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Fast-track to injustice?

by
12 June 2015

By Christine Miles

PA

NOT only does the UK stand alone in Europe in not having a time-frame on the use of detention, the UK is the only country in the world to operate an accelerated asylum process: the Detained Fast Track (DFT).

Asylum-seekers put into the Fast Track system are automatically detained, after the initial screening interview with immigration staff, so that their cases can be decided speedily.

"Initially, cases considered suitable for the DFT were limited to those from countries where the Home Office deemed there to be no general risk of persecution," the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom says. "In May 2005, this limitation was removed."

The director of the organisation Detention Action, Jerome Phelps, says: "Since its introduction in 2000, the DFT has grown vastly in scope and in size. Many more asylum-seekers are now detained, for longer periods, in worse conditions, with tighter timescales, than was ever initially intended."

 

ASYLUM applications peaked in 2002, when the UK received 84,132 applications; but, since 2005, numbers have stabilised. In 2013, only 23,584 applications were received. Despite this, the use of the DFT continues to increase. HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration state that allocation to the DFT increased from 1672 in 2008 to 4286 in 2013.

"The DFT appears to have become a default option for the Home Office to push asylum-seekers through a process which seems designed to fail them," Mr Phelps says. "The decision to fast-track an asylum case is made when very little is known about the person's situation, and yet its implications for the individual are massive.

"The Home Office refuses 99 per cent of asylum claims which they have placed on the DFT. Asylum-seekers and their legal representatives report major difficulties in presenting their cases properly in the fast-paced process of interviews and appeals. Confusion, disorientation, and stress are rife. Asylum-seekers are held in prison-like conditions for weeks and months at a time."

A former chaplain at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, the Revd Larry Wright, says: "If you're on Fast Track, the chances of you winning your case are negligible, because the whole DFT system works against you getting sufficient time to gather your evidence, and to brief a suitable legal representative.

"All the power is in the hands of the Home Office, and their legal advisers; so, for people coming into the country under the Fast Track system, everything is stacked against them, legally, to present their case adequately. It's as if we're pushing a drowning person under instead of saving them."

 

HOME OFFICE guidance lists a number of groups of people who are unlikely to be suitable for the Fast Track, but the UNHCR reported to the parliamentary inquiry that the Home Office's screening process did not sufficiently prevent vulnerable and traumatised people, including victims of torture, from being detained on the DFT.

"We have very strong concerns about the DFT, because, potentially, people that are put in detention into the Fast Track, straight from the screening interview, often haven't yet had a chance to disclose properly why they have sought asylum in the first place.

"Although it's not meant to be used for complicated cases, we often meet women who have been put on the DFT who have very complicated stories involving gender-related persecution," the director of Women For Refugee Women, Natasha Walter, says.

In July last year, in a High Court challenge to the DFT brought by Detention Action, Mr Justice Ouseley found that "the DFT, as operated, carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness," thus crossing the threshold of unlawfulness, and that there were flaws in the safeguards designed to protect vulnerable people from being wrongly fast-tracked.

In December, the Court of Appeal upheld Detention Action's appeal that the automatic detention of asylum-seekers who were making appeals on the Fast Track was unlawful. "However, since then, less than four per cent of asylum-seeker appellants have been released, although asylum-seekers in the community are rarely assessed as absconding risks at this stage," Mr Phelps says.

Last month, Detention Action was in court again to challenge the DFT.

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