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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