UK’s asylum system is complex and “in most cases it is very challenging to be granted refugee status without the assistance of good solicitors,” says Ms Giulia Tranchina, a trainee solicitor with Wilson Solicitors LLP.
In an exclusive interview with The AfroNews, Ms Tranchina says that most Home Office caseowners and caseworkers dealing with asylum claims receive orders from above to refuse as many claims as possible and often issue misinformed and misguided refusal letters.
Ms Tranchina’s work focuses on political and gender-related asylum claims by vulnerable clients who are often victims of torture, trafficking or abuse. She also handles appeals in the First-Tier and Upper Tribunals and Judicial Reviews in the High Court.
She affirms that there is a culture of disbelief in the authorities dealing with asylum seekers. This strong culture of disbelief “often leads to appalling and incompetent refusals of asylum claims by genuine refugees with strong and credible cases of persecution, horrific torture or abuse,” she says.
In the following interview she evaluates the UK’s asylum system and argues that the culture of disbelief in the authorities dealing with asylum seekers is not only causing much pain to asylum seekers, but is also wasting taxpayers’ money on legal battles. Ms Tranchina also suggests how the asylum system could be improved.
Ms Tranchina, I’ve learnt that you’ve just successfully stopped the Home Office from removing to Malta, a young victim of torture from Eritrea who fled his country and reached Malta by boat in a state of unconsciousness after a terrifying journey. Why did they want to remove such a vulnerable person?
Unfortunately under the Dublin II Regulations asylum seekers should have their claims considered in the country signatory to the Geneva Refugee Convention where they first arrived and claimed asylum or could have reasonably been expected to do so.
When they move to another country, likely to be another EU state, they should be returned to the first responsible country, unless they can show family links in the second country, exceptional close connections with the second country, or are unaccompanied minors.
Until three weeks ago, when the UK Supreme Court issued a landmark judgment about such transfers under Dublin II in EM and others v SSHD (Secretary of State for the Home Department), the legal test that a vulnerable client such as mine had to meet was really complex. He was required to prove that the first country, against which he would be resisting removal, showed systemic breaches, flaws or inefficiencies in its asylum system which put him at risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment prohibited under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
He had to show that the UK authorities could not claim to be unaware of such systemic deficiency because of the availability of a vast range of reports and sources from respected international human rights NGOs and institutions including the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency).
This legal test implied a very high threshold to meet to rebut the presumption on which the Dublin II Regulations are based – that all EU countries have proper asylum systems providing for the reception of asylum seekers and fair consideration of their claims.
The victory in my client’s Judicial Review was meaningful because the SSHD basically accepted that Malta presented such systemic failures in its asylum system.
My client was a vulnerable and traumatised victim of torture in Ethiopia who had been further traumatised in Malta by being unlawfully detained in inhuman and appalling conditions. He would have suffered further inhuman and degrading treatment against Article 3 should they have returned him again to Malta.
With the most recent Supreme Court judgment mentioned above, however, a case such as this will be easier to argue in the near future, because the legal test of systemic and widely documented deficiencies has been rejected and a new lower threshold has been established to challenge removals under the Dublin Regulations.
The Supreme Court has in fact established that the only real legal test to meet to avoid transfer to an EU country is to show that the claimant would individually face a risk of ill-treatment in that country.
There seems to be a culture of disbelief in the authorities dealing with asylum seekers. What do you think causes this disbelief?
There is a strong culture of disbelief which often leads to appalling and incompetent refusals of asylum claims by genuine refugees with strong and credible cases of persecution, horrific torture or abuse.
This culture seems to be fed and built up by the media and politicians who are trying, as in so many other Western countries, to depict refugees as the scapegoat for all economic and social problems. The number of refugees in the UK is a tiny percentage of migrants present in the country and they show an incredibly high rate of successful integration, have higher educational qualifications, and lowest risk of offending.
The lack of founded basis for this disbelief is highlighted by the incredibly high rate of success of asylum seekers appealing refusals by the Secretary of State in the Immigrations Tribunals and Higher Courts, with over 50% of asylum appeals being allowed by judges specialised in asylum and immigration.
As solicitors we fight every day against petty rules and ignorant ways of refusing claims on the basis of made-up inconsistencies, incompetent interviewing methods and lack of knowledge (or willing distortions and manipulation) of socio-political contexts in the countries of origin of most asylum seekers.
What do you think are the main problems with the UK’s asylum system?
The concerning lack of competence of the Home Office caseowners and caseworkers dealing with asylum claims and the orders they received from the top to refuse as many claims as possible.
This leads to unreasonable refusals, delay in determination of the cases of so many vulnerable people left in limbo for years without right to work or to rehabilitate effectively from their trauma, and waste of public money in appeals and legal help for cases which are bound to succeed in court.
What are some of the main problems faced by asylum seekers in the UK?
Firstly the fact that it is really challenging to be granted refugee status without the assistance of good solicitors; the difficulty in instructing competent legal help solicitors, as many firms are not reliable; the rude and incompetent way they are treated by Home Office interviewing officers; the long timescale for having their cases concluded; and the risk of destitution they face when their first asylum claim and appeal are refused.
When this happens, often on the basis of irrational arguments and deeply rooted disbelief, they become appeal rights exhausted and they can no longer access accommodation or support, unless they find new compelling evidence and committed solicitors to re-open their case through submission of a comprehensive and detailed fresh asylum claim.
How can the UK’s asylum system be improved?
The first and most crucial change needed would be a different approach by the high management, including the Secretary of State herself, the Minister of Immigration and the top managers at the Home Office.
They should finally acknowledge that blind systematic refusals of asylum claims does not cut illegal immigration and only breaches asylum seekers’ rights, whilst wasting public money and preventing qualified and brave refugees from rehabilitating and integrating faster into the British society and making the valuable and special contribution that most of them eventually make once granted protection.
Secondly, Home Office employees should be chosen on the basis of higher qualifications, competence and experience. They would need to re-structure the Home Office with educated and professional employees able to make real decisions on cases, rather than writing standard refusals, constantly based on disbelief and stereotypes.
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a