Revealed: the treatment of asylum seekers in their own words

Unfair treatment

Asylum seekers have alleged that they were rudely treated and
subjected to unfair interview practices by staff at the
government’s main asylum processing centre at an inquiry in
south London, writes Amy Taylor from the


The claims were made at a “citizen’s inquiry”
being held by community organisation South London Citizens into the
Immigration Nationality Directorate’s centre at Lunar House
in Croydon.

“We have had clients who have been coerced into signing
[asylum] interview notes without being given time to read through
them,” Louise Zanre, a worker at the Jesuit Refugee Service,
an organisation helping asylum seekers and refugees, told the
inquiry. “We have also had clients that have had interviews
that took four or five or six hours without any comfort

Zanre added that the organisation often had clients who
didn’t receive letters sent by Lunar House calling them for
their asylum interview or travel warrants, which give them free
travel to such interviews, because they were sent to the wrong
address. She added that this was despite the fact that the Home
Office must have the correct address because the asylum seeker was
in receipt of accommodation from them. As a result, interviews were
missed and this led to the automatic refusal of asylum claims, she


Zanre added that that waiting times at Lunar House were
“unacceptable” and that she knew of people who had gone
for an interview and had been turned away because the interpreter
hadn’t turned up or they spoke a different language.

“Sometimes they [the interpreters] speak less English than
my clients and sometimes they do not translate information
correctly,” she added.

A shortage of interpreters at the centre was also alleged by an
anonymous witness giving evidence. He told the story of his father,
a 72-year-old asylum seeker in ill health from the Republic of
Congo, who he said was sent home from Lunar House on three
occasions due to no interpreters being available. His father passed
away in July.


The way asylum interviews were conducted at the centre also came
under heavy criticism.

Mr G, an asylum seeker who also wished to remain anonymous, told
the inquiry from behind a screen that while he was waiting to be
interviewed at the centre in October 2004 he met somebody from his
own country and they began chatting. Once in his interview he said
the interviewer demanded to know what they were talking about
despite this being completely irrelevant to his asylum claim. Mr G
said that he had refused to divulge what his conversation had been

“He [the staff member conducting the interview] was
intimidating me. He did not write down what I was telling
him…He was writing things down that I had never said,”
he claimed.

After becoming concerned Mr G said that he asked for an
interpreter as he felt he needed a witness to what he was saying
but he was refused on the grounds that his English was too

“At the end of the interview he wanted me to sign the
document and I said okay I will do that but can I quickly have a
look and he said no just sign it. I said no I

Mr G said that he then asked if he could have a copy of the
interview notes to show to his solicitor but he was refused. He
added that the Home Office sent him a letter stating they would
look at the issue after his solicitor complained but that all that
he had received since was a letter refusing his asylum claim.
“We are now appealing but that appeal is based on an
interview, notes of which we do not even have,” he added.

Vulnerable applicants


The inquiry went on to hear testimonies alleging that the
experience of being interviewed was even more distressing for
highly vulnerable applicants. A spokesperson from the Black
Women’s Rape Action Project described the cross questioning
involved as “brutal” and said that women had to recount
being tortured and raped to male staff through translators, who
were often from their own country.

Mercy, a 17-year-old, who had been raped and trafficked through
different countries arriving in the UK last September, said she had
been interviewed four times and that each time she had felt highly

“They [the staff at Lunar House interviewing her] were
really rude. I was really upset. They gave me an interpreter. They
were asking me where is your passport now? Did you tear it? I said
I didn’t know, then they started asking me do you know where
this man is living now? [the man who trafficked her]. I was born in
87 and they kept saying you were born in 83. They were


She added that she could hear what other people were saying in
their interviews and that they could hear what she was saying.
“I was being interviewed in a public place [within the
centre] where I was crying and everybody was looking.”

Mercy told the inquiry that she had spent all day at the centre
on each of the four occasions and that she was asked the same
questions each time. She added that when she told staff that she
was a rape victim she had not been offered any kind of specialist
counselling. She is still waiting for decision on her asylum

The inquiry also heard testimonies from two staff members at the
centre alleging problems with the centre’s file tracking
system and unanswered correspondence.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the government would
consider any suggestions the inquiry had on how to enhance its
services. “ IND is committed to providing a high level of
customer service, and we are always seeking to improve on
this,” he added.

The government has been invited to give evidence to the inquiry
at a second hearing in June by which time more asylum seekers and
staff are expected to have come forward with their stories.

Interested parties can submit evidence at


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