Asylum-seekers have been in the news recently. Apparently there has recently been a fall in the number of unsuccessful asylum-seekers removed from the UK. Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, says that she has plans to improve the rate of removal.
It is of course generally the case that such media articles do not explain in detail what an asylum-seeker is – or, if they try to, they tend to get it a bit mixed up, and this is sometimes the case even with the higher echelons of the media. Asylum is, like other aspects of immigration law, a complex and intricate subject.
We would like any interested readers to understand exactly what an asylum-seeker is, and also to understand how the law and procedures surrounding asylum claims operate.
An asylum-seeker is someone who is physically in the UK. The law does not allow a person to claim asylum in the UK from outside the UK.
And he/she is someone who is claiming that if they had to return to their home country they would be persecuted. Such alleged persecution varies from case to case. Some asylum-seekers allege that they would be killed if they had to return home, or tortured, or unfairly imprisoned. In other cases the alleged persecution could be at a lower level but nonetheless persistent.
The agent of persecution could be the government or state agencies such as the police or the justice system or, in some cases, private agencies that the government is unable or unwilling to control.
Many asylum-seekers claim that such persecution would be on a political basis, but there are other possibilities: for example persecution based on ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
If such a person physically arrives in the UK (by whatever means, lawful or unlawful) they may “claim asylum” with the Home Office. Some asylum-seekers claim asylum as soon as they reach the UK border but, in other cases, the asylum-seeker has been living in the UK for a period of time before they claim asylum. This might happen, for example, if the individual discovers that the government in their home country has issued an arrest warrant for them, of if there is some sort of political change in their home country that might put them in danger.
The Home Office has to consider any such asylum claim, but claiming asylum can often be a rather uphill struggle, and the majority of asylum claims are refused by the Home Office. Depending on how the figures are interpreted, success rates in asylum claims are around only 30% to 40%.
There is, however, in many refusal cases the right of appeal to the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal, which is presided over by an Immigration Judge, who is a qualified lawyer and is independent of the Home Office. Further rights of appeal exist to the Upper Immigration Tribunal and the higher courts.
If an asylum-seeker is successful in their claim – either initially or ultimately – they then become a “refugee” and they are given immigration status.
And what kind of evidence can asylum-seekers provide to support their claim? Sometimes this is difficult, because the individual might have left their home country in hurried and difficult circumstances. But evidence such as a death warrant or an arrest warrant could be very strong. Other documentary evidence, such as reliable evidence about political persecution and judicial corruption in the country concerned can also be strong.
And in some cases asylum-seekers instruct a “country expert” (ie an expert, in many cases an academic, who has detailed knowledge about a particular country) to produce a report about conditions in their home country to support their case. If their asylum claim is refused and it goes to appeal such a country expert can be instructed to provide oral evidence at the appeal hearing. Expert evidence of this kind can be very powerful, as can in some cases medical evidence about torture or mistreatment.
To put together a strong asylum case is difficult. If you think that you have grounds for an asylum claim you are strongly recommended to instruct a good lawyer, who can advise you about the possibilities and the best way forward.