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3 February 2010

Britain’s asylum shame

Alarming revelations from a whistleblower.

By Mehdi Hasan

This is the kind of asylum story that doesn’t make it on to the front page of the Mail or the Express. But today’s Guardian has a shocking report about how UK border staff humiliate and trick asylum seekers and refuse difficult or complicated requests for asylum.

The claims are made by a whistleblower, and have been taken up in parliament by the Liberal Democrats. From the Guardian:

Louise Perrett, who worked as a case owner at the Border Agency office in Cardiff for three and a half months last summer, claims staff kept a stuffed gorilla, a “grant monkey”, which was placed as a badge of shame on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application.

Perrett, 29, also alleges that one official boasted to her that he tested the claims of boys from African countries who said they had been forcibly conscripted as child soldiers by making them lie down on the floor and demonstrate how they shot at people in the bush. One method used to determine the authenticity of an asylum seeker claiming to be from North Korea was to ask whether the person ate chop suey.

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Perrett, whose claims will become the basis for parliamentary questions from Jenny Willott, the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cardiff Central MP, said interviews were conducted without lawyers, independent witnesses or tape recorders. If a case was difficult, Perrett claims, she was simply advised to refuse it and “let a tribunal sort it out”. Only cases raised by MPs appeared to be dealt with properly.

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Perrett said she was given the power to make legally binding decisions on whether asylum seekers were granted or refused asylum after just five weeks’ training. She also had the power to detain individuals and families for up to 28 days. Like her colleagues, she was obliged to sign the Official Secrets Act. She took legal advice before deciding to speak out publicly.

She claims the tone was set on the first day when one manager said of the asylum-seeker clients: “If it was up to me I’d take them all outside and shoot them.” Another told her this was to be expected, adding: “No one in this office is very PC. In fact everyone is the exact opposite.”

Puts all those official figures about “bogus” asylum-seekers in context, eh?