UK ‘Practising Deliberate Policy Of Destitution’ Of Asylum Seekers

The front of last October’s march in London for equal rights for migrant workers
The front of last October’s march in London for equal rights for migrant workers

‘The government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution’ of vulnerable asylum seekers, say MPs and peers on the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In its Conclusions and Recommendations, their report says: ‘1. We recommend that in the development of asylum policy the Government should proceed on the basis of evidence, rather than assertion, which evidence should wherever possible be published (Paragraph 5).’

Access to financial support and accommodation

In this section of the report, paragraph 3 states: ‘We have heard countless examples of Home Office inefficiencies in processing support claims, with severe consequences for desperate, vulnerable people who have no other means to support themselves.

‘There is an urgent need to improve the operational performance of the Home Office where decisions are being made about support for asylum seekers.

‘The institutional failure to address operational inefficiencies and to protect asylum seekers from destitution amounts in many cases to a failure to protect them from inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR. (Paragraph 84).’

The report adds: ‘5. The continued use of the section 55 provision to deny support in subsistence-only cases leaves many asylum seekers reliant on ad hoc charitable support and with no regular means of providing for their basic daily necessities.

‘We believe that this treatment does not comply with the House of Lords Limbuela judgment, and is in clear breach of Article 3 ECHR. We recommend that section 55 be repealed. (Paragraph 92)

‘6. The section 9 pilot has caused considerable hardship and does not appear to have encouraged more refused asylum seeking families to leave the UK.

‘We urge the Government to publish the results of the pilot without further delay.

‘We believe that using both the threats and the actuality of destitution and family separation is incompatible with the principles of common humanity and with international human rights law and that it has no place in a humane society. We recommend that section 9 be repealed at the earliest opportunity. (Paragraph 97).’

(Section 9 of the 2004 Act provides for the withdrawal of asylum support from failed asylum-seeking families whom the Secretary of State certifies have failed without reasonable excuse to take reasonable steps to leave the UK voluntarily, or to place themselves in a position in which they can do so – says the Home Office)

The report says: ‘7. The absence of provision for representation before the Asylum Support Adjudicators may lead to a breach of an asylum seeker’s right to a fair hearing, particularly where an appellant speaks no English, has recently arrived in the UK, lives far from Croydon and/or has physical or mental health needs.

‘Where an appeal fails, and as a result of the unavailability of legal representation an asylum seeker is left destitute, the result may also be a violation of Article 3 ECHR.

‘We recommend that the Government should make legal aid funding available for representation before the Asylum Support Adjudicators. Where needed, assistance with accommodation as well as travel costs involved in attending an appeal should also be provided.

‘We heard evidence that suggested in some cases this assistance was not being given. In our view it is a priority that appellants receive accommodation and subsistence for the hearing. (Paragraph 99)

‘8. We are concerned that the shortage of competent immigration advice and representation may indirectly result in destitution. (Paragraph 101)

‘9. We consider that in some cases the quality and terms of accommodation provision under section 95 of the 1999 Act interferes with the rights of asylum seekers and their children to respect for family and home life under Article 8 ECHR, and the right to adequate housing under Article 11 ICESCR. (Paragraph 104)

‘10. We consider the section 4 voucher scheme to be inhumane and inefficient. It stigmatises refused asylum seekers and does not adequately provide for basic living needs.

‘There is no evidence that the voucher system encourages refused asylum seekers to leave the UK. We believe that the section 4 voucher scheme discriminates on the grounds of nationality, and could constitute a breach of Article 14 in conjunction with Articles 3 and 8 ECHR and of Articles 3 and 8 themselves.

‘There are particular responsibilities towards women, especially relating to pregnancy and post-natal treatment.

‘In many cases these responsibilities are not being met and there is an immediate need to provide financial support for essential items not covered by the vouchers, including clothing, baby items, telephone costs and travel. We recommend that the Government extends section 95 support to section 4 applicants and abandons the voucher system. (Paragraph 110).

‘11. Inadequate housing could give rise to a breach of a family’s right to respect for family and home life under Article 8 ECHR, especially where a child is living there. . .’

The report further states: ‘12. There is no clear guidance reflecting recent court decisions regarding local authority responsibilities towards asylum seekers with care needs.

‘We are concerned that this may result in discriminatory treatment for asylum seekers with care needs in Scotland, in breach of Articles 8 and 14 ECHR. . .

‘13. We consider that by refusing permission for most asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches the Article 3 ECHR threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment.

‘This applies at all stages of the asylum claim process: when an individual is attempting to claim asylum, during the period of consideration of their claim and during the period after their claim is refused if they are unable to return to their country of origin.

‘Many witnesses have told us that they are convinced that destitution is a deliberate tool in the operation of immigration policy.

‘We have been persuaded by the evidence that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution of this highly vulnerable group.

‘We believe that the deliberate use of inhumane treatment is unacceptable.

‘We have seen instances in all cases where the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers falls below the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law. (Paragraph 120)

End enforced destitution

‘14. The policy of enforced destitution must cease.

‘The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess. We have seen no justification for providing varying standards of support and recommend the introduction of a coherent, unified, simplified and accessible system of support for asylum seekers, from arrival until voluntary departure or compulsory removal from the UK. (Paragraph 121)

‘15. We recommend that the Immigration Rules be amended so that asylum seekers may apply for permission to work when their asylum appeal is outstanding for 12 months or more and the delay is due to factors outside their control. We recommend that where there is evidence that an asylum seeker will not be able to leave the UK for 12 months or more, he or she should be granted limited leave for a 12 month period with permission to work attached. (Paragraph 122)

16. We note that the Government has not produced any evidence to demonstrate the extent of what it describes as “health tourism” in the UK. (Paragraph 129)

‘17. We have heard that the 2004 Charging Regulations have caused confusion about entitlement, that interpretation of them appears to be inconsistent and that in some cases people who are entitled to free treatment have been charged in error.

‘The threat of incurring high charges has resulted in some people with lifethreatening illnesses or disturbing mental health conditions being denied, or failing to seek, treatment. We have heard of many extremely shocking examples. (Paragraph 134)

‘18. The arrangements for levying charges on pregnant and nursing mothers lead in many cases to the denial of antenatal care to vulnerable women. This is inconsistent with the principles of common humanity and with the UK’s obligations under ECHR Articles 2, 3 and 8 ECHR.

‘We recommend that the Government suspend all charges for antenatal, maternity and peri-natal care. We recommend that all maternity care should be free to those who have claimed asylum, including those whose claim has failed, until voluntary departure or removal from the UK. (Paragraph 143).

In paragraph 19, the report recommends on grounds of common humanity that ‘the Government should provide free HIV/AIDS treatment for refused asylum seekers for as long as they remain in the UK.

‘Absence of treatment for serious infectious diseases raises wider public health risks.

‘The Government should not deport a person in circumstances where that person is in the final stages of a terminal illness and would not have access to medical care to prevent acute suffering while he is dying. (Paragraph 152)

‘20. We have seen evidence that the current arrangements for access to GPs result in the denial of necessary primary healthcare for many refused asylum seekers and their children.

‘We believe that in many cases this is in breach of the ECHR rights to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, to respect for private life and to enjoy Convention rights without unjustified discrimination, and also in some cases to the right to life. . .

‘We recommend that primary healthcare be provided free to those who have claimed asylum, including those whose claim has been refused, pending their voluntary return or removal. We recommend that the guidance to GPs on registering new patients be clarified to remove the existing contradictions. (Paragraph 158)

21. We note the BMA research on the vulnerability and ill-health of refugee children. . .

22. We note that no race equality impact assessment was carried out before introducing the 2004 charging regulations or with regard to the current discretionary arrangements for GP registration.

‘We agree with the JCWI and the CRE that the current arrangements and proposals for charging refused asylum seekers for healthcare give rise to a risk of race discrimination. (Paragraph 163).

The report adds: ‘24. Under the ECHR, discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights on grounds of nationality requires particularly weighty justification. The restrictions on access to free healthcare for refused asylum seekers who are unable to leave the UK are examples of nationality discrimination which require justification.

‘No evidence has been provided to us to justify the charging policy, whether on the grounds of costs saving or of encouraging refused asylum seekers to leave the UK.

‘We recommend that free primary and secondary healthcare be provided for all those who have made a claim for asylum or under the ECHR whilst they are in the UK, in order to comply with the laws of common humanity and the UK’s international human rights obligations, and to protect the health of the nation. . .’

• Continues tomorrow