Refugee Legal Centre condemns Woolas stance on asylum

By staff writers
November 20, 2008

The CEO of the highly respected Refugee Legal Service has said that the Minister for Immigration should be exercising humanity and sharpening up his department's decision-making instead of attacking human rights advocates.

Caroline Slocock's comments came in an article in the Guardian newspaper, which had earlier published an interview with the minister, Phil Woolas, in which he denounced advocates of basic legal justice for asylum seekers as an "industry".

Mr Woolas' comments, which included the dismissal of a court decision where an asylum claimant won an appeal, have been rejected or condemned by the Law Society, civil rights groups, churches, the director of the London-wide agency Praxis, the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, and many others with expertise in the area.

Ms Slocock writes: "According to the Independent Asylum Commission, within the Home Office there is a "culture of disbelief" against asylum seekers. Woolas is leading from the front, acting as judge and jury when others have rightly been paid to do the job. Each case should be judged objectively on its merits, not general prejudice."

She adds: "The Refugee Legal Centre, the largest provider of legal representation to asylum seekers, wins 50% of its cases on appeal. Latest figures show that 43% of Eritreans and 42% of Somalis win their appeals against Home Office decisions. Quite apart from humanity and justice, the Home Office culture cannot be serving the taxpayer well. So, who really causes 'more harm than good [Mr Woolas]?"

"Prejudice can also lead down some blind alleys. While the government is prepared to risk lives in Iraq and stand up against inhumanity in Zimbabwe, it is not prepared to provide protection for people from those countries who flee for their lives... People leave their own family and country only if they are desperate."

Earlier this week, the British government lost again on the issue of asylum cliamants from Zimbabwwe, in a long-running court battle which has cost the taxpayer a large amount of money and could have been conceded in 2005, say the RLS.

Writes Ms Slocock: "While the Home Office prolonged this fight unnecessarily in the courts, many Zimbabweans were left destitute on our streets, refused asylum - without accommodation, benefits or any right to work."

She concludes: "What is needed is humanity, not prejudice, Mr Woolas, and a good place to start would be to accept the decision of the courts."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.