The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK has accused the Home Office of by-passing its own policies in order to deport asylum seekers quicker, including suspected victims of trafficking.
Three flights, two to Germany and one to France, with possible onwards transfers to Austria, Poland, Spain and Lithuania, are planned amid opposition from campaigners.
But the passengers will be people who have claimed asylum but whose ‘screening interview’, which asks basic questions about identity, route to the UK and reason for claiming asylum, has been rushed or done incompletely in order to deliberately build a false picture of the claimant.
The interview is supposed to pick up migrants’ vulnerabilities, including identifying if someone has been trafficked. It is also supposed to determine which country has responsibility for processing the asylum claim, under EU law’s Dublin III protocol.
However, JRS (UK) claimed that the Home Office is now skipping out key questions, including ones that are crucial in identifying trafficking.
JRS UK, which runs an outreach service to Heathrow Immigration Removal Centres, is supporting 11 men who have recently arrived in the UK by small boats and who have experienced trafficking, forced labour, and torture on their journey to the UK. Ten are Sudanese, the other from Syria.
Sudanese asylum seekers typically travel through Libya, which is known to be rife with trafficking. JRS (UK) has heard many accounts of mistreatment and torture, with men forced to work for gangmasters.
One Sudanese man supported by JRS (UK) had suffered under these conditions for four years, but he didn’t have the chance to explain this at his screening interview because it was truncated.
Asylum screening interviews began skipping key questions on 30th March, including two questions crucial for identifying trafficking, JRS (UK) claims. The Home Office’s own policy guidance reminds interviewers to be mindful of trafficking when asking them: ‘Why have you come to the UK?’ (question 3.1) and ‘Please outline your journey to the UK’ (question 3.3).
“Under cover of Covid and the rush for Brexit the government are subjecting survivors of trafficking and torture to brutal treatment,” said Sarah Teather, director of JRS (UK).
“Skipping sections of your own due process to avoid listening to details of trafficking that would require a more careful approach to the person in front of you is staggeringly cynical.”
Ms Teather claimed that, while the Home Office has been told this practice is unacceptable by the High Court, it continues to rush people through the process regardless. She also pointed out that the most vulnerable and traumatised asylum seekers are currently struggling to access legal advice in detention.
“It demonstrates a complete disregard for human life and it is a shameful episode,” she said. “We will continue to ensure these men are able to access the legal processes promised to them, and we hope that they will receive the support and protection they need.”
(JRS) UK also reiterated calls for a just and person-centred approach to immigration.