A government Bill that ‘denies asylum seekers a fair hearing’ was branded as ‘devastating’ by refugee and human rights organisations today.
The Asylum and Immigration Bill, which has its second reading today, could lead to refugees being returned to face torture, persecution or death, they said.
Amnesty International, the Refugee Council and the Refugee Legal Centre said that removing the right to a second tier appeal and putting the appeal system beyond the reach of the courts by denying the right to judicial review, would remove a vital check on initial decisions that are notoriously poor. Over 15,000 initial decisions were overturned on appeal in the last 12 months.
Refugee Council Chief Executive, Maeve Sherlock said:
“The effect of these measures plus the proposed restrictions on legal aid would deny a fair hearing to asylum seekers. Getting asylum decisions right first time will lead to fewer appeals, speedier results, lower costs and
greater public confidence in the system.”
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“This Bill will be devastating for thousands of refugees seeking protection in the UK. When initial decision-making is so poor, the appeals process can be the only barrier between a refugee and the secret police waiting to torture them on their return.”
Refugee Legal Centre Chief Executive Barry Stoyle said:
“The appeals system is being watered down. The proposed one-stop appeal tribunal will be unaccountable before any law court, reviewing its own decisions. The tribunal will make life-or-death decisions without anyone being able to question them.”
The Bill’s proposals could also result in families being imprisoned for arriving without travel documents. The Bill will make it a criminal offence for refugees to arrive in the UK without a passport unless they can provide a reason acceptable to the Home Office. Being told by an agent to destroy papers appears not to be an acceptable defence.
The organisations say that this has the potential to criminalise a great many refugees: the UN’s refugee agency acknowledges that many refugees do not possess travel documents. Furthermore, the Refugee Convention explicitly states that refugees should not be penalised because they arrive without the appropriate documentation.
It is possible that measures in the Bill will be used by the government to develop controversial plans for ‘Zones of Protection’ in refugees’ regions of origin. In other words instead of providing sanctuary in the UK, the Government may send refugees to an alternative ‘third’ country, irrespective of whether they have any links to that country. This would
shift the responsibility to poor countries, which already provide safety to well over 70% of the total number of refugees worldwide.
For further comment, background and interviews:
Refugee Council Press Office:
Hannah Ward, Press officer, 020 7840 4404
Jean Candler, Senior Press Officer, 020 7820 3057, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Out of hours: 0870 0555500 pager number 865169.
Refugee Legal Centre website, www.refugee-legal-centre.org.uk
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