People seeking asylum are expected to submit their application at the ‘first available possibility’, which is usually deemed to be on arrival at a port or airport. This is not always possible in N Ireland because Immigration Officers are not always stationed at the ports, so it can be difficult to have an application recorded. A late claim may affect the credibility of the application and eligibility to receive financial support.
Since 2014 someone seeking protection in N Ireland should go to Bryson Intercultural / Migrant Help, 28 Bedford Street, Belfast, BT2 7FE, where an adviser will notify the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration at Drumkeen House, South Belfast. There is online Home Office guidance on applicants’ rights and responsibilities and a leaflet in 15 languages.
Unaccompanied children (under 18) are brought to the Social Services Gateway Team who look after them during the asylum process.
Emergency accommodation is arranged for adult applicants, if necessary, through the Orchard & Shipman property company. (Some people are self supporting, relying on savings, or their family and friends, and do not require assistance with accommodation.)
Asylum applicants attend a Home Office Screening Interview at Drumkeen House, to establish their identity and nationality, and check if another country should be considering their case.
Under a process known as Fast Track, people from countries thought to be ‘safe’, may be detained immediately and transferred to GB while their cases are considered. This is referred to as Detained Fast Track. A Case Worker / Case Owner is appointed. If it is thought that the case could not be argued successfully, the person may be removed swiftly from the country. People from countries that are presumed to be safe have no right of appeal in this country and have to appeal when they arrive home. These are known as Non-Suspensive Appeals (NSA).
For other applicants, an Applications Registration Card (ARC Card) is issued and people usually have to report regularly with the Home Office.
If the asylum applicant has no money, he/she will receive weekly Section 95 financial support at a flat rate of £36.95 per week for both adults and children (as at July 2016). There are small extra allowances for pregnant women and children under three. Follow-on accommodation is also provided, through the (NI Housing Executive) NIHE, 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.
Those whose applications are successful 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 leave to remain). 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 they agree to co-operate with the authorities they may get hardship Section 4 support of emergency accommodation and an Azure Card entitling them to purchase of food and other essentials to the value of £35.39 per week in a range of shops (as at April 2016). Many people do not receive this support and live here as destitute people, in a form of legal limbo, relying on the charity of other refugees or local people.
Read about the challenges experienced by asylum applicants.