Earlier this week the Secretary of State for the Home Office acknowledged in Parliament that her department has lost sight of individuals. We see this day in day out in practice. The creation of hostility only results in the removal of humanity.
The Windrush scandal rightly reminds us that immigration decisions affect people’s lives. A lack of status creates instability and uncertainty. It affects a person’s right to access: healthcare, secure accommodation, employment, education and public funds; things we all take for granted. It impacts on a person’s mental health, makes them question their place in society and even their self-worth. The public have made it clear to the politicians that they don’t want to see those who have contributed to society left in this cruel state of limbo and facing removal to a country they have not called home for decades.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Refugees, those with British spouses/partners/children, those with disabilities, young adults (born abroad but who only know life in the UK), elderly dependent relatives, victims of trafficking, victims of torture – all experience the culture of disbelief and the Kafkaesque workings of the Home Office.
It’s hoped that this new-found concern will be passed down to the individual caseworkers who make the decisions affecting people’s lives. Time and again we see cut and paste decisions which fail to grapple with the facts of the case or apply the law correctly. The 50% success rate on appeals show that poor decisions are routinely made by the Home Office. Whether by design or incompetence, this must stop.
I have been working in this area for 12 years. Now more than ever I witness clients in a state of despair.
It’s not surprising when this is what they have to deal with. Illustrative examples from my current case load include a woman who claimed asylum and was detained. She was told by a Home Office official that her case was suitable for the detained fast track procedure (this has since been struck down by the courts as it was found to be operating unlawfully). She was detained despite going armed with evidence to show that she was a victim of torture and so unsuitable for detention. She was subsequently released, but only because of legal intervention. Three and a half years later she is still waiting for a decision on her asylum claim. Her life is in limbo. She has no access to any support and is living with a friend she met through church. When her friend went on holiday, she took her to stay with a friend of a friend. She stayed there for two months and was exploited by the family who forced her to work without payment. This is domestic servitude and modern slavery. She’s now 60 years of age. Would you want this to happen to your mother or grandmother?
Another case is of a severely disabled man who was detained by immigration officials and kept in a detention centre for a considerable period of time. Although reliant on his wheelchair, this was taken from him and so he was bedridden. He was denied his dignity and threatened with removal, despite having a viable claim to remain in the United Kingdom. His application was refused by the Home Office. This was overturned on appeal.
A child was trafficked to the United Kingdom. As a 15-year-old child she was forced to work. She would work in excess of 12 hours a day. She was not paid. She was threatened, sexually harassed and clearly exploited. When trying to escape from this situation, she was raped. Her account was not believed by the Home Office. She appealed, at the final hearing a representative of the Home Office conceded that no child could consent to such treatment so she must have been trafficked to the United Kingdom. Her case was sent back to the Home Office for a new decision to be made. She waited 18 months for a new decision. When the new decision was made, it repeated the same legal errors as the first, despite the concession made by the representative of the Home Office at the earlier hearing. She appealed again. The day before the appeal hearing a representative from the Home Office realised that the decision was deeply flawed and withdrew it. She is now waiting for a third and hopefully final and lawful decision, some four years after first claiming asylum. Her life is in limbo, she longs to be able to train as a teacher and contribute to society. Her mental health has deteriorated. Rejection after rejection has taken its toll.
There is a human price to pay for poor decision making and a system that isn’t fit for purpose. I’m not advocating open borders, just a process that is humane and fair. The current system where immigrants are demonised and refusals are incentivised is broken. It’s time for change.