The Home Office has implemented a “streamlined” procedure in an effort to minimise the backlog of asylum decisions. This process includes a questionnaire that anyone from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, and Libya who requested refuge before 28 June 2022 must complete in English. The first questionnaire has been received, and approximately 12,000 are anticipated to be sent.
Asylum is granted to people from these five countries at a rate of over 95%, thus the proposal to expedite these determinations is welcomed. But distributing the kind of questionnaire the Home Office has is not the right course of action. Simplified requirements, a shared burden of proof, and sufficient administrative resources are the only ways to expedite examination of such complicated matters.
Questions On The Surveys
The questionnaire is seriously flawed in a number of ways. The questionnaire serves as a substitute for a statement of evidence (SEF). It demands that an applicant put their asylum claim in writing in great detail, nearly to the degree of a witness statement, but with difficult questions and ambiguous instructions.
The “questionnaire” is a lengthy letter with a number of questions attached, and it is intended for persons who speak English only occasionally and have little formal education. Government agencies have spent decades creating forms for citizens to fill out. Yet, it seems that nothing was learned from this research for this questionnaire.
Unlike a pension or Universal Credit pamphlet, the questionnaire is not written in the prevalent “simple English” format. The sentences in the questions frequently have many clauses and intricate “if-then” constructions. It is unclear what must be replied and what will happen to someone who does not provide all the information because the questions are not included in the form itself.
Complexity And Ambiguity
There are some questions that seem impossible to provide a quick decision-making solution to. For instance, one query requests “details to show who you are and where you are from,” but no instructions are provided for the kind of information the Home Office is seeking.
Imagine a decision-maker is presented with a stack of questionnaires from candidates, some of whom describe their childhood, some who discuss their town or village, and still others who focus on their sadness over the death of their mother in front of them. The statement of evidence form and oral interviews, on the other hand, provide specific queries, such as “Is there a river in your town? a station for trains? The hospital? a temple? Which crops are raised? What is the area code for the phone?
Several questions appear to demand a significant amount of legal knowledge in order to be correctly answered. The fact that there is only one question on trafficking, which merely asks “were you victim to human trafficking?,” is very alarming. The answer then defines trafficking in terms of the law. One who does not speak English well or who is using a translation programme is unlikely to comprehend the legal descriptions of the numerous actions covered by the concept of trafficking.
Asking straightforward questions like whether someone owes money or whether force or threatening behaviour was used during the trip to the UK or since then is more suitable. Whether people will be reported to the National Referral Mechanism or whether any further protections for trafficking victims who complete these surveys are being explored are not yet evident from the Home Office’s stated intentions for using this information.
Burden Of Proof
The Home Office’s emphasis throughout the questionnaire is to lay the full burden of proof on the applicant. The questions are designed in such a way that the applicant must show and prove each fact they write about (or show and prove why they have not been able to evidence a fact). Sticking to these requirements will militate against speedy decision-making.
As of right now, the Home Office has stated that its policy is not to deny any application without first inviting the applicant to an interview; nevertheless, if the questionnaire is not answered, the application may be regarded as withdrawn. Yet, it is still the responsibility of the individual to complete the form accurately.
When someone is asked to participate in a short or in-depth interview after completing these lengthy questionnaires, which basically serve as witness statements, it may be challenging to later explain why the stories given in person and in writing differ. Also, issues will surface if an applicant answers these questionnaires differently than they did during their initial screening interview. Many in the industry are already aware of the requirement to make sure that errors committed during screening interviews are immediately remedied.
It is unclear how and whether the Home Office will use the data from the questionnaires in the tribunals or at a later time. The stakes are high when it is up to the individual to persuasively argue their point in writing, in English, and within 20 days.
Moving towards a shared burden of proof and swift identification of information are necessary for a method designed to promptly grant leave to individuals from nations where the grant rate is quite high and where the majority of individuals are regarded as real refugees. For instance, a condensed questionnaire and responses might seem as follows:
Where are you from? Eritrea
Describe your family, town, school, father’s job, (etc.)
Why have you fled your country? To avoid compulsory military service (the Home Office knows this system has been defined by the Tribunal as forced labour, in breach of article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights) OR; Because my family are Jehovah’s Witnesses/Pentecostal Christians (the Home Office knows that these beliefs are illegal in Eritrea and people are tortured because of them).
Did you leave the country illegally? Yes (the Home Office knows that leaving illegally leads to punishment amounting to persecution for those captured)
This serves as a national example. Yet, having distinct designed questions for various nations is not intrinsically biassed. For certain nations, it is inappropriate to ask questions about alternatives to domestic flights, for instance. And inquiries into someone’s entry method into the UK, including travel through third countries, are pointless if they have been there for at least eight months and applied for asylum before 28 June 2022.
The Home Office should not consider any of these asylum requests to be inadmissible for this reason. Given the lapse of time, appeals would probably occur, and the chances of inadmissibility or unequal treatment would be poor.
Whether the Home Office has given its decision-makers a deadline by which they must decide on these asylum petitions after receiving the completed questionnaires is unknown.
It will take some time to decide on 12,000 claims, read through these lengthy surveys, and perhaps set up follow-up interviews. It is uncertain how other cases in the backlog of asylum claims will fare and whether progress will be made on them simultaneously.
The Home Office’s current policy prohibits serving grant letters to anyone who are staying in contingent housing. It is hoped that everyone who receives a questionnaire is living apart from one another or is merely receiving support. Until the Home Office changes its stance, it will be necessary for decisions to be made more slowly. After all, it is legally required to tell an applicant of the outcome of their application, and in particular, an applicant cannot be considered to have been turned down until they have received a decision letter.
Further delays could be caused by the complexity of the surveys, the burden of proof, and the persons’ language and communication problems. Many respondents may seek for more time to finish their questionnaire, and numerous respondents may be called in for interviews. For applicants coming from nations with grant rates over 95%, the level of information in the questionnaires and the hassles they must endure to provide accurate answers appear needless.
It appears likely that this questionnaire is a generic questionnaire that will be further distributed to other cohorts of asylum seekers in the UK in the future based on the appearance of the extensive and complex questions included and the lack of tailoring to the nationalities included in this streamlining process.
The Home Office must consider whether it genuinely wants a speedy procedure for persons from the five countries selected for this process. At this point, it’s unclear whether the questionnaire will serve its intended policy purpose or if it’s just a showpiece for government policy a year out from an election.
Here at Law Lane Solicitors, we have the experience and expertise to advise you on Immigration and Asylum. If you would like to speak to one of our specialists, then please call us on 0207 870 4870 today.