OFFICIAL figures are masking the true scale of Scotland’s asylum problem, with growing numbers of destitute people barely surviving on charity handouts, a charity has warned.
Scotland on Sunday has obtained contrasting figures from the Home Office and a charity working on the front line. Glasgow-based Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) says people are becoming desperate, impoverished and, in many cases, suicidal.
PAIH says 260 asylum-seekers and their dependants have come to them seeking support in 2012-13, and they expect this year’s figure, which currently stands at about 160, to be higher still. The majority are launching judicial reviews after having their application rejected.
They have no right to remain in the UK and no right to support, work or accommodation, but many are unable to go home.
Lawyers representing asylum-seekers from countries such as Iraq and Zimbabwe say the Home Office has been reluctant to remove people after their application has been rejected, effectively ensuring that they remain as a hidden population because they cannot afford their own tickets.
The Home Office’s own figures show that the number of asylum-seekers being directed to Scotland, or coming of their own accord, is growing year-on-year. This is partly because legal aid is presently easier to obtain north of the Border, lawyers say.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information laws show there were 1,690 applications made in 2012-13, almost 50 per cent more than in 2009-10.
However, those figures also show an increasingly efficient service, with just 15 out of 910 asylum claims processed in 2012-13 having taken more than a year, compared with almost half in 2008-9, when 190 claims took more than three years.
But PAIH fears the UK government is rushing applications through, that people are being refused the right to remain when they should be allowed to stay, and that the window for appeals is too narrow.
PAIH director Robina Qureshi said: “The concern we have always stressed about cases being turned around so quickly is that the quality of the decision-making is affected.
“This does not give me any confidence that they have been dealt with in a humane manner.”
After an initial decision, people have ten days to appeal. That appeal is heard by an independent judge in a first-tier tribunal of the immigration and asylum chamber, with an option to appeal again to the upper tier, though getting leave for a second appeal can be difficult.
If they are rejected but believe they cannot go home, they then have the options of a fresh appeal on new grounds or a judicial review. But PAIH says during this time they receive no financial support from the UK government.
“The vast majority of the people we support have another legitimate judicial review or are waiting on the outcome of a judicial review,” Qureshi said.
For some of those people, PAIH is their only means of support.
Qureshi said: “We are trying to feed 30 to 40 families and they are desperate.
“It can be very difficult. We have incidents of aggression, verbal aggression, people trying to kill themselves in our offices, bleeding after they have cut their wrists. We only have £500 a week to give out.”
The majority of asylum-seekers in Scotland are from Iraq and Iran, followed by Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Afghanistan, according to PAIH figures.
Lawyers specialising in the area are under no doubt that the number of cases is on the increase.
Nicola Weir, a solicitor at Latta and Co in Glasgow, said: “There’s an increase in cases in Scotland at the moment. That’s to do with the legal aid situation in England, where it’s really difficult to get funding.
“So, tactically, a lot of people choose to relocate to Scotland to have their claims considered.
“We are still able to get funding here, although we do have concerns about the way it is going.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it, and we consider every application on a case-by-case basis.
“However, we firmly believe that those who do not need our protection should return home at the earliest opportunity.”