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University of Leicester Refugee Week Panel Discussion

On Monday 25th February 2013, Bushra Ali, Head of our Immigration Department, took part in a Panel Discussion for Refugee Week, held at Leicester University. The Panel consisted of a Lecturer in Refugee Law, a Charity Worker from the British Red Cross, a Recognised Refugee and a Legal Practitioner (Bushra).

The audience consisted of charity workers, volunteers interacting with Migrants, university students and academics. The event was filmed by Ambrose for Civic Leicester. BBC Radio Leicester were also present and interviewed the Panel.

The Panel discussed the Refugee Convention, the definition in order to qualify for asylum, the process one goes through in order to have his or her claim considered by the UK Border Agency and the hurdles one faces in establishing their claim. The Panel discussed the relevance of gender and sexuality and the difficulties one continues to face as a result of their gender or sexuality in establishing their claims.

Bushra gave examples of real life cases where there have been shocking approaches by the UK Border Agency to the applicant’s claim for Protection under the Refugee Convention.

Inconsistencies and discrepancies in one’s account are all too often treated as evidence of deceit. There is a failure to understand the impact of trauma upon one’s ability to recount events coherently. Applicants are all too often not made aware of their right to request a same sex interpreter or case worker. A failure to mention sexual/assault/rape/abuse at the first opportunity is all too often treated as an attempt to bolster one’s claim when in fact the applicant felt too ashamed to divulge in details earlier, due to the sex of the case owner or interpreter.

Case owners at the UK Border are under an enormous amount of pressure to get through a large amount of substantive interviews and make a huge number of decisions and are often poorly remunerated. The number of changes to case owners throughout the asylum process is shocking, Thus there is a failure to ensure consistency throughout the asylum process.

Assessing an applicant’s demeanour, attitude, body language and emotional distress, particularly at the substantive interview is very important for any decision, and thus the recently implemented strategy of sending the decision making process to another department results in losing out on a significant amount of evidence in relation to the applicant’s behaviour which is often crucial to any credibility finding.

Bushra talked about the problems in establishing one’s credibility which is also relevant to the standard of proof applied by the UK Border Agency and the cut backs in Legal Aid by the Legal Services Commission. In order to establish a fact occurred, in Immigration cases the Standard of Proof is very low and thus one only needs to establish a ‘real likelihood’, however, the UK BOrder Agency case owners and Judges at the First Tier Tribunal are all too often applying a beyond all reasonable doubt approach which is relevant in criminal law.

Often, a substantial amount of evidence is put before a case owner or Judge, only for the Decision maker to find some reason to doubt the authenticity of the evidence relied upon.

More recently the Legal Services Commission is refusing more and more applications for funding in order to commission country and medical expert reports. Ataris is proving to be another hurdle in establishing the applicant’s claim as true.

The Panel and audience concluded that at times it appears as though the asylum system is designed to ensure that applicants fail in establishing their claim at the initial decision stage, only to have to go through a very lengthy process in challenging such negative decisions at the Tribunal, Judicial Review and Fresh Claim stages, suffering further persecution during the process in terms of the very length of the process and the manner in which it is applied together with the inability in accessing basic support and being left destitute or mentally scarred by the experience of the system.

To find out more about what Leicester University are doing to raise awareness, and for photos from the event, please visit their Facebook page by clicking here.