What's really broken in the UK's asylum system?

Friday, September 10th 2021

Franck Kiangala, Director of North Kensington Law Centre.

We spoke to immigration solicitor Franck Kiangala, Director at North Kensington Law Centre, about the Nationality and Borders Bill 2021, currently making its way through Parliament.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, tabled by the government this summer, is proposed as the next in a long series of immigration legislation brought in over recent decades. The government claims that it is meant to deal with the problem of human trafficking. However, as Law Centres know, the Bill is likely to have more far-reaching and harmful consequences than this, especially for refugees.

Many of our Law Centres have been representing migrants in challenging and complex cases for decades. One such Law Centre is North Kensington, led by immigration solicitor Franck Kiangala (pictured), who has been working in this field since the 1990s. He raises concerns about the new Bill, questioning the economic rationale behind it and arguing that it risks criminalising people who seek protection. This point seems particularly relevant given the crisis in Afghanistan, which has led to many Afghan people seeking refuge across the world.

“Rather than responding to refugees based on concerns about their safety, the Borders Bill threatens to introduce economic considerations into how the Home Office responds to asylum applications. This is unfair: we shouldn’t pick and choose who deserves help based on things like qualifications or their economic value as workers.

Additionally, we are also at risk of seeing a differential treatment within asylum claimants depending on whether they entered the UK legally or illegally, which should be an irrelevant consideration when considering claims. Most refugees enter the UK ‘illegally’, even when entering with a valid visa as it could be argued that the visa, if obtained for a visit was obtained by deception. The effect of the proposal is in fact to criminalise people seeking protection.” [emphasis added]

Talking about the current state of the asylum system, particularly for people from vulnerable groups, Franck reflected on improvements to the system over recent years, “because of changes in the Home Office but also changes in society”. He points out that “there is a real change in perception of LGBT asylum applications. There has been progress since I started doing this work in the 1990s”.

However, Franck feels that the asylum process still takes too long, and that this has particular repercussions for vulnerable individuals, such as clients he has worried for due to their deteriorating mental health:

“LGBT asylum seekers have often experienced a high level of trauma, and I feel there should be mechanisms to speed up applications for those who have gone through so much. Not everyone can sit and wait forever." 

Another group that the asylum system often fails is victims of trafficking, who can find themselves with no support from the state even after it recognises that they have been trafficked:

"Once you have established that someone is a victim of trafficking, you would think it might help them get Leave to Remain or support – but they get little more than a label, a pat on the back. This is a specific vulnerable group for whom there is no effective remedy in our current immigration system."

It is clear that the immigration system is ‘broken’, as the government claim. But those it is broken for are the migrants seeking safety and security in the UK. Instead, they continue to face further mistreatment, hostility and prejudice under the banner of the ‘Hostile Environment’.

North Kensington Law Centre (NKLC) was the first UK Law Centre to open its doors in 1970. It now provides services in the areas of Immigration, Welfare, Employment, Criminal Defence and Housing Law. You can visit NKLC’s website here.

If you need assistance with an immigration or asylum case, contact your local Law Centre for free advice and representation.