Friday, April 15, 2011

'I shake my head in despair': Top British judge's frustration at the asylum 'merry go round'

A senior judge yesterday described Britain’s immigration appeals system as a lengthy and expensive ‘merry go round’. Lord Justice Pitchford said he despaired at the ‘extraordinary process’ which takes up hours of court time and costs taxpayers a fortune.

His comments came after he ruled on the case of a Zimbabwean asylum seeker still in the country after nearly a decade.

The 28-year-old woman, referred to only as RM for legal reasons, arrived on a five-week visitor visa in 2001 before obtaining a student visa and then claiming asylum. Her asylum case was rejected five years ago but has now been through the Home Office three times and three lengthy appeal hearings and is still not resolved.

Yesterday the judge sent it back for the whole process to start again. The bill to the taxpayer for court costs and legal aid already exceeds £100,000, it is believed.

Ruling on the case at the Court of Appeal he said: ‘I shake my head in despair if not in disbelief at this extraordinary process which occupies so much court time’.

But it was ‘regrettably’ necessary to send the case back yet again to the asylum and immigration tribunal, he said. ‘This means another hearing, and more expenditure of public money on legal costs on both sides, probably with more appeals to follow.’

He said the woman’s future in this country ‘is once more up in the air and still the merry-go-round goes round, and round, and round again’. RM was 18 when she arrived in July 2001. Her visitor visa lasted until September, but rather than return home she asked to stay as a student and was given a visa until October 2002. She then asked to stay indefinitely, claiming she was a dependant of her aunt. But this was refused.

She appealed against that decision but then withdrew the application, and in July 2005 claimed asylum. This was refused by the Home Office in December 2006.

On being told the following month she would be deported RM launched an appeal, claiming she faced persecution in Zimbabwe as her aunt had campaigned for the MDC opposition party. But the judge said her aunt had stopped all involvement with the MDC, and both she and family members had often visited Zimbabwe.

At the next appeal hearing, however, the decision was overturned. The Home Office appealed again, and yesterday the Court of Appeal ruled against RM. Lord Justice Pitchford, sitting with Lords Justice Ward and Leveson, said the immigration judge who allowed her asylum claim was ‘not entitled to assume’ she would be subjected to persecution in Zimbabwe.


Italy's North African problem

IT WAS what Italians call a sfogo: a release of pent-up emotion that contains a dose of hyperbole. But it still came as a shock when, on April 11th, Roberto Maroni, Italy’s interior minister, mused aloud about leaving the European Union, after attempts to persuade his counterparts to share Italy’s illegal immigration burden fell flat.

Mr Maroni’s Northern League, and the conservative government of which it is part, are in a fix because of north Africa’s unrest. The League is committed to blocking illegal immigration. For a while it claimed to have done so. Last year the number of migrants arriving by sea was negligible because of deals with Libya and Tunisia to clamp down on trafficking in the Mediterranean. The boast was specious—most illegal immigrants enter Italy by less visible means—but politically effective.

Now Italy’s migration policy is in ruins. Since the start of the Arab spring more than 25,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea, many on the tiny island of Lampedusa. Most are Tunisians fleeing the economic problems that helped trigger the upheaval. The interim government in Tunis, which is facing a massive refugee problem of its own on the Libyan border, has been reluctant to give priority to helping Italy.

But on April 5th it agreed to take two flights a day of repatriated migrants. In return Italy offered the Tunisians coastal-patrol equipment and €150m ($220m) in unspecified support. Italy hopes the sight of returning migrants will deter others from trying. The risks were brought home last week when a boat carrying over 200 passengers capsized; only 48 survived.

From the EU Mr Maroni sought another deal to allow him to dispatch migrants, but in the opposite direction. He—and his colleague from Malta, which has also been hit by an influx of north Africans—wanted the EU to apply an emergency rule to relocate the refugees across all member states.

This was blocked. But Italy had already issued national residence permits to the migrants, perhaps hoping they would exploit the passport-free Schengen area to slip across to countries like France, where many Tunisians have family. The French, however, pointed out that the Schengen rules grant freedom of movement only to those with proper passports and the means to support themselves. Others can be returned to the EU country in which they arrived. The French have already sent almost 2,000 north Africans back to Italy.

France and Germany argue that, since Italy receives proportionately few requests for asylum (just over 10,000 last year, compared with France’s 52,000 and Germany’s 49,000), it should cope with the relatively modest influx from north Africa. Privately, ministers in Rome accept that the present levels are manageable. But they worry that the Libyan conflict could unleash a bigger exodus, and want the EU to work on a comprehensive approach.

No Libyan government is likely to care about Italy’s fears. The rebels remember the pally relationship between Muammar Qaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister (who this week said he would probably stand down when his mandate expires in 2013 and named a possible successor, Angelino Alfano, the justice minister). The colonel will feel betrayed by his former ally’s decision to join NATO’s offensive—and on April 12th Mr Berlusconi said he had to be talked out of resigning after changing sides.

With Italy’s Maghreb policy in disarray, the Northern League appears bent on making things worse. Its leader, Umberto Bossi, has backed a boycott of French goods. And a League junior minister has talked of opening fire on vessels carrying migrants—though “not for the moment”.


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