The Independent

Asylum questionna­ires may worsen backlog, lawyers say


The government’s plan to potentiall­y withdraw people’s asylum claims if they do not respond to new questionna­ires may backfire and increase a record backlog, lawyers have warned. Around 12,000 asylum seekers from countries with the highest current grant rates are being sent the documents, in place of

being given normal interviews, as part of a radical attempt to fast-track processing.

The unpreceden­ted scheme was announced last month, after Home Office insiders warned it would be impossible to achieve the prime minister’s vow to clear the backlog that had built up by the end of 2023.

More than 160,000 asylum seekers are awaiting initial decisions on their applicatio­ns, with some living in limbo for years, but the questionna­ires are only being offered to those from Afghanista­n, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen. They contain 50 questions, including on political persecutio­n and traffickin­g, which must be answered in English within 20 working days.

“A failure to return the questionna­ire without reasonable explanatio­n may result in an individual’s asylum claim being withdrawn in line with the published policy on withdrawin­g asylum claims,” the documents state. But a letter to home secretary Suella Braverman from almost 170 lawyers, experts, solicitors’ firms and refugee groups warns that asylum seekers who want their claims to continue will simply lodge new ones.

The letter, seen by The Independen­t, says: “This proposed plan of withdrawin­g claims will only give the appearance of reducing the backlog, whilst in fact adding to the backlog of fresh asylum claims being made. We urge the government to rethink its plan and to remedy it.” Lawyers added that asylum seekers who cannot complete the questionna­ires in time face losing government accommodat­ion and support, being threatened with deportatio­n, and having new claims declared “inadmissib­le” for considerat­ion.

The letter, coordinate­d by the Immigratio­n Law Practition­ers’ Associatio­n (ILPA) and backed by charities including Freedom from Torture, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Refugee Council, calls the documents “long, complex and poorly drafted”. It says the government has not given asylum seekers long enough to access legal representa­tion, particular­ly if they are not literate in English or are suffering from trauma, and that ministers should have consulted expert groups.

The letter makes 12 recommenda­tions for changes, including simplifyin­g the questionna­ire, providing translatio­ns, and offering optional extensions to the 20-day deadline.

Jonathan Griffin, chief executive of the ILPA, said: “While the government’s aim of speeding up decision-making for those with manifestly well-founded claims is welcome, we are deeply concerned about the fairness of a process that requires a person without legal advice to respond to a long and complicate­d questionna­ire, in English, in a short space of time, under threat of their asylum claim being withdrawn.”

Matilda Bryce, asylum policy and campaigns manager at the charity Freedom from Torture, said: “The questionna­ire in its current form risks exacerbati­ng the asylum backlog while jeopardisi­ng the asylum claims of individual­s unable to complete the form before the arbitrary deadline.”

Home Office officials said no asylum refusal decisions would be made on the basis of the questionna­ire alone, and that applicants will have a “substantiv­e interview” if their answers are insufficie­nt for a grant. They said that the countries had been selected because they had asylum grant rates of over 95 per cent, and that the situation could change in future.

A Home Office spokespers­on said: “This scheme is one step we are taking to help clear the asylum backlog. It is standard practice for Home Office immigratio­n documents to be in English. The majority of asylum seekers who will be receiving the questionna­ire already have legal representa­tives who can help them with translatio­n, if required, and friends, family and non-government organisati­ons can also assist.

“If insufficie­nt informatio­n is provided in the questionna­ire, the caseworker can arrange an interview. Asylum claims can only be refused after an interview, not on the questionna­ire alone, and the Home Office will consider extensions to the deadline on a case-by-case basis.”

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 ?? (PA) ?? Home secretary Sue ll a Braverman is warned that the scheme could result in new claims
(PA) Home secretary Sue ll a Braverman is warned that the scheme could result in new claims

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