“The Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) apologises for the delay in this case and any distress that this may have caused your client for not completing the case within the timescales given.”
Everything seems to have a quick turnover or shelf life these days. From the latest gadget to fashion accessory, time is everything. Impatience is a prerequisite for change. There are strict time frames for many aspects of life, from academic deadlines, to the filing of taxes, to the running of trains, time is everything. However it seems to stand still for the most vulnerable when it comes to asylum claims.
The most insulting word in the opening sentence is ‘may.’ This little word carries a meaning akin to ‘possibly’ as opposed to any degree of certainty. With months and often years in which people have to wait for the outcome of an asylum matter, can the SSHD ever be justified in using the word ‘may’?
I work with numerous victims of trafficking and torture who simply cannot fathom the use of the word ‘may’ in this context. These vulnerable individuals have escaped sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, FGM, forced marriage, domestic violence and unimaginable torture often at the very hands of authority figures – those they should be able to trust - in their home country. The courage and the life and death scenarios leading them to seek asylum in the UK are often met with hurdle after hurdle.
The sad truth is that many of these vulnerable individuals inevitably experience deterioration in their mental health as they sit in limbo for an indefinite period of time, all because they seek protection. Some often question if the torture and trauma they left behind is worse than the uncertainty they face in the UK. Clients have expressed that at least when their lives were in danger, they knew what was going to happen to them but here in the UK - with ongoing delays in decision-making - they are shrouded in the unknown. And when your unknown is whether or not the SSHD believes that you have a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country, of course the endless waiting for a decision in your asylum claim WILL cause distress.
That opening sentence is often coupled with the following: “your client’s patience in this matter is appreciated”. This patronising sentence is so ironic in an era where time is everything. Would these same decision-makers, and those who plan the policy in the first place, impose the same ongoing painful limbo on their own love ones? I wonder…
During this limbo, most of these acutely vulnerable individuals have as little as £37.75 to survive on per week. There is also increasingly limited access to mental health support during this expansive interim between claim and decision. The most adaptable and resilient of you would have difficulty withstanding this process of uncertainty. Can you imagine how those who find themselves at the fringes of society must feel?
Eric Allison and Diane Taylor wrote in the Guardian in May 2019 that the Home Office is scrapping its target of processing most asylum claims within six months. The Independent in August 2019 stated that “Asylum waiting times at record high as thousands ‘left in limbo’”. That piece stated that “…Nearly 17,000 asylum seekers were waiting more than six months to receive a decision – a 58 per cent rise in a year.” In contrast, the uk.gov website still proclaims “you’ll usually get a decision on your application within 6 months.”
At the time of writing the position appears to be that set out on the Aida Asylum Information Database: “There is no enforceable time limit for deciding asylum applications, but the immigration rules say that the decision must be taken ‘as soon as possible’. The target to deal with ‘straightforward’ applications was six months, or 182 days, although in February 2019 the government announced that this strict target had been abandoned, and discussions during early 2019 will result in a decision of how best to replace it.”
The Independent, 27th February 2020, reported that:
“The number for asylum seekers waiting longer than half a year for their asylum claim to be decided has hit a record high after surging by 76 per cent in a year, new figures show.”
In practice, I have seen a complete disregard for any concept of time. Individuals are often waiting for indefinite periods for a decision or they are given a time period which is never adhered to.
At a very basic human level, we all need to remind ourselves of how much time is important to all of us and that a life in limbo is no life at all - a simple, unambiguous tenet that I hope the Home Office adheres to in the future.
Shahailya Stephenson http://www.wilsonllp.co.uk/shahailya-stephenson/
Eric Allison and Diane Taylor, ‘Home Office abandons six-month target for asylum claim decisions’, The Guardian 7thMay 2019
May Bulman, ‘Asylum waiting times at record high as thousands ‘left in limbo,’ The Independent 22nd August 2019
May Bulman, ‘Number of asylum seekers waiting longer than half a year for decision surges by 76%, figures show,’ The Independent 27th February 2020
Aida Asylum Information Database: http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/united-kingdom/asylum-procedure/procedures/regular-procedure
Para 333A Immigration Rules Part 11
Immigration Minister, reply to asylum applications written question 220305 18 Feb 2019