Asylum system “not fit for purpose”

The system for receiving asylum seekers in the UK is “not fit for purpose” and should be seen as a source of national shame, a report has said.

The Independent Asylum Commission (IAC) found the treatment of those seeking asylum in Britain fell below that standards that could be expected of a civilised country.

In its interim report, the IAC said the system denied sanctuary to those most entitled and in need of assistance.

At the same time it is firm enough in returning people whose claims are refused.

The system is “marred by inhumanity in its treatment of the vulnerable”, the commissioners write.

Sir John Waite, one of two co-chairs of the IAC and a former high court judge, said: “There is much criticism of the asylum system in the UK, from those that find it too lenient while also from those that judge that its decisions are made too harshly,” he explained.

“The British people want a system that is applied fairly, firmly and humanely – where people who need sanctuary are able to find it on our shores, while those who don’t are dealt with effectively and with humanity. Until that goal is met our asylum system will remain unfit for purpose.”

Ifath Nawaz, president of the association of Muslim Lawyers and co-chair of the IAC, insisted there was “universal acceptance” of the asylum system in theory.

“Having listening to hundreds of testimonies, reading hundreds of submissions and receiving evidence from a wide range of individuals and organisations, including the government, asylum seekers, refugees, [non-governmental organisations], three former home secretaries and the general public, every single person expressed their commitment to providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution,” Mr Nawaz explained.

“The question is not should we provide sanctuary, but how.”

Another commissioner, Lord David Ramsbotham, former chief inspector of prisons, said the asylum system was a “shameful blemish” on the UK’s record of providing sanctuary to those who most need it.

“The treatment of asylum seekers falls seriously below the standards to be expected of a humane and civilised society,” Lord Ramsbotham argued.

The government is due to respond to the IAC’s interim findings before being presented with its final conclusions and recommendations in May, June and July.