Norwich City of Sanctuary has jointly signed a letter from a group of local charities to all Norfolk MPs, outlining grave concerns over the government’s latest plans to tackle the asylum backlog.
Under the new fast track scheme, applicants from 5 countries – Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Libya and Yemen – would have 20 days to fill out and return their applications for asylum or their claims will be invalidated.
However, describing Norfolk as a ‘legal aid advice desert’, the charities believe asylum seekers here will be geographically penalised and are calling for the scheme to be frozen.
The letter in full can be read below:
We wanted to express serious concerns to you in relation to the proposed ‘streamlined asylum process’ questionnaire for people seeking asylum in the UK.
Whether you have impacted people in your constituency is irrelevant, as are the numbers. There is a wider point relating to Government’s current Immigration policy.
We welcome Government’s intention to clear backlog and shorten the processing times for some Asylum claims, however, there are issues and real risks to the Home Office proposals. To complete the forms specialist Asylum Immigration advice at Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) Level 2 is required. The form is written in English and brings with it a 20-day deadline for submission. People in desperation, who see it as their only route out of uncertainty, dependency and destitution, are likely to submit an application, without access to specialist advice, that is doomed to fail.
As it stands there is no specialist capacity in Norfolk to help people with the application form. Norfolk is an Immigration legal aid advice desert, so people will face additional geographical inequality in accessing the help they need in the required time. The threat of existing applications for asylum being withdrawn based on a geographical lottery if an application is not received in the 20 days is plainly unjust.
There appears to be no plan, about the process, including support, if someone is refused or accepted.
Face-to-face interviews are a vital element of any asylum application. The nuance of a person’s circumstances, the ability to be represented by qualified legal advisers and the relationship that can be developed between the applicant and the Home Office assessor, will be lost on a hastily completed application form.
Higher success rate in complex legal processes is inextricably linked to having access to knowledgeable and skilled representatives. Having such access is a basic tenet of justice. This is why this 20-day application form scheme must be frozen, in order that more thought can be given to the points we raise.
People who have waited far too long for their asylum claims to be assessed must be empowered to move on with their lives, be able access the help they need; work; study and contribute to our society rather than living in the shadows, fearful of an ever-increasing hostile environment.
As community legal services and groups working on Immigration matters, including with people who have sought sanctuary here in Norfolk we’d welcome a conversation with you. We have solutions.
We look forward to hearing from you
Jane Basham Chief Executive Officer Norfolk Community Law Service
Inna Celinska Senior Project Worker ACCESS
Gee Cook Chief Executive New Routes
Béatrice Humarau Executive Coordinator The Bridge Plus+
Dr Louise Humphries Strategy and Transformation Director GYROS
Rosie Sexton Director English Plus
Claire Wood Coordinator Norwich City of Sanctuary