29 January 2016

ECRE member, the British Refugee Council, publicised a new independent report by Dr. John Campbell which reviews the Country of Origin Information guidelines on Eritrea used by the Home Office to adjudicate asylum claims. The report, commissioned by the Advisory Group on Country of Origin Information (IAGCI), denounces vehemently the Home Office for the use – selective and misleading – of the evidence provided in the guidelines.

The guidelines are used by Home Office officials to assess the country situation and adjudicate whether an asylum claim is genuine or not – and whether a person can be safely returned to his/her home country if found not in need of international protection.

In November 2014, a report on Eritrea by the Danish Immigration Service stated that conditions in the country had improved, that mandatory military conscription was limited to 18 months and that people could safely return to the country. The report was based on a fact-finding visit, but did not cite any source. Human Rights Watch strongly criticised it and deemed it “more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation.”

In March 2015, the UK Home Office adopted a new set of guidelines on Eritrea, largely based on the findings of the Danish report, which led to a consistent drop in the recognition rate of Eritrean asylum applications – even though the Danish government later distanced itself from the 2014 report and stated that Eritreans will continue to receive protection in Denmark. Moreover, the statistics for the granting of international protection to Eritreans at the appeal stage is a staggering 86%.

In June 2015, a UN Commission of Inquiry reported systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in Eritrea and strongly urged “continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warn[ed] against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission.”

IAGCI subsequently published its criticisms of the UK guidelines, taking into consideration the new evidence of the flawed Danish report, and the UN Commission of Inquiry report. The latest report by Dr. Campbell, commissioned in October 2015, was discussed with IAGCI and the Home Office in December 2015, but its conclusions were not accepted by the Home Office.

“Since political conditions in Eritrea have not suddenly changed, the only possible explanation for the conclusions reached in this report is that the Home Office wants to block Eritreans – who are among the largest group of individuals seeking asylum here – from acquiring asylum,” stated Dr. John Campbell, author of the report.

British Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Making decisions about whether or not to grant refugee protection is often a matter of life or death, yet the Government’s own statistics reveal it gets a staggering number of decisions on Eritrean cases wrong. “The Government should not let its obsession with controlling immigration override its legal and moral responsibility to protect refugees.”

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.