Revealed: Supermarket staff recruited to make ‘life or death’ asylum decisions | home office

The Home Office is hiring asylum makers in customer service and sales roles at McDonald’s, Tesco and Aldi as part of a recruitment drive to clear its huge backlog of asylum applications asylum, the Observer can reveal.

The new recruits, hired through online advertising and street recruitment agencies, have no previous experience or knowledge of the asylum system. Many are placed on rolling temporary contracts, usually for three months. Despite being promised full training, decision-makers say they were “on their own” after two days, having to conduct complex interviews and make “life or death” decisions.

Despite this responsibility, sources say the staff refer to planet alone guides of “pots of stories” from the countries of origin of the candidates, favor certain nationalities and preside over an approach “quantity before quality”.

A whistleblower with nearly two decades of experience in asylum decision-making who is currently training new staff to conduct interviews, told the Observer“They get way too many inexperienced people with no understanding of the asylum system, and they just don’t have the support they need, so they leave.” They added: “It’s a total disaster. They don’t know what they are doing”.

The news comes as a new poll for the Observer reveals that the vast majority of the public – 73% – believe Britain has not “taken back control” of its borders since Brexit. According to the latest Opinium poll, only 12% believe Britain controls its borders, while nearly half say Brexit has worsened Britain’s ability to manage its borders.

The Observer The inquiry into asylum decision makers comes after Rishi Sunak admitted in parliament last week that ‘not enough’ asylum claims were being processed, and said the government had increased the number of ‘department officials treatment” of 80%, with 500 more to be named by March.

There are currently 1,090 decision-makers working to clear the backlog, which now stands at over 117,000 cases. The backlog is responsible for the large number of asylum seekers being housed in hotels at a cost of more than £5million a day and severe overcrowding at the Manston asylum processing center in Kent.

Home Office officials recently admitted that of the 28,526 people who crossed the Channel in small boats last year, only 1,141 – just 4% – were treated.

A new Home Office target of tripling the number of decisions made by each social worker from 1.3 per week to four has led some to cite a hectic working environment, with increased pressure to meet targets.

The whistleblower acknowledged that claims are categorized by nationality, in particular Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, rather than the time a person has spent in the UK awaiting a decision. “It’s not a first-come, first-served system,” she said. “Certain nationalities, you see them, and you say to yourself: ‘He’s a documented Syrian: it’s going to be easy’.”

She added: ‘If a reporter has asked about an individual’s case, it will come to the case officer’s inbox and we’ll say, ‘It’s high profile’, so that the case gets further scrutiny. rapidly.

“I also had people sitting there watching planet alone for a potted history of a country because the advice is not clear enough. Some have in-depth knowledge of global affairs, but most do not.

Many long-time social workers Observer spoke over the past six months say the quality of interviews was higher before 2012, when asylum decision-makers were downgraded from senior to senior manager.

A Home Office staff member said: ‘It is very skilled work but has not been given the respect it deserves. Quantity matters more than quality. »

The whistleblower added that the quality of the interviews should be prioritized. “You can’t just dismiss without proof – if you haven’t asked the questions, you have no reason to say no.” The number of cases that are overturned by the courts speaks volumes about the quality of the interviews.

Government data shows that more than half of denials are overturned on appeal.

In-depth interviews are arguably the most crucial part of the asylum procedure – a lengthy interrogation by decision-makers, usually lasting four to eight hours – who then deliver their “consideration” on whether a person is authorized to stay, granted refugee status or denied protection.

Although the training is expected to include a two-week interviewing course, new hires say they conduct substantive interviews after following a senior social worker for just two days.

A current social worker told the Observer: “Training is literally you will sit down with another member of staff and watch them do it and then they will give you a try to make a case while they watch you. Once you show them a few times you you’re pretty much on your own.

A former senior social worker added: ‘If we want a fair asylum system, the responsibility must lie with the Home Office to prepare people to make life or death decisions. Social workers should understand that refusal could result in a person being deported from the UK and murdered in their own country, or killed.

“Was I, in fact, prepared that the decisions I was making could result in someone’s death? Or ready to watch someone seriously self-harm…or a child commit suicide? No, I don’t think so – and that’s what really keeps me up at night.

They added that turnover in asylum decision-making is one of the highest of any Home Office frontline operation with a lifespan of around two years because people become “too cynical or jaded” after that.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “Our members are doing their best to treat asylum seekers humanely, in what has become a highly politicized environment. It is a very stressful job, made more difficult by a lack of training and investment.

Rob McNeil, deputy director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said it was one of the toughest jobs in immigration.

“Social workers must apply hundreds of pages of advice to the complex human stories they encounter, under significant time pressure,” he said. “These are life and death decisions that require skill, training and experience to make. A bad decision has a human cost for the candidates and a financial cost for the government.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The claims made here are baseless. We have increased recruitment of asylum workers by 80% since 2019… All recruits must meet minimum civil service recruitment standards and are supported by extensive training and support from senior trainers and experts techniques.

“Our processes are underpinned by a robust framework of safeguards and quality controls, ensuring that claims are properly investigated, decisions are sound and protection is given to those who really need it.”