Joint Committee On Human Rights Seventeenth Report

7. Memorandum from JUSTICE

JUSTICE is an all-party law reform and human rights organisation, with a long-standing interest and concern in asylum law and practice. We set out our main concerns in relation to the Bill below that relate to our areas of work.

JUSTICE welcomes certain aspects of the Bill such as the abolition of the voucher scheme but finds it unfortunate that the Bill does not make any radical changes to the asylum determination process itself, thereby missing a further opportunity to ensure a fair and effective system.

Asylum and refugee policies raise complex issues. A principal area of concern is the decision-making process, and whether individual claims are being decided fairly and effectively. In 1997, JUSTICE, with the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and the Asylum Rights Campaign, highlighted the need for improvements to the initial decision-making process, which would then inform and aid the whole of the rest of the asylum system. In Providing protection, we called for:

    —  Access to advice and representation from the beginning of the process.

    —  Better decision-making, by well-trained decision-makers, on the basis of improved access to information about countries of origin and about case law.

    —  Thorough reform, instead of the piecemeal changes which have happened over the past decade.

JUSTICE believes these concerns have not been addressed in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. The changes to the asylum process are concentrated on support and accommodation provisions. However there is nothing at all to improve the way in which applicants put forward their claims for asylum and the manner in which those claims are determined both by the Home Office and the appellate system. There is little recognition of the concern claimants and appellate judges have frequently expressed about the quality of Home Office decision making. If appeals are to be the first time the real facts and issues in a claim are identified, there are bound to be errors and legitimate sense of grievance and frustration.

Part 2

Accommodation centres

1.  We welcomed the commitment in the White Paper Secure borders, safe haven to ensure that asylum seekers are properly supported and accommodated whilst their claims are being considered. We also welcomed the assurance in that consultation paper that legal advice, and other crucial services, such as healthcare are to be ensured to residents of these centres. Whilst we welcome the fact that certain services are provided for in the Bill, JUSTICE is concerned that legal advice is not amongst the facilities to be offered to residents of accommodation centres (clause 25(1)). The importance of legal advice prior to making an initial claim for asylum cannot be over emphasised, it is crucial in order for applicants to able to claim asylum fairly and effectively.

2.  The centres proposed will accommodate only a small proportion of people; the majority will be housed in communities, dispersed around the country, as at present.[168] JUSTICE therefore finds it imperative that the government resolves the difficulties around dispersal that were highlighted in it own dispersal review, in October 2001. We welcome the 2002 White Papers promise to re-introduce dispersal based on language cluster areas and hope that this will ensure greater integration of asylum seekers in host communities. However the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), were unable to cope with the detailed planning and local knowledge required, to implement the cluster policy in the past. It is essential that the new regionalised NASS, is provided with the necessary support to do so.

3.  JUSTICE believes that the government must ensure that the new regime of induction and accommodation centres does not militate against integration. If people eventually recognised as refugees have been isolated for months before their cases are decided they may have greater difficulty integrating into society. Therefore wherever possible residence in the community should be encouraged.

4.  Consequently we are deeply concerned about the provisions in the Bill (clause 30 and 31) that require the isolation of child asylum seekers from mainstream education. This provision, as well as discriminating against child asylum seekers will make their integration into society when they are recognised as refugees even more difficult and traumatic.

Part 3


5.  JUSTICE welcomes the government's intention to phase out voucher support. Vouchers stigmatised asylum seekers and lead to unnecessary disadvantage. Abolition of this form of support may therefore have a positive effect on the integration of refugees.

6.  However we believe it is essential that support for asylum seekers is in increased from 70 per cent to 100 per cent of income support for all asylum seekers. Asylum seekers cannot be expected to support themselves on benefits that fall short of those levels.

'Support only' option

7.  JUSTICE is concerned that asylum seekers allocated places in accommodation centres, or NASS accommodation, should not be compelled to reside in those places in the face of reasonable alternatives. The Bill includes a power to limit subsistence support to those who have been provided with accommodation (clause 34). Where it is possible for applicants to remain in the community they should not be prevented from doing so, and should be able to access adequate support. At present 40 percent of asylum seekers supported by NASS are receiving 'support only' and have refused accommodation places, this indicates that the removal of this alternative will affect a substantial number of asylum seekers.[169] It is in asylum seekers, and the interests of the community, that they integrate into society. They have a greater chance of doing this if they are able to stay with friends or family while their claim is being processed, and are provided with support. Asylum seekers should not have to forfeit state support because they choose to reside in the community.

International projects

8.  JUSTICE welcomes the provisions in the Bill on international projects. In particular, the provision which would allow the UK to participate in resettlement programmes for the admission of refugees in need of international protection (clause 43(1)(e).

9.  In principle, resettlement programmes can be positive measures, which enable refugees to enter host States with dignity as refugees rather than having to resort to illegal means of entry and be the victims of exploitation. They can also be used to identify, and offer particular assistance to, vulnerable groups. Any measure that would assist groups in the entry into Member States and relieve them of the often harrowing journey by other means is to be supported.

10.  We welcomed the government's assurance in the White Paper that a resettlement programme will operate in addition to the current asylum procedures. It is essential that the provision of support and protection through resettlement programmes do not disadvantage those that make the journey to the UK in order to seek asylum. Resettlement is in addition to and not a substitute for non-refoulement. Resettlement cannot be used a pretext to place further restrictions on in country applicants in order to deter asylum seekers from arriving in the UK to seek asylum.

11.  JUSTICE welcomes the provision in the Bill for providing financial support to international organisations, such as UNHCR, that arrange resettlement programmes (clause 43(2)). However we would stress that in setting out 'eligibility criteria' to identify candidates for resettlement, the government must prioritise the protection needs of applicants. The primacy of protection should not be replaced by the UK's own political and economic interests. It is important that the selection process is undertaken, and the criteria set, independently, for example by UNHCR.

Part 4


12.  JUSTICE is concerned that detention centres renamed as 'removal centres' will not only detain those that are about to be removed from the UK. It therefore does not make sense to re-designate detention centres as removal centres.

13.  As there is a lack of information on the status of people in immigration detention at present there is no means by which the governments assurance in the White Paper, that detention will be at the end of the process, can be verified. It may therefore be misleading to rename detention centres.

Detention and Bail

14.  JUSTICE is deeply concerned that the Bill repeals most of Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which created a system of automatic bail hearings. We are disappointed that the government places greater importance on streamlining the removals process than on ensuring the legality of individuals detention. Individuals must have a right to go before the courts to argue that detention is inappropriate, including in situations where asylum and protection seekers have served penal sentences and there is no question of absconding. It is JUSTICES view that this position must be reconsidered to ensure that bail provisions are compliant with Article 5, ECHR[170] as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998.

15.  Article 5(4) of the ECHR requires that all those deprived of their liberty shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court to decide the lawfulness of their detention. The present system of bail does not satisfy this provision and JUSTICE believes that it is critical that Part III of the 1999 Act, which may ensure compliance is not repealed.

16.  Immigration detention should only take place where it is authorised under Article 5(1)(f) of the ECHR. Detention is only justified under Article 5(1)(f) to prevent 'an unauthorised entry' or ' with a view to deportation or extradition'. Excessive restriction of liberty would be incompatible with Article 5(1). JUSTICE urges the government to ensure that its obligations under the ECHR, and the Human Rights Act are met, and that individuals are not detained in violation of their rights set out in these provisions.

Induction centres

17.  JUSTICE welcomes an integrated approach to the induction of asylum seekers, which will assist in the early identification of any special needs they might have. It is also essential that asylum seekers are informed about the asylum process, in a language that they understand, to enable them to comply with any requirements. However we are concerned about the legal implications of requiring asylum seekers to sign declarations stating that they understand these processes. Any consequences of these signed declarations require further explanation from government.

18.  We strongly believe that legal representation should be made available to applicants at this stage in order for them to seek advice if necessary. The advantages of informed, ethical and responsible representation at this stage are for the benefit of both the asylum seekers and the decision-makers. Such representation would assist the Home Office in identifying the real issues involved and narrowing the necessity for, and scope of subsequent appeals.

19.  JUSTICE is however concerned that the induction process does not become a disguised form of detention in all but name. A limited restriction on liberty for a short period while essential procedures are undergone may be one thing; deprivation of liberty merely because a person is seeking recognition of protection rights is altogether another. The nearest equivalent in the Netherlands for example, are the application centres, which are considered to be detention centres by some NGOs, but not officially by the government on the grounds that people are free to leave them, by leaving the country, if they decide to do so.

22 April 2002

168   The NACAB briefing on the Bill indicates that the 3000 places in accommodation centres is around 3 per cent of all asylum seekers in accommodation. Back

169   As pointed out in the NACAB briefing on the Bill page 5, information in Asylum Statistics: 4th Quarter 2001, Home Office, February 2002 Back

170   See the JUSTICE Briefing, Immigration and Asylum Bill, Human Rights Compliance Statement: House of Lords 1999, page 15 sets out the international law requirements for Bail provisions, and see below Back

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