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Home Office intimidation of voluntary asylum workers

W.J.C. Rhys-Burgess | 19.01.2008 20:12 | Anti-racism | Migration | Repression | World

The Border and Immigration Agency is now threatening 'unqualified' people who write letters on behalf of asylum seekers with prosecution, as part of their latest campaign to deprive them of any form of representation.

The provision of financial support to refugees by the National Asylum Support Service was intended by Parliament to ensure that asylum seekers (who are not entitled to work until their claim for asylum is determined) avoid homelessness and destitution.

The withdrawal of such support which then results in homelessness and destitution is on the balance of probability likely to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment and therefore breach the claimant's Human Rights under Article 3, against which there is an absolute prohibition.

There is on the other hand, overwhelming evidence that the Border and Immigration Agency are withdrawing NASS support (especially now that under the so-called New Asylum Model, BIA case "owners" are also responsible for the provision of such support) so as to deliberately inflict destitution to coerce asylum seekers into returning to their countries of origin, even if it is manifestly unsafe for them to do so.

Clearly, many refugees are unable to speak English or in any case, are wholly ignorant of the legal process and of their rights. Once their asylum claim has been rejected, Legal Aid is generally not available to them and few will have access to professional advice. Many will therefore rely upon voluntary organisations, NGOs, community law centres or even articulate individuals who will invariably now be professionally qualified.

The provision of immigration advice and services is however regulated by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 which extends, incredibly, even to the giving of free advice or representation. It is a criminal offence to provide immigration advice and services unless given by a qualified person or by a person authorised or exempted by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. Even exemption incurs a substantial fee which could well be beyond the resources of many small organisations.

The latest BIA tactic particularly in the case of its Glasgow office, is to threaten any unqualified person who makes any representations on behalf of an asylum seeker, to report that person to the OISC with a view to their being prosecuted. The aim is clearly to intimidate and discourage such people so that as far as possible, failed asylum seekers are prevented from obtaining any form of effective representation of their rights.

For example, a retired lawyer recently wrote a letter to BIA on behalf of a young African girl who had been brutally raped (after having been first of all unlawfully detained by the Home Office whilst a minor and then forcibly removed to her country of orgin). She had the misfortune to have made her asylum claim in Glasgow, where she does not know anyone. She thought that she would afterwards be permitted to move to the East Midlands where an older, married woman who has known her since she was a child, speaks her language and belongs to the same church, has offered to accommodate and care for at the birth of the child she is now carrying. BIA have refused to consider the girl's request, solely because the lawyer who has written to them is not regulated by the OISC to provide immigration advice. In fact, BIA's decision is completely wrong at law.

Counsel's opinion is that "section 82 (1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides that immigration advice and services are regulated only to the extent that they involve the making of representations on behalf of a particular individual in civil proceedings before a court, immigration tribunal or adjudicator in the United Kingdom, or in correspondence with a Minister of the Crown or government department, in connection with (a) a claim for asylum; (b) an application for, or for the variation of, entry clearance or leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom; (c) unlawful entry into the United Kingdom; (d) nationality and citizenship under the law of the United Kingdom; (e) citizenship of the European Union; (f) admission to Member States under Community law; (g) residence in a Member State in accordance with rights conferred by or under Community law; (h) removal or deportation from the United Kingdom; (i) an application for bail under the Immigration Acts or under the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997; and (j) an appeal against, or an application for judicial review in relation to, any decision taken in connection with a matter referred to in (a) to (i). It is clear from the foregoing, that the representations made on behalf of Miss Tomas to NASS are not in the nature of “immigration services” as defined by Section 82 (1) (a) to (j) of the 1999 Act (nor, if we were requested to advise Miss Tomas as to her rights under the 1951 refugee convention would such advice be in the nature of “immigration advice” under the 1999 Act."

The Border and Immigration Agency was previously known as the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. The names may have changed but the same culture of pitiless, contemptible, bloody-minded arrogance persists.

They are therefore dependent

W.J.C. Rhys-Burgess
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  1. Ewan Roberts — Ewan Roberts


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