If you are going to claim asylum, it is a very good idea to familiarise yourself with the process and understand what you need to do. Right to remain have published a very helpful toolkit. You can find it here:
Legal Action for Women have also published a self-help guide to claiming asylum. It is written by and for women, but is useful for people of any gender. It helps you understand both the law and what it’s like to be an asylum seeker. It is full of lots of good tips about how to fight back and win your right to remain:
The free movement blog, which is an excellent resource for all aspects of immigration law, also has a helpful short guide:
Also, the guide “Getting Asylum in the UK: A guide to getting protection in the United Kingdom (2021)” provides helpful information on the UK asylum procedure.
What follows is a brief overview of the process. Be aware, that at the moment there are very long delays. In lots of cases the Home Office are taking more than a year even to interview people. Be ready to wait.
You can make a claim for asylum at any time but if you delay making an asylum claim, it can make life more difficult for you. What you say about yourself is treated less favourably if you delay making an asylum claim. It can also make it harder for you to get housing or money from the state. If you know that you want to claim asylum, it’s good to do so soon after you arrive in the UK. You can claim asylum at the border by telling a border guard or by phoning the Asylum Intake Unit telephone line: 0300 123 4193. It’s open on Monday to Thursday between 9am to 4:45pm and Friday, 9am to 4:30pm. If you are in Northern Ireland, the process is slightly different. You have to claim asylum at the Bryson asylum service in Belfast: https://www.embraceni.org/asylum/the-application-process-in-n-ireland/. If you have been put in immigration detention, you can also claim asylum in the detention centre.
The Screening Interview
Once you have claimed asylum, you will be given a screening interview. If you claim asylum at the port, this usually will be done on the same day. If you have claimed asylum by phone, the Home Office will ring you back to give you a date for a screening interview. You will have to go to Croydon in south London for the interview. If you are in detention, the screening interview will be in the detention centre.
The screening interview is primarily for the Home Office to decide how they are going to handle your claim. They have four categories: general casework, unaccompanied minor, Dublin return, detained non-suspensive appeal. It is also your chance to tell the Home Office about family you have back home. It is important that you mention everybody because, when you come to make an application to bring your family over, they will check that you mentioned them at the screening interview. You should also, if you can, tell the interviewer if you have been tortured. It is much harder for them to detain people who have been tortured.
If you are an adult and the Home Office are going to deal with your claim properly, then you will be put in the general casework category. The Dublin return category is for people that the Home Office think ought to be claiming asylum in another European country. They will try to send you to that country. Unaccompanied minors are asylum seekers who are under 18. You get more support if you are under 18, you shouldn’t be detained and the Home Office cannot send you to another European country. The asylum process is different for people under 18. Unfortunately the Home Office often treats teenagers as adults. They might say that you are lying about your age. The detained non-suspensive appeals category is for people the Home Office consider to have a very weak claim for asylum. If you fall into that category, you will be put in detention and you won’t have an automatic appeal right against a refusal. If you’re put in that category, you need good legal advice.
The Home Office will take your fingerprints and other biometric details at the screening interview. If your fingerprints have been taken in another European country, or you have claimed asylum elsewhere in Europe, the Home Office will put you in the Dublin return category. There is good data sharing across Europe. If you know that there is a record of you somewhere else in Europe, it’s probably best to be honest about it. It doesn’t mean that they will manage to kick you out of the country. In general, the Home Office do not manage to force people out. In theory, if you have family here, the UK should be responsible for your asylum claim anyway. You can tell the Home Office about your connections to the UK in the screening interview.
As with all interactions with the Home Office, you have a right to an interpreter. If you don’t understand the interpreter or you are unhappy with them, you should say so. You should also make sure that your complaint is noted in the record. Again, you should be given a record of the interview. Make sure that you are given a copy. If you can, check it there and then for errors before signing it. When you get back home, give it to your lawyer if you have one and get check it for errors with them. If you don’t have a lawyer, check it yourself and write to the Home Office as soon as you can if you spot anything you want to correct. Things that you say in the screening interview will be compared against things that you say later. If they contradict each other, the Home Office can use that to say that you are lying. In fact, they’re not allowed to put much weight on what you say at the screening interview, but they do try.
The Home Office will also ask you why you came to the UK. This can also make your life difficult. It is different from the question: why did you leave your country? The Home Office might use the answer to this question to try to show that you only came to the UK to get a job. Tell the Home Office about connections you have to the UK. Do not tell the Home Office that you think that you want to get a job here.
Preliminary Information Questionnaire
After your screening interview, you will be sent a preliminary information questionnaire. You can find a blank one here: http://righttoremain.org.uk/resources/piq.doc
You have to respond to the form or the Home Office might treat your asylum claim as withdrawn. The Home Office will give you a deadline to respond to the form. If you have a lawyer, give the form to your lawyer and make sure that they fill it in. Check that you are happy with what they have written on the form. If you don’t have a lawyer, you will have to fill the form in yourself. If you are struggling to fill it in before the deadline, write to the Home Office to tell them that you still wish to claim asylum and that you will be returning the form as soon as you can. It will help you challenge the Home Office if they do treat your claim as withdrawn.
Your lawyer will have an opinion about how much information to give on the form. Some lawyers like the opportunity given to provide a written statement of your case. It’s much harder to include everything that is relevant in a face-to-face interview than on a form that you fill in your own time. On the other hand, once you have written something down, Home Office can use that to trap you. If you say something different in the interview, The Home Office will use that to say that you are lying.
If you are filling in the form yourself, my suggestion would be to be accurate, but brief. Tell the truth, but don’t commit yourself too much in the way of specifics. You can send in more information about your claim after the substantial interview. For example, the form will ask you on which grounds you are claiming asylum, on the grounds of religion, race, nationality, political opinion and membership of a social group. Stick in as many as you think might fit. You can claim more than one ground. For example, if you are a Christian woman in Egypt who has been attacked by members of the Muslim brotherhood, you can claim asylum on the grounds of religion (Christianity), political opinion (you are afraid that the regime will treat you as a political opponent simply because you are a Christian who claimed asylum) and membership of a social group (there will be particular problems you face as a woman and as a Christian woman). They might reject you on some of those grounds, but make sure that they consider every aspect of your problem. I would simply write, religion, political opinion and membership of a social group. I would not give them any more detail. You have answered their question, but you haven’t made an uncorrectable legal mistake.
The form is also used to find out if you have been elsewhere in Europe. It asks about your journey to the UK. If you know that you have been recorded as being, for example, in Spain, don’t lie about it. It is your chance to talk about how badly you were treated in Spain. This will help you resist forced removal to Spain. If you claim that you don’t know where you’ve been before you came to the UK and they can show that that’s not plausible, it will allow them to treat everything else you say with suspicion. If you know that they cannot show that you were in Spain, it’s probably best not to mention it.
The form will also ask about your medical condition. If you have any medical problems, particularly ones that exist because of the problems you have had, for example trauma, depression and anxiety, you should mention them on the form. If you have made the Home Office aware that you are suffering from poor mental health because of what has happened to you, they should treat your evidence more kindly. It is known that people who have been traumatised are not very good witnesses of their own life. They should make allowance for this in the interview and in how they treat your evidence. They probably won’t, but you can use this error to your advantage in any appeal.
The form also gives you an opportunity to ask that you are interviewed by somebody of the same gender as yourself. This might be useful to you. Think about whether or not it would make things easier for you. If it would, ask for somebody of the same gender.
The Substantial Interview
The substantial interview is your chance to put your claim and submit any documentary evidence you have gathered. Have a look at the Right to Remain guide on documentary evidence. You can also submit a detailed witness statement. Make sure that you are well prepared for your asylum interview. This zine https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/preparing-for-the-asylum-interview-a-rough-guide/ is a very helpful guide. You should also study the toolkit on which the zine is based:
The interview is a very long process. You have the right to ask for breaks. You also have a right to an interpreter. As always with interpreters, if you realise that they are not interpreting correctly, say so and make sure that your complaint is recorded. If you realise that you have made a mistake, say so. Make sure that they record that. It can be very hard to tell your story. It is difficult to explain what happened to you and why you are scared to somebody who has very little knowledge about what life might be like in your country. They are also not a very sympathetic audience. Take your time. Let them know if you are struggling and asked for breaks. Try to be as detailed as possible. Explain everything that you can. Importantly, don’t guess. If you don’t know something, you don’t know. Be as accurate as you can, but never be more specific than you can be sure of.
You can also have the interview recorded. Most lawyers want the interview recorded. That way they can check that what the Home Office has written down is in fact what you said. They can also check for interpretation errors. Some lawyers prefer not to have it recorded. They think it gives them more freedom to challenge inaccuracies and correct your mistakes afterwards. If you do want the interview recorded, tell the Home Office in advance and make sure that they give you the recording.
You will be asked a lot of detailed questions about your life, your beliefs and life in your home country. You can get a sense of what the Home Office might ask you by reading the country guidance. The Home Office will be trying to show that you do not fit into the category of people who should be given asylum from your country. So, for example if you come from Syria, claiming asylum is currently grounds for being granted asylum. The idea is that asylum seekers are at risk of being considered enemies of the regime on return to Syria. The Home Office will try to show that you are not from Syria. They will ask you questions about life in Syria that they expect somebody like you to know the answer to. Iranian Kurds who have no political profile, that is Kurds who have never tried to do anything in defence of Kurdish people in Iran, are not yet refugees (according to the UK). The Home Office will ask you about what you were doing in Iran. It’s your chance to talk about what you did in defence of Kurds and Kurdish rights. If you claim to have belonged to a political party, they will try to test your knowledge of the party’s programme. If they are not satisfied with your answers, they will say that you are lying. Be aware, that if you have been involved in armed struggle, you are precluded from refugee protection. If you were a member of a party that has been involved in armed struggle, you need to think about how you present your activities so that you cannot be said to have been supporting armed struggle.
After the interview, you should go over it with your lawyer, if you have one. Check it for inaccuracies. You can also add in extra information that you forgot or were not asked about. The Home Office might give you a deadline, perhaps as quickly as five days, to submit further evidence and comments on the interview. Work quickly and get that information in.
After a Refusal
The Home Office have started to make better decisions in the last few years. They still reject a lot more cases than they should. Be ready to face a refusal. It is not the end. In most cases you have the right to an appeal. https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/appeals/ explains how to apply for an appeal and what will happen at an appeal. If you do not yet have a lawyer, try very hard to find one. What you and your lawyer should do is read and understand the Home Office refusal letter. Why have they refused you? It will almost always be for one or more of the following reasons:
- They do not believe that you are telling the truth about what happened to you.
- They do not believe that you are really afraid of anything in your country of origin.
- They do not believe that you are at risk of persecution in your country of origin.
Try to identify what reasons they have given. This can be difficult. The Home Office write very confused refusal letters. You then need to think about how you can show a judge that the Home Office are wrong.
If they think that you are not telling the truth, it will be because you have contradicted yourself and/or because you do not have enough “objective” evidence. Your lawyer should help you write a witness statement that explains why you contradicted yourself. For example, you might have said that you have no family left in your country of origin but then described an older man as an uncle. You need to explain that you use “uncle” as a term of respect and not just to refer to your mother or your father’s brother. Maybe you were confused about some dates. You can explain that you were under stress and clarify what you should have said. When it comes to objective evidence, you need to explain why you did not have the documents that they want. Perhaps they were lost on the journey. Perhaps it is not safe for you to ask people to send them. Perhaps you can now get hold of them. If you are going to submit documents, you should find a certified translator and an expert who can tell the court that these documents are likely to be genuine. If you have any medical problems, physical or mental, because of what has happened to you, you should get a “medical legal report” this sort of report goes further than a letter from a doctor. Specialists in giving medical evidence to the court will meet you, do a thorough interview with you and examination of your physical health and then write a report that challenges what the Home Office is saying.
When it comes to the Home Office thinking that you are not really afraid or that what you are afraid of is not bad enough to be persecution, your lawyer needs to help you write a really detailed witness statement. You need to give as much information about your life and what you think will happen to you as you can. You need to think about how you can give evidence for those claims. This might be in the form of documents like court summons, newspaper reports, Facebook messages and so on or it might be testimony from people who knew you back home. If those people are in the UK, they can come and give evidence in court for you. You also want to find a “country expert”. This will be a researcher who can help you show that you are at particular risk in the country of your origin because of who you are. They can also help you show that what you are saying about yourself is very likely to be true. For example, the Home Office might say that rank and file opposition party members are not at risk on return to Zimbabwe. An expert on the political situation in Zimbabwe can hope show that the Home Office are wrong about that or that you are more significant than a rank and file party member.
In the end, an appeal turns on how the judge views your evidence. Some judges are very sympathetic and other judges are very hostile. You need to show the judge that you are telling the truth. The best way to win your appeal is to be very well prepared. Both the judge and the Home Office might ask hostile or bizarre questions to you. Make sure that you understand the question and take your time to answer it in as much detail as possible. The best witnesses pretend that they are being asked all these questions because the Home Office and the judge are trying to understand what happened. Try to act like you are being helpful. The asylum tribunals are open to the public. It is a really good idea to bring lots of friends and supporters. This is another reason to join a mutual support group. Bringing lots of people to court makes you look real. It makes the judge pay attention and it intimidates the Home Office. It is another very good reason to join or form a mutual support group.
If you do lose your appeal, you do not have an automatic right to a further appeal. However, if you can show that the judge made an “error of law”, then you can have the case reheard. You need to ask for permission to appeal by showing which errors of law have been made. The tribunal is often make errors of law. You are going to need to find a lawyer to help you argue this one. It is worth trying to understand what has happened, but it is beyond the scope of this article to explain all the things that can go wrong. The important thing to remember is that, when asking for permission to appeal, you cannot bring in more evidence. You also cannot simply disagree with the judge’s conclusion. You need to show that she made an error in coming to the conclusion in the way that she did. You get at least two goes at this. You first apply to the senior judge of the First-Tier Tribunal. If they decide that there has been no error of law, you can then apply to the Upper Tribunal.
if the Upper Tribunal rejects your application to have your case reheard, you will become appeal rights exhausted. There are legal routes that you could try, but they are very difficult and you will need good legal advice. You are probably better off trying to make a fresh claim.
A fresh claim for asylum is a whole new claim for asylum. It needs to be significantly different from your first claim. The legal test here is that it must involve evidence that has not been previously considered and that such evidence, taken together with the previous evidence, could lead a decision-maker to come to a different decision. One way to do that is to find new grounds for asylum. For example, if you have changed religion or come out as gay person after your asylum claim was rejected, you might now be worried that you will have problems because of your religion or your sexuality if you go back to the country of your origin. You have a very different claim for asylum. Another way of making a fresh claim is to be politically active against your government in the UK. This is known as sur place activities. Even if that is a continuation of the struggle that led you to leave, it could well create a new and additional risk for you on return. Being very public about your problems and critical of your government is obviously a high risk strategy. It makes you a target if they do manage to send you back to your country of origin. On the other hand, that is exactly what you have to show to be granted asylum. The other thing you can do is find new evidence to support what you have been saying all along. This might be documents that you have now been able to get hold of or even a report from a medical expert or a country expert. You will need to explain why this was not presented the first time. One reason might be that you didn’t have a lawyer or that you had a bad lawyer. If you had a lawyer who gave you bad advice, it is worth complaining about them to the regulator. That complaint is evidence that they were a bad lawyer.
The process is to book an appointment to submit fresh evidence at the Home Office building in Liverpool. Your fresh evidence will be known as “further submissions”. You then go to Liverpool and submit your claim. You can do it by post, if you can show the Home Office that you are not well enough to get to Liverpool. The Home Office will then sit on the claim and make one of three decisions. The first decision is: is this a fresh claim? If they decide in your favour, then they will consider your fresh claim as a new claim for asylum. If they do treat your claim as a new claim, then normally they will reject it. If they reject you, you will normally have an appeal right. That is the same process as in your first claim. You will have a good chance of winning your appeal. Sometimes they will both accept that you have made a fresh claim and that you should be granted asylum. Congratulations you are now a refugee.
In general, the Home Office say that the evidence you have submitted does not amount to a fresh claim. This is the most likely outcome if the first judge found you to be an unbelievable witness. If you have been found to be an unbelievable witness, lawyers say that you have “credibility issues” or that there were “negative credibility findings”. In these cases, you need to think how to address the negative credibility findings in your fresh claim. You will have given bad evidence. Why was your evidence so bad? Is it because you are suffering from trauma? Did you understand the interpreter? Is your story bizarre but true? Once you have identified the problem, think about a solution. Can you get a medical expert to testify to your trauma and its effect on your ability to give evidence? Can you find academic evidence to show that the standard of interpretation in asylum appeals is very bad? Did the interpreter speak a dialect that is very different from yours? What extra evidence can you bring in support of your unusual story?
Particularly if you have negative credibility findings, the Home Office will probably say that your further submissions do not constitute a fresh claim. In this case you have three months to start what they call a judicial review. A judicial review is a process whereby, eventually, a judge reviews the decision that the Home Office has made to decide if it is a lawful decision. What you have to show is that the evidence you submitted does constitute a fresh claim. In other words, that the evidence you submitted meets the legal threshold, that its new and has a realistic prospect of success when read together with the previous evidence. There is legal aid available for a judicial review, as long as the review has a good chance of success. You should be able to find a lawyer to do the review. You have a much better chance with a lawyer. Be aware, if you are not covered by legal aid, you could be liable for the costs of the review. It can be very expensive. Getting a judicial review is a multistage process. The Right to Remain tool kit has a good guide on judicial reviews: https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/jr/
Remember, even if the Home Office reject your further submissions and your judicial review as unsuccessful, you can try to make another fresh claim. There is no limit to the number of further submissions that you can make. The only thing is that you need new evidence each time. By the time you have made a fresh claim and had it refused, you will probably have been in the UK for a very long time. You might have a partner or a child. You will certainly have established sometimes to the UK. You will also be able to include an application to stay on the grounds of your private and family life.