asylum Home Office Eritrea guidance softened to reduce asylum seeker numbers

Information downplayed rights abuses and meant some Eritrean children in Calais were refused entry to UK

Eritrean_children_in_Calais_were_refused_entry_to_UK.jpg

The Home Office used the lower grant rates as a reason for excluding almost all Eritrean children in the Calais refugee camp aged 13-15. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The government downplayed the risk of human rights abuses in one of the world’s most repressive regimes in an attempt to reduce asylum seeker numbers despite doubts from its own experts, internal documents have revealed.

Home Office documents obtained by the Public Law Project detail efforts by the government to seek more favourable descriptions of human rights conditions in Eritrea, an east African country that indefinitely detains and tortures some of its citizens as well as carrying out extrajudicial executions and operating a shoot-to-kill policy on those caught trying to flee the country.

The notes relate to a high-level meeting that took place in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, in December 2014, between senior Eritrean government officials and a UK delegation led by James Sharp, the Foreign Office’s director of migration, and Rob Jones, the Home Office’s head of asylum and family policy.

A diplomatic telegram written by the then UK ambassador to Eritrea, David Ward, says the meeting was held to “discuss reducing Eritrean migration” and sought to find evidence on human rights “to evaluate whether we [the UK] should amend our country guidance”.

The discussions focused on how to reduce the number of Eritrean asylum seekers granted refugee status in the UK and how to deter more Eritreans coming to the UK to claim asylum. UK officials were concerned that the UK’s high grant rate to Eritrean asylum seekers of about 85% would attract more Eritreans to the UK.

UK officials agreed to look at giving Eritrea aid in exchange for Eritrea agreeing to soften some of its human rights abuses. The Eritrean government appears to have agreed to limit forced military conscription to 18 months but said it would do this informally rather than by making a formal announcement. Reports from human rights watchdogs this month found that the problem of enforced and prolonged military conscription is as bad as ever.

Advertisement

The documents also reveal that UK officials warned that they still had concerns after the meeting about the human rights situation in Eritrea. One of the documents disclosed to the Public Law Project, entitled Informal Report of UK Visit to Eritrea 9-11 December 2014, states: “If [Eritrean] government representatives are to be believed the risk of persecution or mistreatment in Eritrea is lower than our country guidance suggests. But independent verification of their description of the situation in Eritrea is difficult to find. Further evidence is likely to be required before a significant reduction in that rate [of grants of asylum] can be supported.”

A partially redacted email sent on 17 December 2014 states: “The story on the penalties for those returning to Eritrea for evading national service or illegal exit was less clear. Non-governmental interlocutors acknowledge the possibility of extrajudicial detention on an arbitrary basis.”

A parliamentary answer in the House of Lords in January 2015 confirmed that the visit to Eritrea had taken place and said that discussions had involved “topics including the current drivers of irregular migration, ways to mitigate it, and voluntary and enforced returns”.

Lord Bates, a Home Office minister, added: “We are now considering how best to use the information gathered during the visit to develop our approach to managing migration from Eritrea.”

But despite the doubts about a real improvement in the human rights situation expressed by UK officials in the internal documents, the Home Office went ahead in March 2015 with issuing new guidance to those making decisions on asylum seekers stating that the human rights situation in Eritrea was not as bad as previously thought.

Country guidance issued by the Home Office is highly influential on both ministry officials and judges making decisions on asylum claims. This guidance is expected to contain independently verifiable evidence.

Advertisement

As a result of the new guidance the levels of grants of asylum to Eritreans plummeted from 85% to 60%. However, 87% of those refused under the new guidance had their refusals overturned by judges on appeal.

The 2015 guidance impacted on Eritrean children in Calais who hoped to come to the UK at the end of last year. The Home Office used the lower grant rates as a reason for excluding almost all Eritrean children in Calais aged 13-15 – the initial grant rate for Eritrean asylum seekers between March 2015 and June 2016 was below 75%.

However, a significant case in the upper (immigration) tribunal last October, known as a country guidance case, found that the new Home Office guidance on Eritrea was not credible. The Home Office has acknowledged the reality of the human rights situation and withdrawn its flawed guidance.

Alison Pickup, the legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “It is of fundamental importance to the integrity of the UK’s asylum system that decisions on refugee status are based on fair, objective and informed assessment of conditions in their country of origin. The Home Office has a legal duty to ensure that the information given to decision-makers is as accurate, up to date and complete as possible. This disclosure suggests a troubling lack of impartiality and objectivity in the selection of information to be provided to asylum decision-makers about one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in the world.”

In relation to the Home Office exclusion of Eritrean children in Calais, she said: “The Home Office’s exclusion of Eritrean refugee children on the basis of a statistic which is the result of its own flawed guidance is a tragedy.”

Safe Passage, part of Citizens UK, was working with refugee children in Calais before the camp was closed last November. The Citizens UK leader, Jonathan Clark, the bishop of Croydon, said: “It is hugely concerning that the Home Office appeared to have been willing to set aside their own concerns that they were not being told the truth about ongoing human rights violations because of a policy to reduce numbers. This faulty evidence contributed to many vulnerable children from the Calais refugee camp [being] denied sanctuary in the UK through the Dubs scheme.

“As the government considers its policy towards unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy we urge them not to rule out children from countries such as Eritrea, but help the most at risk.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it. Each application is carefully considered on its merits against background country information, ensuring only those with a genuine claim for asylum receive a grant.

“We continually review our country information and guidance to ensure it is up to date, accurate and relevant, so that staff can make fair and considered decisions. The most recent update to the guidance on Eritrea was made last year as a result of a fact-finding mission in 2016. We work closely with countries such as Eritrea to discuss migration matters.”

The Guardian has approached the FCO for comment.



Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Take Action

Eritrean Satellite Television is an international non-profit organization. Please support us by:

Donate

Sign up

Volunteer

Spread the word

Top Leaders

Top 50 Most Earned Points (All time)

Yosief Meharena 1
+6226pt earned points
Zaid Bein 2
+5205pt earned points
efrem tesfay 3
+5024pt earned points
Andebrhan Ekube 4
+4567pt earned points
Hamer Diglel 5
+3295pt earned points
Efrem Tesfahiwet 6
+2960pt earned points
Yemane Ghebrekidan 7
+1514pt earned points
Solomon Ghebrewold 8
+1495pt earned points
Khalieb Abraham 9
+720pt earned points
rezene yowhans 10
+702pt earned points
Anonymous 11
+515pt earned points
Peter Habte 12
+495pt earned points
Tewelde Kidane 13
+480pt earned points
Abdu Kelifa 14
+466pt earned points
Amanuel Mebrahtu 15
+402pt earned points
Abeba Abraha 16
+395pt earned points
stifanos michael 17
+377pt earned points
Haile Tensae 18
+333pt earned points
Teclemariam Ghebregergis 19
+285pt earned points
Abdu Ali 20
+280pt earned points
EriSat Tv 21
+279pt earned points
Robi91 Smerr1 22
+275pt earned points
Zery Bokre 23
+245pt earned points
Biniam Biniam Garmskal 24
+233pt earned points
Mesfin Kidane 25
+230pt earned points
Asefaw Ghebrekidan 26
+215pt earned points
Shaban Mohammed 27
+210pt earned points
Kassahun Berhane 28
+210pt earned points
Tesheme Temesgen 29
+200pt earned points
Selam Fithat selam fithat 30
+188pt earned points
asgedet tesfa yohannes 31
+185pt earned points
amanuel mebrahtu 32
+171pt earned points
abdu Ahmed 33
+170pt earned points
yacob sibhat 34
+170pt earned points
tekle teklzghi 35
+155pt earned points
Ardel_Gash Y. Negash 36
+152pt earned points
Eyassu Tesfamariam 37
+145pt earned points
Ali Baba Ali Baba 38
+145pt earned points
okubay hagos 39
+135pt earned points
selam fithat selam fithat 40
+130pt earned points
Habte Berhe 41
+125pt earned points
yehdego beyene 42
+125pt earned points
Teame Tekie 43
+120pt earned points
Gebrihiwet Gebremedhin 44
+120pt earned points
Tesfay Beraki 45
+120pt earned points
Khaled Abdu 46
+112pt earned points
Mulalem Gerezgiher 47
+112pt earned points
Tekeste Tzeggai 48
+110pt earned points
Kesete Teclemichael 49
+110pt earned points
tewelde habte 50
+110pt earned points

Upcoming Events