UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) raises key concerns with the Detained Fast Track

The Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) John Vine, today releases an
inspection of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) asylum procedure. In two independent
audits of the DFT, UNHCR has identified the following key concerns:

Vulnerable asylum seekers are wrongly held in detention

UNHCR is of the view that safeguards to identify vulnerable and traumatised individuals
are inadequate. A quarter of individuals who enter the DFT are later released, most of
whom are referred to organisations caring for victims of torture. However, even among
those who remain within the DFT, UNHCR has identified vulnerable people and
applicants with complex cases which are not suitable for being decided quickly. This
includes individuals who claim to be victims of rape or trafficking.

Deprivation of liberty

Although claims in the DFT are expected to be decided between seven and ten days,
the Government’s current policy leaves open the possibility for detention to exceed this
period and even, to be of unlimited duration. UNHCR considers that depriving an
individual of their liberty for reasons of administrative convenience risks breaching
international human rights principles.

There is insufficient time for accurate decision-making

Detention and the speed of the DFT affect the fairness of a procedure which determines
whether or not a person will be protected or sent home. The short time frame means that
both UKBA decision makers and applicants lack sufficient time to prepare for the asylum
interview. The determination of asylum claims is a complex procedure which requires
time and consideration on the part of the decision maker to gather evidence, including
the information available on the situation in an applicant’s country, and to assess the
credibility of the claim. Furthermore, asylum seekers who have had traumatic
experiences and possible mental health issues may require time to establish trust and
confidence to disclose their stories to the authorities.

Decision making within the DFT has significant and repeated errors

UNHCR’s audits have found poor quality decision making within the DFT. Of particular
concern is that UKBA insufficiently appreciates the limited opportunities for asylum
seekers in detention to support their claims by evidence and documentation, and
demands an inappropriate threshold of proof. In one case, an Afghan who claimed to
that his life was at risk because he worked as an interpreter for the US forces was not
believed despite being able to provide twelve pieces of documentary evidence to
corroborate that he was.

Asylum seekers from conflict-affected countries are being detained

Asylum seekers from conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan are regularly being
routed into the DFT. UNHCR’s view is that claims from persons originating from
countries experiencing indiscriminate violence should be assessed with the utmost care.

Worrying precedent

UNHCR is of the view that detention of asylum seekers for reasons of administrative
convenience is inheritably undesirable and should be limited to only very exceptional
circumstances. In comparison to any other European country, the UK is using detention
in asylum procedures in a disproportionately high manner, which sets a worryingly
negative precedent.

UNHCR’s Representative to the UK, Roland Schilling, said:

‘Asylum seekers who come to the UK have often experienced extremely distressing
circumstances which have caused them to flee. To be led off to a detention centre –
sometimes in handcuffs – as soon as they arrive, is far from a humane way of being
treated. These people did nothing other than to ask for protection.

‘There is a presumption on the part of the UK Border Agency that most asylum claims
can be decided quickly, but in UNHCR’s view, the process of determining whether
someone has a well-founded fear of persecution is a not only very complex but an
extremely important procedure which should not be taken lightly. It should not be driven
by the pressure to meet time limits and targets.

UNHCR recognises and supports the need for a fair and effective asylum system.

UNHCR has been working with the UK Border Agency to improve the quality of asylum
decision-making and I welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to achieving a
fairer refugee status determination system. Considering the financial and human costs of
detention, we are ready to help the authorities to look into alternatives to detention.’

Notes to editors:
1. The Detained Fast Track is a procedure whereby asylum seekers are detained if
the government considers their claim “can be decided quickly”, which can mean
within seven to ten days. The decision whether or not an asylum seeker will enter
the DFT is made at an initial interview.
2. Since 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has
audited a total of 142 asylum decisions made in the DFT and issued two reports
to the Immigration Minister raising concerns with the procedure.
3. UNHCR’s 2010 audit of the Detained Fast Track can be read here, and key
findings and recommendations can be read here
4. UNHCR’s 2008 audit of the Detained Fast Track can be read here, and key
findings and recommendations can be read here

Media enquiries:

For media enquiries, please contact Laura Padoan at UNHCR on 020 7759 8092
or email [email protected]

For interviews with asylum seekers currently held in detention, or those who have
been released from the DFT, please contact Kate Blagojevic at Detention Action
on 020 7424 5175 or email [email protected]