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Report Finds British Treatment of Asylum Seekers Sub-Standard

An independent panel has delivered a harsh rebuke of the British government's treatment of asylum seekers, saying it falls seriously below the standards expected of a humane and civilized society. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London.

The Independent Asylum Commission interim report says asylum seekers in Britain are subjected to inhumane treatment while in detention, experience difficulties obtaining legal advice and are victims of gross inconsistencies in official decision-making.

Commission spokesman Jonathan Cox says some of the problems with the asylum system could be linked to a lack of funding and training of the authorities involved, including the Home Office. But, he says poor treatment of asylum seekers is unacceptable.

"We have identified a lack of training - what we call a culture of disbelief among some of the Home Office case workers who are looking to catch asylum seekers out instead of looking at whether they should be protected or not, are deliberately trying to trick them into making mistakes and then challenging their credibility," he said.

The report's criticism includes the detention of pregnant women, children and survivors of torture in their own countries. It says such people should not be locked up. It also calls for an end to "dawn raids" by immigration officials on failed asylum seekers due to be deported.

The commission took testimony from asylum seekers, former Home Secretaries, policy makers, charities, the police, local authorities and the general public. Former Appeal Court Judge John Waite, a co-chairman of the commission, described the issue as a "blemish" on Britain's reputation.

Commission spokesman Cox says while some of the hardship experienced by asylum seekers may be due to human error, some of it is a result of clear attempts to make life difficult for asylum seekers.

"Things like destitution, these are deliberate policies to try and encourage refused asylum seekers to leave the country by simply depriving them of work, of housing, of entitlements to benefits in order to try to encourage them to leave the U.K., that is what we are criticizing as indefensible," he added.

But in a statement, Border and Immigration Agency Chief Executive Lin Homer dismissed the findings of the survey, saying they are not based on any thorough knowledge. She refuted the charge that asylum applicants were treated without care and compassion.

Homer said Britain has a proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those who truly need protection, and those seeking asylum can have their case reviewed by an independent judge. She described the system as firm but humane.

The commission says the British asylum system is improving, but says the system still denies sanctuary to some who genuinely need it and ought to be entitled to it and is marred by inhumanity in its treatment of the vulnerable.