The Independent Asylum Commission is holding its final public hearing in London on 29 November 2007. It is collecting evidence for an impartial citizens’ enquiry into the UK asylum system, which many regard as unjust and failing.
The Commission will publish a report in 2008 that is expected to produce recommendations for reform of the asylum system that are fair as well as forceful, and realistic as well as humane.
The London Hearing is the last of seven public hearings across the UK. An august team of Commissioners, including former High Court Judge Sir John Waite, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey the Rev Nicholas Sagovsky, and former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, will hear first-hand testimony from a range of expert witnesses. These include:
· The UN refugee agency - UNHCR Deputy Representative, Jacqueline Parlevliet, will comment on the importance of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and its application and relevance in the UK today;
· The Centre for Social Cohesion – best-selling author and commentator Dr Douglas Murray will give evidence on the impact of asylum on social cohesion in the UK;
· The Local Government Association's High Ethnicity Authorities' Special Interest Group (HEASIG) – Ben Lea of Hillingdon Council will explain the financial pressures asylum seekers put on local authority finances;
· The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) – Jill Rutter, Senior Research Fellow on Migration, Equalities and Citizenship, will speak on public attitudes to asylum seekers;
· Barking and Dagenham Asylum Support Group - Femi Adefolaju on the experience of asylum seekers in London.
The London Hearing will take place at Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton. Members of the public will have the opportunity to tell their story or give their opinion on video, in order to inform the Commissioners' final report. There will be a recording booth set up at the event to capture their testimonies during the Public Hearing from 14:30 and the National Citizen Gathering in the evening.
The Independent Asylum Commission was set up following an enquiry into Lunar House, the headquarters of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, by South London Citizens, whose report, “A humane service for global citizens” was published in November 2005.
Sir John Waite, a former Judge of the High Court and Co-chair of the Commission commented: "The Independent Asylum Commission’s previous six hearings have had tremendous impact across the country – clearly this an issue of great importance to the public. At the Commission’s final hearing in London there will be a particular emphasis on the impact that asylum has on our communities – both financially and in terms of cohesion. And I look forward to hearing the experiences of asylum seekers in London."
Ifath Nawaz, President of the Association of Muslim Lawyers and Co-chair of the Commission added: "As we embark on our seventh public hearing, I want to thank the hundreds of people and organisations who have responded to our call for evidence. It has been humbling to hear from such a large number of citizens who are concerned about asylum.”
Jonathan Cox, Co-ordinator of the Independent Asylum Commission, said: “This is the first independent review of asylum policy. We are going out of our way to listen to all sides of the debate, all around the country. But the public hearings are just the tip of the iceberg. We are listening to asylum seekers reporting inhumane treatment right through to citizens reporting abuses of an asylum system which they perceive to be too generous. We have rich material to support our report next year.”
The London Public Hearing begins at 14:30 on 29th November and the Independent Asylum Commission National Citizen Gathering – a promotional event for the Commission featuring music, drama, interviews and advice on how citizens can contribute to the Commission – begins at 18:45 on the same day at the same venue.