Information for asylum seekers and access to NGOs and UNHCR

United Kingdom

Author

Refugee Council

The Immigration Rules provide that asylum applicants should be informed ‘in a language they may reasonably be supposed to understand and within a reasonable time after their claim for asylum has been recorded of the procedure to be followed, their rights and obligations during the procedure, and the possible consequences of non-compliance and non-co-operation. They shall be informed of the likely timeframe for consideration of the application and the means at their disposal for submitting all relevant information.’1

Further, they shall be informed in writing and in a language they may reasonably be supposed to understand 'within a reasonable time not exceeding fifteen days after their claim for asylum has been recorded of the benefits and services that they may be eligible to receive and of the rules and procedures with which they must comply relating to them.’ In practice, however, the language coverage is unlikely to be comprehensive.

The Home Office is also required to provide information on non-governmental organisations and persons that provide legal assistance to asylum applicants and which may be able to help or provide information on available benefits and services.2 Until 31 March 2014, advice on welfare, the asylum process and life in the UK was delivered through the One Stop Services (OSS) run by charitable organisations and funded by the Home Office. In mid-2013, the Home Office re-tendered the contract for asylum welfare advice and support services as two separate contracts as (i) Consolidated Advice and Guidance Service (CAGS) and (ii) Consolidated Asylum Support Application Services (CASAS). The scope of the new contracts is more limited than the previous OSS contracts. While the OSS contracts were broad, allowing for a range of work without specifying it in detail, the newer contracts are more specific, the effect being to exclude work that was done by organisations under the OSS contracts. The organisation Migrant Help obtained the contract for both and most of the asylum support advice services which were run by other agencies are no longer funded. A key omission from the new contracts is advocacy, both in relation to the Home Office and at appeal tribunals.

Since 1 April 1 2014, there is therefore a reduction in face to face advice on the asylum system in advice locations outside the initial accommodation centres. Information on the asylum process continues to be given in the initial accommodation centres, both in person and by video presentation.3 Information is also available about the asylum process on the new Asylum Help website.4 One to one appointments are offered in initial accommodation centres, and at some outreach locations, at which applications for support can be made, and asylum seekers can make appointments with legal representatives. However, these are limited.

Asylum seekers received information about the DFT procedure once they were in it, but the information was geared to the fixed timetable of the DFT, and not to the reality of what the person might encounter. It was also geared towards what will happen on refusal of the claim, and not what will happen if asylum is granted.5

At the Asylum Intake Unit a Point of Claim leaflet is provided, which explains the next steps if the case is put into the regular procedure, and what it means to be granted or refused asylum. Unaccompanied children are also given a leaflet about the Refugee Council Children’s Panel.6 A letter prior to the screening appointment also gives information and the Home Office website explains what documents the asylum seeker needs to bring to the screening interview, and rights and responsibilities throughout the asylum process in English only.7

A notice giving the contact details of the ASU and the requirement to claim there for a person already in the UK is linked to the Home Office's website in 16 languages.

There is no provision in the rules for information to be given at later stages. Asylum seekers are not systematically informed about the Dublin procedure and its implications until they are detained for transfer to the responsible EU Member State or Schengen Associated State.

Most asylum seekers are provided with initial accommodation for two or three weeks, and then further accommodation which is in the same region of the country as administratively defined by the Home Office but this may still be at a considerable distance from where they made their initial claim. There is no provision in the rules for information on local NGOs and access to UNHCR to be provided after dispersal. In practice, the level of information has depended on local effort between local authorities, and NGOs in the region in question. For instance, in Liverpool, the charity Refugee Action delivered a briefing to asylum applicants in initial accommodation who had not yet attended their substantive interview, which explained the asylum process, clarified the expectations on the applicant and on their  Home Office caseworker and described the possible outcomes of the claim. As mentioned above, this is now delivered by video presentation by Asylum Help.

Access to information is affected by the award in 2012 to private companies of the contracts for accommodation and transport (the so-called COMPASS contracts). Local sub-contractors may not have a track record of experience in the asylum field. Accommodation providers are required to provide a ‘move in’ and ‘briefing’ service which should cover registration with a local general doctor, registration of children at a local school, making contact with local NGOs, National Health Services, social services, police, legal advisers and leisure services.8 This obligation is interpreted differently by each of the contracted accommodation providers who provide information at varying degrees of quality.

UNHCR works with the Home Office on its decision processes and supports its Quality Initiative. In some instances the Home Office is required to involve UNHCR, for instance if considering cessation of refugee status.9 Individuals contact UNHCR through its website, and there are no reports of access being frustrated. However, the UN’s special rapporteur on women and violence was refused entry to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre.10

  • 1. Para 357A, Immigration Rules, Part 11B, available at: http://bit.ly/1KKr1zi.
  • 2. Para 358, Immigration Rules, Part 11B, available at: http://bit.ly/1KKr1zi.
  • 3. Researcher discussion with NGOs.
  • 4. Asylum Help, available at: http://bit.ly/1tUedxr.
  • 5. Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Asylum: A Thematic Inspection of the Detained Fast Track, ICIBI, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1JXaARf.
  • 6. The leaflet is not available online but contains contact details, amongst other information. More information available at: http://bit.ly/2krGHS7.
  • 7. Home Office, How to claim asylum, available at: http://bit.ly/1G7rHtp.
  • 8. COMPASS Project, Schedule 2: accommodation and transport – statement of requirements.
  • 9. Home Office, Asylum Policy Instruction, Cancellation, Cessation and Revocation of Refugee Status, para 2.4.
  • 10. Channel 4, ‘UN rapporteur banned from Yarlswood detention centre’, 15 April 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1hSxhT3.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti