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A dignified asylum system must be part of big society programme

June 2010

Iraqi Association Comment  

While the coalition government outlines plans for big society programme, reforming our shambolic asylum system must not be excluded. Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, have unveiled a new document outlining the coalition government's plans for implementing the ‘big society' programme. The government appointed Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, he will be responsible for putting the plans into place. He will be supported by Nat Wei, the founder of Teach First, who was appointed as the new government adviser on the big society agenda and a member of the House of Lords.

This opportunity must not be missed to reform our notorious refugee determination system, which is dominated by bureaucracy and often blunders and failures, it should be simplified to reflect the current economic climate and restore dignity and respect into the process. The current asylum system is notorious for its complexity. Asylum seekers must navigate a refugee system with three different types of protection, each with a different set of criteria and rights and obligations. They are also subject to a multi-step, lengthy application procedure, beginning with eligibility screening, followed by an interview, and potentially followed further by up to six levels of appeal and judicial review. Throughout this lengthy process, those who sought sanctuary at our shores will become destitute on our streets. Equally, and most importantly, genuine asylum seekers will lose out.

In addition to its complexity, the asylum system has been criticized for its poor initial decisions. The asylum system is managed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Each case is assigned to a UKBA official or caseworkers who oversees the case from the initial interview and decision. Critics allege that these caseworkers are not adequately trained and are influenced by institutional biases. A high number of initial decisions rendered by the caseworkers are overturned and returned for rehearing. Although the UKBA has stated that its objective is to provide a system that is “fast, fair and firm”.

Labour's record on tackling asylum applications is dismal and the backlogs of new and old cases are increasing. John Vine, the UK Border Agency's independent inspector, says that a special five-year exercise which began in 2006 to clear the legacy of 450,000 unresolved asylum cases is now unlikely to meet its July 2011 deadline.

The reform must protect genuine asylum seekers and deliver dignity and respect into the process. It should focus on: improving UK’s asylum system, deliver quicker decisions on asylum claims and provide faster protection to those in needs. Provide regular adequate training of caseworkers at UKBA and those who decides the claimants’ applications. Simplify the system and free the process from the red tape culture and the maze of bureaucracy. End unnecessary costly detention system and establish timely removal and assisted voluntary removal. Establish, recognise and work directly with exiled charity groups in this country. 

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