Jesuit Refugee Service Response to
The UK Home Secretary's Proposals on Asylum: A Discussion Paper
Jesuit Refugee Service
112 Thornbury Road
Tel: 020-8847 3555
Fax: 020-8758 9483
The Mission and Work of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic Organisation at work in over 50 countries. Our mission is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people.
JRS was established in 1980 by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, as a spiritual and practical response to the plight of refugees at that time. Given the increased incidence of forced displacement in the 1980s and 1990s, the Society of Jesus has several times restated its commitment to refugees.
JRS undertakes services at national and regional levels with the support of an international secretariat in Rome. JRS offers a human and pastoral service to refugees and the communities who host them through a wide range of rehabilitation and relief activities. Services - including programmes of pastoral care, education for children and adults, social services and counselling, and health care - are tailored to meet local needs according to available resources.
In the United Kingdom, JRS operates a small office in Osterley, Middlesex. The main focus of our work is a ministry to detained asylum seekers and to those who have been released from detention. Detainees, with whom we are in touch, receive regular visits, phone calls and copies of country news-sheets, which we produce, or country newspapers which we buy. We are also in touch with a few other asylum seekers. At the moment only 4 of these asylum seekers with whom we have regular contact are in receipt of vouchers. In addition we are involved in awareness raising and educational work - to counteract the negative view of asylum seekers the public normally gets from the media and other sources - and we campaign in favour of a more humane asylum determination procedure with adequate support for those seeking asylum in the UK.
1. Categorisation of countries of origin
UK Home Secretary's Proposal:
"That, in the context of the forthcoming common asylum system, Member States should abandon their differing national policies on safe countries of origin and instead agree an EU list consisting of three categories: high risk, intermediate and safe. This categorisation would form the basis of the way in which asylum applications from nationals of those countries were treated by Member States. It would need to cover ethnic, social and political groups as well as countries. For example:
"(a) High risk: countries and groups producing a large proportion of well-founded asylum claims. Spontaneous applications would be given prompt individual consideration by the responsible Member State. Applicants in this category would also benefit from the resettlement programme and might be able to lodge an asylum application from outside the EU (see 2 and 3 below).
"(b) Intermediate: countries and groups producing a small proportion of well-founded asylum claims. New applications would be considered within an agreed accelerated timescale and the great majority would be designated as manifestly unfounded.
"(c) Safe: countries and groups agreed by Member States to be manifestly safe, on the basis of pre-determined criteria relating to the rule of law and observance of international human rights law. New applications would be declared inadmissible to the substantive refugee determination process, subject to the provisions of the Protocol of the Treaty of Amsterdam on Asylum for Nationals of Member States of the European Union."
It is with dismay that we read of this proposal. We are particularly dismayed about the crude categorisation, which takes little or no account of very complex national or regional situations. We also have little confidence in the categorisation process: how is the decision to be made and based on what sort of information from which sources; how often would the categorisation be updated and how would any new information be incorporated into the decision. In the past the UK has operated a "white list" of safe countries, which produced a number of injustices, and we fail to see how this new system would do any better. So-called safe countries have been known to persecute individuals, for example lesbians in Lithuania and Romas in Poland..
What would happen to those people who have a fear of returning home because of persecution if their applications for asylum were declared "inadmissible" because their country of origin was on a list of safe countries? Is the UK government suggesting that there be another procedure other than the substantive refugee determination process under which their applications for a protected status might be considered? Or is it suggested that these people should be summarily removed from the UK without considering their applications for asylum? Surely this would breach the UK's obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and under other international human rights treaties?
We would also raise questions as to how a country were judged to be safe, or intermediate or of high risk? What would be the procedure for moving a country to a new category? How quickly would this be done? Would an asylum seeker who entered the country and asked for asylum while his/her country were on the safe category have his/her case looked at again if it were moved to the intermediate or high risk categories? Surely the only way to give adequate protection to those seeking asylum is to look at the merits of the individual case rather than the country of origin.
We are asked if a super-fast track procedure could be agreed for dealing with applicants from safe countries? Our answer would be most decidedly not. Any procedure must allow for the merits of the case to be looked at fully and must allow for an in-country right of appeal against a negative decision. This is the only way to even attempt to ensure that mistakes are not made - particularly since the effects of not allowing a refugee or a protected status can be life-threatening.
We do not believe any categorisation system either based on countries or on other considerations as well, such as ethnicity, membership of a group, etc. would best serve the interests of those fleeing from persecution.
2. EU resettlement programme
UK Home Secretary's Proposal:
"That the EU should establish a humanitarian resettlement programme, based on an annual decision by the Commission and the Council to set a quota for accepting Convention refugees, allocated on the basis of solidarity between Member States. The total annual quota might be sub-divided into regional or continental quotas.
"The beneficiaries of this programme would be drawn exclusively or primarily from the high risk countries or groups identified in 1(a) above.
"Beneficiaries would be identified and pre-screened by UNHCR. Those requiring international protection within the terms of the Convention would be presented to the EU, or to individual Member States, for acceptance and the grant of asylum.
"Such a programme would operate entirely separately from the asylum determination process, which would continue to deal with spontaneous arrivals along the lines of 1 above. (The resettlement cases would come to Member States as refugees rather than to have their status considered.)"
While welcoming the proposed EU resettlement programme as another tool for protecting those who are being persecuted, we do have some reservations about the programme. Primarily we are concerned about the impact this would have on asylum seekers making spontaneous claims. Some other countries which operate a resettlement programme, such as the USA, detain spontaneous arrivals as a matter of course. JRS believes that the administrative detention of asylum seekers is wrong, and we would be dismayed if this were the model the UK government might be considering. Other than our general objections on the immorality of detention for asylum seekers, we would consider any such programme of detention for spontaneous arrivals to contravene the UK government's obligations under the Human Rights Act and under international human rights law.
There is also a danger in operating a resettlement programme, that programme refugees might be seen to be "good" or "genuine" refugees, whereas spontaneous arrivals are seen to be "bad" or "bogus". This will be particularly the case if the programme is only open to those from high or intermediate risk countries. If the UK government does decide to enter into an agreement with the UNHCR regarding a resettlement programme, it must invest significant resources in creating a climate of favourable public opinion towards all refugees. This would include the development of welcoming or orientation programmes for all spontaneous arrivals and programme refugees. It would be tragic if any new protection tool should create a "them and us culture" between members of the refugee community in the UK. After all no one refugee is more deserving of protection than any other.
We would recommend that the UNHCR does administer any proposed resettlement programme, despite the current funding difficulties it is facing. However the EU must agree to support the UNHCR and to fund the programme. The UNHCR has built up invaluable experience in such programmes. This should be recognised and supported.
We are heartened by the suggestion that humanitarian cases, which would not ordinarily fall within the scope of the 1951 Convention, might be given access to the resettlement programme. We welcome any suggestion which would increase the protection of individuals either from persecution or on humanitarian grounds. We hope that any quote would be revised upwards to take account of these extra categories of people.
Our final reservation would be regarding the quotas. What happens to those individuals fleeing persecution, with a well-founded case, who fall outwith the quota for their region/country of origin for that year. Are they to be granted protection in situ or are procedures going to be put in place to find them another host country where they will be safe?
UK Home Secretary's Proposal:
"Practical arrangements should be made for individuals from high risk countries or groups to lodge an asylum application from outside EU territory by registering with UNHCR in a third country. The determination would be undertaken by UNHCR as in 2 above, and successful applicants would be referred for inclusion in the EU resettlement programme. Failed applicants would be subject to the migration policies of the third country, but would benefit from advice from the UNHCR."
Again we have serious reservations about the categorisation system. Categorisation can never take into account the full circumstances of an individual or the full situation in a country. To leave such a tool of protection only open to those from high risk countries or groups is to risk sending those who have a real fear of persecution from other countries into the hands of people-traffickers out of desperation or a belief that their asylum claim might not be dealt with sympathetically by the UK as they are not from a high risk country. We would also have to ask how often the lists of categories would be updated and how the new lists would be disseminated to those processing applications in the field? There will always be a risk of out of date category lists being used.
UK Home Secretary's Proposal:
"That appropriate action is taken, both at EU level and in the wider international community, to ensure that countries of first asylum are able to provide appropriate support to displaced people, either temporarily or permanently."
JRS welcomes the proposal that support be given to countries of first asylum within the region. We trust, however, that this is not being seen as a way of dissuading those fleeing persecution from leaving their region of origin if they do not feel safe there.
The vast majority of the world's refugees seek safety in neighbouring countries of the South. In the spirit of international responsibility sharing, it is entirely appropriate and indeed even right that richer countries of the North give support and grant aid to host countries in the region of origin. However, any aid or support given should not only be for the refugees but also for the local community, who are often as poor and sometimes poorer than the refugees. It can only create animosity between the refugee community and the host community if aid and support is only directed at the refugees or at refugee support programmes.