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8 Claiming Asylum

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1. Introduction

2. Who qualifies for asylum?

3. How do I apply for asylum?

4. What happens when I apply?

You go through several stages, and several things will happen to you while your application is being dealt with. Not all applicants go through the same procedure.

If you try to use a passport that is not yours, you can be prosecuted and can be sent to prison. If you have a passport that is not yours, you must get legal advice to help you.

You may be entitled to free legal advice for help with your asylum application. However, this won't normally allow for a legal representative (a lawyer or solicitor) to come to your interviews. This will happen only if:

  • you are under 18;
  • you suffer from a serious mental illness;
  • you are detained (held) as part of the 'fast-track' process (see 'Fast-track cases' below);
  • the authorities believe you may have committed a crime; or
  • the authorities believe you may be a threat to national security.

The first interview
The first stage involves an interview, called a screening interview. This is to get a record of your personal details and how you arrived in the UK. It is partly to check whether you can be returned quickly to a 'safe third country' (see 'Where you came from' below), instead of the UK dealing with your application. It is also to check whether you have the passport or document on which you travelled to the UK.

This screening interview will usually happen as soon as you apply for asylum, but it may happen later if the authorities need to find an interpreter for you or if you are unwell.

If there are people you can contact in the UK, you should insist that you are allowed to call them before the interview. You have the right to contact a relative, a friend, an advice service, or a lawyer. You should also make sure you understand any interpreter well.

At a screening interview, you should not be asked detailed questions about why you are making your claim.

You should make sure you are given a copy of the interview record.

At this interview you may be told you are going to be detained while your case is considered, and sent to a detention centre (see 'Fast-track cases' below).

Identity documents
Immigration officers will take your fingerprints, and will check these to see if you have applied before to this country or to other countries in Europe. They may decide not to take fingerprints of children (particularly children under 12). They will take photographs of everyone applying for asylum, including children. They will then give you an identity card with your photo on it. This card, the Asylum Registration Card (ARC), is important, because it will usually be your only proof of identity and of your right to be in the UK. The immigration authorities will hold on to any other documents you have brought with you.

You should check that the details on the ARC are correct. However, the ARC will also contain information that can be seen only with special equipment.

After your screening interview
After the screening interview you will be told to report to an immigration office, usually about two days later. There you will meet the official who will deal with your case, and arrange for you to receive financial help if you need it (see 'What can I live on while I´m waiting?'), and help you find a place to stay (see 'Where you will be housed').

The official, called the case owner, will also tell you where you must go to report while your case is being dealt with, and how often you should attend. It is important that you keep to these conditions, because you can be arrested and detained if you do not.

Your asylum interview
You will be told when you should come back for your full interview. At this interview you will be asked detailed questions about why you are claiming asylum. This is your opportunity to give all the reasons why you believe you should be allowed to stay in the UK, and why you feel you would not be safe if sent back to your own country.

It is very important that you are able to explain everything the Home Office needs to consider. If you have any papers or other evidence that supports what you are saying, you should give it to the case owner when you are interviewed.

If you add or change anything later without giving a good reason, the Home Office may not believe what you say, and may refuse your asylum claim. So you should make sure you understand the questions and receive a copy of the interview notes. If a solicitor cannot come to your interview (see 'What happens when I apply?' above) you can ask for the interview to be tape recorded. Make sure you receive a copy of the tape at the end of the interview.

It is often difficult to know everything that may help your case. You should always try to get expert advice as soon as possible (see 'Where can I get help with my claim?').

Children on their own will be interviewed only if they are over 12 years old, and then only if they have someone to legally represent them. If they do not have someone to represent them, the Home Office will put them in touch with someone who can do so.

Where you came from
As an asylum seeker, you can't be sent back to any country where you may face a risk of being persecuted. Your application must be considered. You can be returned to your home country only if your application is refused. However, if you passed through another country, even for a very short time, the Home Office may try to return you there if it is a 'safe third country'. If it does this, it will not look at your asylum application - you will be expected toapply for asylum in that country.

If the 'third country' is on the Home Office's lists of safe countries, your asylum claim may be refused, and you may not be able to appeal before you are sent back there. The lists include most countries in Europe, and Canada and the USA. If the Home Office decides to return you to a safe country, you can appeal in the UK only for the reason that making you leave would breach your human rights in this country. But this will be difficult to prove and you will need expert legal advice very quickly if you want to challenge a decision of thissort.

Detention
Unless you already have permission to stay in the UK when you apply, you can be detained (held) at an immigration detention centre. You are most likely to be detained if:

  • there's a chance you could be returned quickly to a safe third country;
  • you have travelled here on false documents and did not admit this when you first arrived;
  • you arrive after destroying your passport;
  • you are caught using false documents later on; or
  • the Home Office thinks your claim can be decided quickly (see 'Clearly unfounded cases' below).

If you are detained, you have the right to:

  • ask to be released on 'temporary admission' (see 'What happens while I´m waiting?'); or
  • apply for release on bail after you have been in the UK for seven days. 'Bail' means you agree to pay (or have someone else pay) the court a sum of money if you do not report back when you are told to.

If you are detained, immigration officers must tell you why, in writing. They must also give you regular notices to explain why they think you should stay in detention.

Instead of being detained, you may be released on certain conditions, such as having to wear an electronic tag (see 'What happens while I´m waiting?').

Clearly unfounded cases
If the Home Office thinks your application is 'clearly unfounded', you are likely to be detained when you apply. In many cases, this will be because the Home Office believes that the country you come from is safe, so you wouldn't normally need asylum. It may also be because the Home Office does not believe that you really face a risk of beingpersecuted, even if you say you do.

If the authorities think your application is clearly unfounded, they will probably send you to an immigration detention centre as soon as you apply. Your case will be decided very quickly while you are detained. Some centres have legal advisers available to help you with your case. You can choose to get free legal help from a different adviser if:

  • the first legal adviser you meet refers your case to them; or
  • you have your own adviser, who has been helping you or your close family for some time.

Fast-track cases
There are two different arrangements for dealing with cases of people who are detained. Both are called 'fast-track' schemes because the process is completed very quickly.

In the faster of these, sometimes called the 'super fast-track', you are detained for a week while your case is decided. If your application is refused, you stay in detention for another week while your appeal is heard. Some centres have legal advisers available to help you with your case.

Because these cases are dealt with so quickly, it can be difficult to get hold of information or evidence to show you are a refugee. You must be sure to tell your legal adviser, as soon as possible, everything you think may help your case.

If your case is dealt with under the other fast-track scheme and the Home Office refuses your application, you may not be allowed to stay in the UK for your appeal. You can be sent back to your own country, and your appeal will carry on after you have left. This is called a 'non-suspensive appeal'.

The Home Office publishes a list of countries whose citizens are likely to be refused permission to stay here while they appeal. However, you may also be refused permission if you are from a country not on the list and the Home Office feels that your case is unfounded.

Your case should not be treated under these fast-track arrangements if the Home Office feels it is a complicated or serious one that cannot be decided quickly. You should not be detained if you:

  • are ill and need care;
  • have evidence that you have been tortured; or
  • are under 18.

5. What can I live on while I am waiting?

6. What happens while I am waiting?

7. Where can I get help with my claim?

8. What will be the outcome of my claim?

9. What if my claim is refused?

10. What happens if my appeals fail?

11. Further help

12. About this leaflet


The leaflets in this series give you an outline of your legal rights. They are not a complete guide to the law and are not intended to be a guide to how the law will apply to you or any specific situation. The leaflets are regularly updated but the law and the way the government deals with asylum seekers often change, so information may be incorrect or out of date. If you have a problem, you will need to get more information or personal advice to work out the best way to solve it. See 'Further help' for sources of information and advice.

This leaflet was written in association with the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and Mick Chatwin, a barrister and solicitor specialising in immigration law.

Leaflet version: February 2008

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