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British efforts to improve handling of asylum claims win praise from UN agency

British efforts to improve handling of asylum claims win praise from UN agency

The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed the efforts of the United Kingdom – one of the world’s largest receivers of asylum claims – to streamline its screening system so that there is much closer and consistent contact between the asylum-seeker and the official handling the claim.

Bemma Donkoh, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the UK, told the launch of the country’s New Asylum Model system in London last week that it was at the forefront of efforts to protect victims of persecution and war.

Under the new system, a single Government caseworker processes a claim from the start to the conclusion, whether that means the acceptance of a refugee or the removal of an unsuccessful applicant. Asylum claims will be handled along regional lines, and the claimant will be allowed to have more regular and closer contact with their caseworker.

The UK hopes this new model – which includes greater training for caseworkers – will lead to better and faster decisions on asylum claims, UNHCR said in a press statement released yesterday.

Ms. Donkoh told caseworkers attending the launch that she saw their role “as not primarily about the enforcement of borders, nor about targets or the removal of illegal immigrants or keeping ‘recognition’ rates down.

“Your role is about ensuring that those who are in the UK and who are in need of international protection receive it.”

Ms. Donkoh stressed that although there will be some asylum-seekers who do not warrant protection, “there will always be many who do.”

The latest UNHCR report on refugee numbers, released last September, showed that about 13,900 people applied for asylum in the UK in the first six months of last year, a total behind only the United States and France. The top five applicant nationalities for people trying to enter the UK were Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iran, China and Somalia.

Overall, the number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries has fallen sharply in recent years, and the UK is no exception. Last year’s British figures were the lowest since 1993.