Alongside the humanitarian work of our drop-in a core component of the work of PAFRAS is to help people move out of destitution through support, advice and advocacy. We do not provide legal advice but do help service users find legal representation amongst other things.
Until June 2011 PAFRAS employed two full-time case workers who provided an average of nearly two hundred advice sessions per month. We have recently been forced to reduce staffing due to budgetary constraints and are now employing two caseworkers on part-time contracts.
Explaining the Asylum System
The asylum process in the UK is long and complicated, frequently bewildering those who come into contact with it. While all asylum applicants are given orientation shortly after claiming asylum experience shows that it is very difficult for the vast majority of people to properly grasp important aspects of the system all in one go. A core function of the work of our caseworkers is to help service users to understand the system as fully as possible so that they are able to make informed choices.
Finding Legal Representation
Studies show that, once they have been refused, destitute asylum seekers from across Yorkshire and Humber tend to gravitate towards Leeds so as to access the deeper networks of support available here. For most refused asylum seekers refusal does not mark the end of their attempts to find sanctuary in this country but rather the beginning of a long and difficult process of gathering together what additional evidence they can to support further representations for a fresh claim of asylum.
Many asylum seekers lose their legal help prior to their appeal after having had their cases judged to have insufficient ‘merit’ — a legal term relating to the estimated chance of success — to warrant legal aid.
The bitter irony for many is that, if previously the asylum system was extraordinarily slow (and it remains so for many tens of thousands with so-called ‘Legacy’ cases) under the New Asylum Model (NAM) introduced in March 2007, many decisions are reached too quickly, without proper consideration by Home Office case workers.
This goes beyond the 20–25% of all appeals that, according to the National Audit Office, are upheld by the Asylum & Immigration Tribunal (some 70% of all refusals are appealed). Few amongst those fleeing for their lives have the opportunity (or the presence of mind) to gather together sufficient evidence to prove their persecution to the UKBA.
The faster NAM process means that many genuine refugees are found to be ‘bogus’ by a bureaucracy that has a culture of distrust towards the people whose lives depend on it. Today asylum seekers can find themselves dispersed, refused, evicted and made homeless within a relatively short period of time (anything from a few months to a year), having had no time to build up a support structure, learn English or familiarise themselves with UK life.
Large numbers of our service users come to PAFRAS for help finding a solicitor to help them present a fresh claim for asylum to the Home Office. Despite the present climate of cutbacks, PAFRAS is still able to assist some destitute clients in finding legal representation; thereby enabling them to submit fresh claims and secure Section 4 Support. Through the receipt of small cash donations, we have also been able to assist clients with the travel costs to meet legal representatives where they are based outside of Leeds.
Submitting Further Representations
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. Many of PAFRAS’s clients fall into this category and a big part of the work done by our case workers is contacting the woefully under resourced Further Submissions Unit in Liverpool, arranging appointments for our service users and then purchasing tickets to enable them to attend. You can read more about the changes to the rules regarding further submissions in our May-June 2010 edition of our newsletter.
Working with Expectant Mothers
A relatively high proportion of PAFRAS’s clients are young and expecting mothers. While a family that has children below the age of eighteen before losing its asylum application will continue to receive support from the UKBA until their removal from the UK, women who give birth after their claim has already been refused face continued destitution.
Brief respite from this is available as women who are seven months pregnant are allowed to apply for Section 4 Support and support will continue to receive this support for up to eight weeks after giving birth. An important part of the workload of our case workers is helping destitute women who are expecting children to access all of the (albeit limited) statutory support available to them. This involves liaising with social services, and the NHS and attending common assessment framework meetings in a supporting capacity where requested to by the service user.
National Audit Office (2009) Management of Asylum Applications by the UK Border Agency: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, London: House of Commons