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UNHCR welcomes new UK effort to improve asylum screening

News Stories, 21 March 2007

© UNHCR/A.Johnstone
An asylum seeker at the UK immigration detention centre, Tinsley House. Britain has formally launched a new model aimed at improving its asylum system.

LONDON, United Kingdom, March 21 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has praised Britain's efforts to improve its asylum system and said the country was at the forefront of efforts to protect victims of persecution and war.

"As persons who make or contribute to this [refugee status] determination here in the UK, you are at the forefront of safeguarding the rights of refugees," Bemma Donkoh, UNHCR's representative to the United Kingdom, told senior government caseworkers last week in London at the official launch of the country's New Asylum Model (NAM).

The new system includes far closer and consistent contact between the asylum claimant and the official handling the claim the Home Office, the UK ministry responsible for processing asylum claims, believes it will mean better and more speedy decisions.

The NAM features a regionalisation of the processing of asylum claims as well as processing of cases by a single caseworker from the start of the process to its conclusion, be that through the integration of a recognised refugee or the removal of an unsuccessful asylum claimant.

Donkoh told senior government officials attending the launch ceremony, including Home Secretary John Reid, that UNHCR welcomed Britain's commitment to producing higher quality asylum decisions and faster recognition of well-founded claims. She also urged immigration officials to focus on helping people in need of international protection.

"I see your role as not primarily about the enforcement of borders, nor about targets or the removal of illegal immigrants or keeping 'recognition' rates down," Donkoh said. "Your role is about ensuring that those who are in the UK and who are in need of international protection, receive it.

"That is also your performance indicator, to meet the obligations of the UK as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention," Donkoh said, as she advised caseworkers to ensure asylum claimants got the protection they require. "There will be some who do not warrant such status, but there will always be many who do," she added.

UNHCR has been working with the Home Office since 2004 to improve initial decision making, through what is known as the Quality Initiative project. Several of UNHCR's recommendations, including the need to raise recruitment standards for caseworkers and to provide more in-depth training and apply a system of accreditation, have been incorporated into the design of NAM's new end-to-end process.

Last year, asylum applications in the UK hit their lowest level since 1993, whilst the number of removals and deportations by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate hit an all-time high. A total of 18,235 people were removed from the UK, including dependants a 16 percent increase on 2005. Since 1997, the removal of principal applicants has risen by 127 percent.

Asylum figures for the year show that applications stood at 23,520, down by nine per cent compared to 2005. The top five applicant nationalities in 2006 were Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iran, China and Somalia. The number of Iraqi claimants rose in the final quarter of last year to 355 excluding dependants from 330 in the third quarter.

By Duncan Trevan in London, United Kingdom




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UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Rescue at Sea

Summer, with its fair weather and calmer seas, often brings an increase in the number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe. But this year the numbers have grown by a staggering amount. In the month of June, the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation picked up desperate passengers at a rate of more than 750 per day.

In late June, UNHCR photographer Alfredo D'Amato boarded the San Giorgio, an Italian naval ship taking part in the operation, to document the rescue process - including the first sighting of boats from a military helicopter, the passengers' transfer to small rescue boats and then the mother ship, and finally their return to dry land in Puglia, Italy.

In the span of just six hours on 28 June, the crew rescued 1,171 people from four overcrowded boats. Over half were from war-torn Syrian, mostly families and large groups. Others came from Eritrea and Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Bangladesh and beyond. D'Amato's images and the interviews that accompanied them are windows into the lives of people whose situation at home had become so precarious that they were willing to risk it all.

Rescue at Sea

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.