Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Asylum-Seeker Decision-Makers

Former staff employed in deciding asylum claims said some colleagues had a harsh, even abusive, attitude towards applicants, mocking them to one another and employing “intimidation tactics” during interviews. They said some staff took pride in rarely, if ever, granting asylum. As a result, the whistleblowers said, the asylum system was in effect a lottery, depending on the personal views of the decision-maker who picked up the file. 

One of the whistleblowers said an attitude of cynicism towards asylum seekers became “a part of you” and that many caseworkers looked at asylum seekers as liars.

The Guardian spoke to three former decision-makers or caseworkers. Each was employed at different regional offices and stopped working in these roles in 2016 or 2017.
All said they had tried to do their jobs fairly but struggled owing to productivity targets that one described as “ridiculously unrealistic”.
Decision-makers are required to complete 225 interviews or decision reports a year. 
“It affects the quality of the decisions,” said one whistleblower. “By the time you have been through the photos, the file, the news reports, it’s three o’clock and then you have to draft a report [a decision on someone’s claim, which can often be more than 20 pages long]. Can you do that in two hours?”
Another said: “People cut corners. You would have your own stock paragraphs that you would put into refusal minutes. So say you had come across a particular kind of case and you had that one again, the incentive to get the work done would be to just make the same decision on the case.
“In effect you aren’t doing things on a case-by-case basis. Say you have someone who has come from Eritrea and deserted the military … you might just say, well, I’ll just sort of cut and paste the decision I did last week.”
Another said: “If you’re a good caseworker and if you’re doing the job properly then the system is fair. But because we’re so stretched for time and we’re so stressed and underpaid, then often things aren’t done thoroughly. So decisions are rushed … There are some incidents where people have been refused where they should have been granted, in all honesty.”
“I’d like to ideally investigate the case, look at their country – is there sufficiency of protection? Can they relocate?” said one. “Because we’re so rushed, we pick up the file … you’re just looking at the screening interview quickly, then you go straight into the interview often feeling very unprepared.”
Another said: “Sometimes you don’t get the file before the interview, so you don’t know what the case was about. You’re really starting from scratch. You’re asking really open-ended questions like: ‘Can you tell me why you left X?’”
As a result of all he had seen, one whistleblower said he would not trust the Home Office to deal with his claim fairly if he had to apply for asylum.

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