This is a true story of an asylum seeker in the United Kingdom in 2018.
Simran* was orphaned as a young child and came under the control of the very people who had murdered his parents. These people then sold him to another man and he was taken to a city on the other side of the country. He grew up on the streets of this city, begging for money with other children who had been trafficked. When he was old enough he started to work in hotels and in construction.
To the UK
After Simran turned 18 he was taken to the UK by his trafficker, where he continued to work on construction sites for several years. The work was unpaid and he was totally dependent on whatever handouts his controllers might give to him.
When the house he stayed at was raided by the police, instead of being treated as someone who might need protection, he was considered to be an ‘illegal immigrant’ who needed to be removed from the UK. He was brought to an immigration removal centre where he attempted to give the account of his past, and how he had arrived in the UK, it was the account his trafficker had insisted he used if he was ever arrested. His case was considered and summarily dismissed under the Detained Fast Track System (‘DFT’). This was a system under which some asylum seekers would have their claims considered in an accelerated process while they languished in detention; it was later declared unlawful.
Disbelief and detention
Simran then obtained legal advice and was encouraged to give a true account of his life. However, with worrying speed, the Home Office national referral mechanism for victims of trafficking (‘NRM’) refused to consider his claim to have been a victim of trafficking. According to the Home Office, he was not to be trusted because a judge had previously found him to be not ‘credible’. It was submitted that Simran should have disclosed his experiences when he was on the DFT.
Simran remained in detention for month after month. After years of persecution, he started to suffer from severe mental health issues that verged on psychosis as he faced the prospect of being returned to the country where he had been trafficked and exploited, and where these practices remain rife. He came to the attention of the NGO Medical Justice who desperately tried to find the appropriate evidence and representation to bring his claim.
Simran was badly assaulted in immigration detention by an officer after having a seizure, leading to a protest by detainees, who begged the UK to hear their voices.
Simran’s proposed removal was stopped but he was held in detention for a further three months, eventually being released just before Christmas 2014. He had been in detention for almost seven months. The Home Office acknowledged that they had made mistakes and offered him another appeal to challenge the refusal of his asylum and trafficking claim.
The life of an asylum seeker
Simran then found himself in dealing with the reality of living as an asylum seeker in the United Kingdom. He lived on the outskirts of society in decrepit and completely unsuitable Home Office accommodation, forbidden from working, trying to survive on the paltry funds given to him by the Home Office. Arguably, however, Simran was one of the ‘lucky ones’ as he was well-supported by the mental health team in his area and he received help and support from his neighbours.
Reviewing his claim, having apparently acknowledged the deficiencies in the previous NRM and appeal proceedings, the Home Office proceeded to come to exactly the same conclusions. He could not be trusted, they insisted, because he had failed to disclose his trafficking claim at the earliest possible point.
Simran then entered the nightmarish asylum appeal system. Despite the Home Office having accepted that the DFT contained structural and systemic weaknesses to the point where it was unlawful, they maintained that in this case the findings of the judge should stand. The judge agreed and his case was refused, overruling the various medical and trafficking experts who had assessed Simran.
Simran appealed and the Home Office acknowledged that, actually, the judge had got it wrong.
So Simran went back to the beginning of the appeal process.
For the third time.
In the meantime, Simran had met a partner with whom he had two small children. He applied on multiple occasions to live with his partner and children to provide support, but this was refused each time. It was accepted that he was the real father of these children but it was not accepted that they had a ‘genuine’ relationship with him. He could not prove that he had a ‘genuine relationship’ as he did not live with his partner and children. But the Home Office would not permit Simran to live with his family in shared accommodation because he was not accepted to be in a genuine relationship…
He went back to the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) in February 2018. The prospect of having to give his account again combined with the tone of the judge led him to have a panic attack in the court room. It had to be rearranged again.
The final FTT hearing was on 16 August 2018:
-1555 days after he was arrested in a raid at the trafficking house
-1513 days after his appeal was first heard and dismissed under the DFT
-1463 days after he first raised the fact that he was a victim of trafficking
-1371 days after he was due to be removed back to his home country
-1356 days after he was assaulted in detention
-1080 days after his case was refused again by the Home Office
-703 days after his case was dismissed again by the FTT
-191 days after he suffered a panic attack in the FTT
The Home Office representative spoke for barely 90 seconds about his case. She had nothing more to say.
His appeal was allowed and he has been granted five years humanitarian protection leave to remain in the UK.
In a final insult Simran cannot call himself a refugee, despite being found to be credible in his account and at real risk of abuse if returned to his home country, because of the truly lamentable [under appeal] judgment of SSHD v MS [Pakistan]  EWCA Civ 594. This judgment inexplicably states that an NRM decision should be challenged by judicial review, on the irrationality standard, which is generally far harder to reach than the asylum standard of proof (‘on the balance of probabilities’).
Simran’s story strongly rebuts the fallacy that the UK is a ‘soft touch’ for refugees. The hostile environment is not a slogan, it is the reality for thousands of people.
The story also strongly rebuts the fallacy that the UK should be proud of its record of offering protection to those in desperate need.
However, there is some hope in the fact that even after so many setbacks, the existence of the protective measures in our system such as our appellate process, the existence of legal aid, and non-governmental organisations who work tirelessly in detention centres mean that Simran can now build a life without fear.
* This is not his real name, we have changed his named to protect his identity.
Picture via Flickr Commons - Alosh Bennett