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The asylum ‘lottery’ – an insider’s view

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The Home Office has denied taking "arbitrary" decisions on asylum cases in order to meet deportation targets, but an asylum caseworker says staff have to work so fast that the results are a "lottery" - one that could result in people being sent home to their deaths. He contacted the BBC because he wants the public to know how the system operates. As he would lose his job if identified, we have called him "Alex".Every day Alex reads the case files of people who have fled armed conflict. People who have been persecuted because of their politics, race, religion or sexuality. People who have experienced torture and sexual violence.It's his job to decide whether these people, all asylum seekers, should be allowed to stay in the UK or deported.a report by chief inspector of borders and immigration David Bolt
26,350 people applied for asylum in the UK in 2017, according to Gov.uk - a decrease of 14% from 2016
14,767 people were granted asylum or alternative forms of protection and resettlement in 2017, including 5,866 children
Additionally, 5,218 family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK
The asylum ‘lottery’ – an insider’s view

Sometimes it's not possible for one decision-maker to follow a case all the way through, and in such cases Alex has to rely on notes taken by another interviewer. Reading the case files it becomes clear when the interview has been rushed, as key details will be missing.For example, it's possible to check whether applicants come from the country they claim to come from by asking the right questions - questions about key landmarks in their town, perhaps, the name of the local public transport network or the country's last-but-one leader. But sometimes interviewers have failed to do this."If someone is undocumented, how can you assume their nationality without asking questions"The files are often missing key details and they've forgotten to ask key questions, which makes it very difficult for me to a make a decision." Again, this can be because the interviewer is rushing. It's rare to have time to read through the applicant's file before going into the interview, Alex says, or to carry out research into the applicant's home country. When Asylum Aid represented a gay client from Vietnam recently, the Home Office caseworker referred to a Lonely Planet guide to establish whether or not it would be safe for him to return home. Based on the guide's description of Ho Chi Minh city, the caseworker suggested it would be safe for him to go back."The target audience for Lonely Planet isn't a Home Office decision-maker. It's a holiday-maker, probably Western, with cash to spend. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't offer holiday-makers the level of detail about the human rights situation that is needed in deciding a person's fate," says spokesman Ciaran Price."This is a ridiculous source of objective evidence to use in a decision letter, and is a strong example of Home Office staff relying on information that's quickly available and easy to find - not what is suitable in an individual's case."
The asylum ‘lottery’ – an insider’s view

For a while the Bootle centre had a motivational poster showing a car moving towards the target of 10,000 decisions
Many of the decision-makers in the Bootle centre are young graduates, with no previous experience of this kind of work and only two weeks of training before they start doing interviews, Alex says. Everyone else in the office is a temporary worker, employed via a High Street recruitment agency.This includes the performance managers driving the decision-makers to work faster. "They typically come from sales backgrounds and have never done any work involving asylum seekers or immigration themselves. They have no understanding of the process or how important it is to do things sensitively and properly," Alex says. a report by David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders and immigration. Alex is looking for another job, and so are lots of his colleagues."I struggle with my job from a moral perspective," he says. "The thing that gets me the most is, if someone is telling the truth but I make the wrong decision and send them back, I'm signing their death warrant."Illustrations by Tom HumberstoneFollow Kirstie Brewer on Twitter @kirstiejbrewer
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