free representation at first tier immigration tribunals, says that the new rules are like to place the UK in breach of international obligations by making it impossible to lodge fresh evidence.
Also of concern is the fact that the UKBA now states that it aims to make a decision on the fresh evidence before considering granting access to Section 4 support. Only where the UKBA believes that deciding whether the new evidence amounts to a fresh claim will take more than 20 working days will section 4 applications be considered. On average, Section 4 applications already take one month to process. The new rules will double this.
Colin McCloskey of ASAP says that this policy which amounts to ignoring applications for support made on human rights grounds is probably illegal, something that the High Court will consider in a Judicial Review later this year. Watch this space for further news on this case.
In the meantime PAFRAS service users would greatly appreciate any cash donations you can make to help pay for their travel to Liverpool.
Donations can be made through our website www.pafras.org.uk or in person at our drop-in (details on the back page).