The Guardian report that the asylum system in the UK is a total lottery following interviews with Home Office whistleblowers. Among the notable claims were that ‘intimidation tactics’ were used in interviews, a culture of disbelief was pervasive and decisions rested largely on the whim of the decision-maker. Many appeared to take great pride in refusals and the whistleblowers claimed that cuts to numbers and targets for decision-making meant not enough time was available to make case-by-case decisions. This meant decisions were often taken based on decisions in similar prior cases rather than taking into account personal details on a case-by-case basis.
All the whistleblowers stated that they routinely went into interviews entirely unprepared. Transcripts of interviews revealed examples that interviewers had never even heard of the persecuted group the applicant came from and confusing the city of Quetta in Pakistan with the state of Qatar. In a particularly horrible account, one whistleblower states:
One said an asylum seeker had provided photographs showing marks of torture on his body as part of his claim. After the interview, these photographs were shared among Home Office staff, some of whom made jokes about the fact that the man’s anus could be seen in the pictures. That whistleblower also recalled instances in which caseworkers would return from interviews and make flippant comments about a person’s claim that their family had been murdered.
Perhaps, most tellingly, one stated, ‘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.’
Having supported several asylum seekers in their claims, none of this comes as any surprise whatsoever. I have read enough Home Office decisions to know that their general approach is to consider all asylum seekers to be liars and the interview is often approached as though it is designed for no other purpose than to catch them out in their palpable deceit. What is more, there is no disguising their lack of understanding of anything pertaining to Christianity.
In many of the interviews, questions such as ‘how many candles are on an advent candle?’ are prevalent without any understanding that this bears no relation to faith in Christ nor the dissenting tradition to which we belong. We barely register the existence of advent, let alone make advent candles! It is difficult for people with absolutely no concept of what Christian faith is, how it is understood in Evangelical theology or worked out in dissenting Free Church praxis to ascertain the veracity of a Christian testimony, but it is interesting to note how they appear to have no frame of reference for assessing it that is in any way meaningful.
It has also been notable how the Home Office will use the same piece of evidence to draw two entirely opposing conclusions. In one instance, the Home Office claimed that a particular individual’s willingness to stand with us in evangelistic contexts in front of Muslims suggested that they had no fear of sharing their faith in front of Muslims and thus could be returned to their home country. In another case, a fear of being in such contexts (despite the fact that they came with us despite this fear) was deemed evidence that they could live out a private faith and happily be sent home. In another case, somebody had two cases running concurrently; one against the Home Office on the grounds of unlawful detention, the other their ongoing asylum application. In one of the cases, the Home Office denied the doctor’s diagnosis of PTSD – worth pointing out it was the Home Office’s own appointed doctor – while in the other it was accepted because it served the case they were making. None of this appears to be an honest assessment of circumstances.
We, as a church, are not blind to the issue of those taking us for a ride. I have discussed some of that here and here. But we have reasonable processes to guard against this. Interestingly, at one recent tribunal, the Home Office representative suggested that the applicant couldn’t be genuine because he didn’t have a baptismal certificate. I made clear that I had stopped the practice of giving them out because I wanted to avoid the problem of individuals coming to us for a piece of paper altogether. That, to my mind, acted as greater evidence of genuine conversion; baptism could not have been undertaken to get a certificate because there was no chance of receiving one. After a few stupid questions from the Home Office representative attempting to suggest the baptism hadn’t taken place, the judge decided to ask, ‘did you conduct the baptism yourself?’ That I did, and pointed out 40 or 50 other people were there watching and there were photos of the event, put paid to any such nonsense.
The point is that none of the Guardian revelations will come as any surprise to anyone who has spent any time whatsoever dealing with asylum seekers or in the company of Home Office representatives. I have read enough Home Office interviews to know that they have no understanding of anything relating to Christianity, using stock questions that bear no relation to anything outside of Anglicanism and no concept of the difference between faith in Christ and Bible trivia. There is an obvious lack of understanding of many cases and a palpable sense in which the working presumption is that asylum seekers are lying.
The Guardian have made this headline news. To quote Iago from Aladdin: