The Asylum Process in N. Ireland and its Challenges

Someone seeking protection in N Ireland should go to Bryson Intercultural / Migrant Help, Linfield Industrial Estate, Block G, Unit 12 Weavers Court Business Park, Belfast BT12 5GH where an adviser will notify the Home Office at Drumkeen House, South Belfast. (Out of hours, people should be signposted to a police station.) There is online Home Office guidance on applicants’ rights and responsibilities and a leaflet in 15 languages.

(Unaccompanied children, under 18, are the responsibility of Social Services.)

Emergency accommodation is arranged, if necessary. (Some people are self supporting, relying on savings, or family and friends, and do not require this assistance.)

Asylum applicants attend a Home Office Screening Interview, to establish their identity and nationality, and check if another country should be considering their case. A Case Worker / Case Owner is appointed. If it is thought that the case could not be argued successfully, the person may be removed from the country. For the others, an Applications Registration Card (ARC Card) is issued and people usually have to report regularly to the Home Office.

If the asylum applicant has no money, he/she will receive weekly Section 95 asylum support at a flat rate of £37.75 per week for both adults and children on an ASPEN card (as at Feb. 2020). Follow-on accommodation is provided, in the private rental sector. Applicants are also entitled to legal advice and help with interpretation.

The applicant supplies a Statement of Evidence in English and there is a Substantive Interview with the Case Owner, who makes an initial decision. (About a third of applicants are granted protection at this stage.) An appeal may be possible.

Successful applicants are given five years temporary leave to remain. Some are not recognised as refugees but if it is decided that they need protection for another reason they may be granted Humanitarian Protection (5 years leave to remain) or Discretionary Leave to Remain (1–3 years). They are entitled to apply for jobs and have access to benefits at this stage.

At any stage in the process a person who has not been granted leave to remain can ask to return home voluntarily.

Some people whose asylum applications have been refused are detained and removed from the country, but others may not be if, for example, the Home Office reckons that it is too dangerous for them to return home, if they are ill, or if their own country does not give them permission to enter. If these people agree to co-operate with the Home Office they may get hardship Section 4 support of emergency accommodation and a payment card entitling them to purchase of food and other essentials to the value of £35.39. Many people are not allocated this support and live here as destitute people, in a form of legal limbo, relying on the charity of other refugees or local people.

The Challenges

The application process is stressful and some of the legal advice is poor. People recall traumatic events and fear of detention and return to the home country. Language difficulties contribute to isolation for people who have lost all contact with friends and family. Enforced idleness makes hours of anxiety seem longer, and people can feel shame at living off the state, because most are not allowed to work during the application process. Many will experience harassment, racism and rejection. Cash support is quite basic so people can struggle to feed themselves. For some people it is even worse. At the beginning and end of the process there may be no support at all and people become destitute and have to rely on charity. Pre-existing illness and injuries may be made worse by poverty and cold.  Those who are tempted to work illegally in the underground economy are likely to be exploited.

There is more detailed information on some of these issues at Support Organisations and Resources.