UK asylum white list: most applications from ‘safe’ countries not rejected outright, Home Office figures show

After it was reported that the Home Office is resurrecting a “white list” of safe countries to deport asylum seekers back to, we take a look at the government figures on applications from these countries.

<p>The Home Office has a list of designated countries from which asylum claims should be considered “clearly unfounded” - but their figures show most are not. (NationalWorld/Mark Hall)</p>

The Home Office has a list of designated countries from which asylum claims should be considered “clearly unfounded” - but their figures show most are not. (NationalWorld/Mark Hall)

Only 28% of asylum seekers from so-called ‘safe’ countries are automatically refused the right to stay in the UK, analysis of government data by NationalWorld reveals, while a large chunk of unsuccessful applicants go on to win on appeal.

It comes after The Times reported that the Home Office is considering putting asylum seekers from such countries on a fast-track to deportation with no right to appeal, with applications dealt with within 10 days. In doing so the Home Office would “resurrect” a“white-list” of safe countries that has fallen out of use in recent years due to legal challenges, the newspaper said.

The Home Office told NationalWorld the report was inaccurate. It said a list of safe countries has been continually in use by asylum decision makers, and that it does not recognise reports about a change in its approach to such cases.

But Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously spoken about cracking down on ‘bogus’ asylumclaims, or other claims such as those from modern slavery or trafficking victims, saying “people coming here illegally from safe countries are not welcome and should not expect to stay”.

Home Office guidance for decision makers does set out a list of “designated countries” which are deemed safe – a list which has existed, with some changes, since the passing of the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. The list – which includes Albania, India and Brazil, among others – is used to help determine which applications are “clearly unfounded”.

It is not a totally automatic process, as each case must be considered on its own merits. However, unlike with other asylum cases, thelaw says that for applications involving people from designated countries the Home Office “must certify the claim [as unfounded] unless satisfied that the claim is not clearly unfounded” – meaning presuming them to be unfounded is the default position.

If an asylum claim is deemed “clearly unfounded”, a “certified refusal” is issued. Analysis of Home Office figures show there were 851 initial decisions made about asylum seekers from designated countries in the first nine months of this year, only 237 of which (28%) resulted in a certified refusal. A further 39% were successful, meaning asylum or other right to remain was granted, while the rest were given other types of refusals, which may come with a right of appeal.

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NationalWorld’s analysis shows there has been a significant decline in both the number and proportion of applications from designated countries resulting in a certified refusal in recent years – despite the Home Office’s claim that the ‘safe’ list has not fallen out of use, and that it is not planning to resurrect it.

In 2016, 1,445 (56%) of applications got a certified refusal bwut this has declined every year since.

Applicants with a certified refusal used to have the right to appeal the decision from outside the UK, once they had been deported, but this right was removed by the Nationality and Borders Bill earlier this year, leaving them with little means to challenge decisions.

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Separate Home Office figures show 44% of applicants from designated countries who appealed after getting a non-certified refusal in the first nine months of this year were able to overturn the decision at a tribunal. This affected 140 applications, including 78 from Albanians. If they had received a certified refusal, the applicants would have been deported with no right to appeal

What nations are on the list of safe countries?

There are 25 countries on the designated list used to certify claims. They are:

  • Albania
  • Bolivia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • India
  • South Korea
  • Macedonia
  • Mauritius
  • Moldova
  • Mongolia
  • Peru
  • South Africa
  • Ukraine
  • Kosovo
  • Serbia
  • Montenegro
  • The Gambia (only designated for male applicants)
  • Ghana (male only)
  • Kenya (male only)
  • Liberia (male only)
  • Malawi (male only)
  • Mali (male only)
  • Nigeria (male only)
  • Sierra Leone (male only)

We have not included EU countries in our analysis as it is not on the designated list, although asylum claims from these nationals are also considered to be “clearly unfounded”. Decision makers must consider certifying a claim as clearly unfounded whenever they refuse an asylum application, regardless of whether the person’s country of origin is on the list – although in the case of countries not on the list, it is not the default position.

Who can claim asylum?

To gain refugee status in the UK, asylum seekers must be able to show that it is not safe for them to live in their own country because they fear persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or anything else that puts them at risk because of the social, political, cultural or religious context of their country, such as their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities in their own country must also be unable to protect them.

This means countries that are seen as safe overall may not be safe for individual asylum seekers.

‘Yet more unworkable posturing’

Commenting on the claims in the Times, Enver Solomon, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council, said any suggestion that the Home Office was looking to take a more hardline approach to asylum applicants from designated safe countries would amount to “yet more unworkable posturing that won’t stop people taking dangerous journeys to reach the UK”.

“Governments have been trying proposals like this for decades and they have been found to be unlawful,” he continued. “What this government should be doing, as recently recognised by development minister Andrew Mitchell, is rapidly reducing the backlog of asylum claims and creating safe routes for desperate people seeking safety in the UK.

“Our country has a long-standing reputation for embracing and supporting those escaping persecution and it’s time this government recognised that instead of rehashing the failed policies of the past.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Asylum claims from countries deemed safe are considered in the same way as any other.

“But they are presumed to be clearly unfounded unless proved otherwise by the applicant with evidence put forward via interview or other means.

“As a result of the Nationality and Borders Act, the effect of certifying a claim as clearly unfounded from 28 June 2022 is that there is no right of appeal, for claims before this there is only an out of country right of appeal.”