New watchdog to monitor troubled immigration and asylum service
Move is attempt to restore public confidence
Body will not have power to look at individual cases
Alan Travis, Paul Lewis, Tania Branigan
Tuesday December 19, 2006
An independent inspectorate for immigration, similar to the chief inspector of prisons, is to be set up in an attempt to restore public confidence in the beleaguered immigration and asylum system.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, made the announcement after the Guardian's disclosure yesterday that a Ugandan ruling party official is under investigation accused of blocking applications from political opponents wanting asylum in Britain.
Mr Byrne said that the new immigration inspectorate would be responsible for monitoring the overall effectiveness of the Home Office's immigration and nationality directorate (IND), the quality of its decisions, the use of its enforcement powers and its treatment of individuals.
But the Home Office said the new body would not have the power to intervene in individual cases and would have to work to a set of standards laid down by ministers. A consultation paper issued yesterday argues that dealing with individual complaints would run the risk of overloading the new body with casework.
Senior immigration officials have admitted to MPs that about 80 immigration staff have been sacked or left their Home Office jobs as a result of corruption allegations.
In her first annual report, Ann Barker, chairman of the complaints audit committee, criticised the inefficient methods for investigating serious complaints against officials responsible for asylum and immigration matters.
“The waste of public resources is enormous,” she said. “The committee found that the handling of serious complaints about misconduct in detention centres is grossly inadequate.”
Mr Byrne said yesterday the new inspectorate would help to provide more confidence in the system. “The role should focus on those things that will demonstrate most clearly that the operation of the immigration system is functioning effectively and efficiently,” he said.
“In short, providing the confidence that our borders are secure, that those who have no right to be here are removed, and that applications from those seeking to enter or remain here are processed swiftly and accurately.”
There are more than nine separate official watchdogs monitoring the workings of the immigration service. Ministers propose to merge some of them into the new inspectorate, but they plan to retain the separate role of the chief inspector of prisons in looking at the treatment of immigration detainees in removal and holding centres. The prisons ombudsman will also continue to investigate deaths in immigration custody.
However, under a change of policy announced last week, complaints relating to serious injury and human rights abuses arising out of IND enforcement and removal operations will, from April next year, be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The investigation into John Guma-Komwiswa is the latest in a series looking at the conduct of officials dealing with asylum applications. He has denied any wrongdoing, but the Home Office has launched an internal inquiry with the cooperation of police.
They are looking at whether Mr Guma-Komwiswa used his position as a senior caseworker to frustrate or reject applications for asylum from members of opposition parties in Uganda. He has recently resigned from his post as secretary general of the UK arm of Uganda's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement.
Anna Reisenberger, acting chief executive of the Refugee Council, welcomed the Home Office investigation.The Conservatives last night called for the Home Office to introduce a notification process for staff who belong to potentially contentious organisations.
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said that staff should not necessarily be banned from membership of groups on the list. But they should notify their superiors of their affiliation, to flag up potential conflicts of interest.
“There is clearly a problem that the Home Office and particularly the IND doesn't have any proper systems for even asking people to notify them of what organisations they belong to. It's no wonder you get repeated scandals with people who clearly shouldn't be in sensitive positions.
“In some cases, membership would not affect your ability to do a particular job,” he said. “But as a first step, let's know which organisations people belong to. As it stands, the Home Office doesn't even know who is working there who is a member of an extremist Islamist organisation, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir for example. That's genuinely very worrying.”
A Home Office spokesperson said that membership of an organisation would only become a disciplinary offence if, through an individual's actions as a member of the organisation, their conduct was found to be inappropriate and conflicted with Home Office or civil service rules.
Immigration, asylum and refugees
Immigration, asylum and refugees: archived articles
Home Office: Immigration and Nationality Directorate
Human Rights Watch: refugees
International Committee of the Red Cross: refugees
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants