Lessons Not Learned: 15 years of failure to improve asylum decision-making

Along with seven other leading organisations, we have published a new report, Lessons Not Learned, which exposes the historical and systemic failures of asylum decision-making in the UK.

It calls on the government to deliver an overhaul of the asylum and immigration system that champions and preserves the dignity of the individual.

Lessons Not Learned charts a 15-year history of criticism levelled against the Home Office in order to identify patterns in the mishandling of asylum claims, and to question why lessons have not been learned. It examines 50 reports from 17 organisations, including parliamentary committees, the United Nations, non-governmental organisations, academics and independent inspectorates.

Lessons Not Learned makes a series of targeted recommendations to transform the ‘inhumane and inefficient’ asylum determination system. But for any of these to succeed, the report argues that the government must ‘hit the re-set button’ on the Home Office. The report argues change is possible, but will only be delivered if there is commitment to a change in culture and approach from the very highest levels of government.

Read & download the report

Our report findings include:

  • At least 38 of the 50 reports highlighted that the process of gathering relevant information from the applicant was problematic
  • A quarter of the reports noted that Home Office decisions rely on unrealistic and unlawful demands for evidence from asylum applicants
  • A quarter of the reports described Home Office decision-makers having a default position that people are not telling the truth
  • There is an inadequate learning culture with the Home Office failing to critically engage with evidence of system failures

It concludes that:

  • The Home Office fails to deliver fairly on its responsibilities towards people seeking refuge in the UK. This is a legal and a moral failure.
  • This failure has a human and an economic cost. Those seeking to prove their need for safety have to go through unnecessary, lengthy and often traumatic appeal processes.
  • These failings can and must be delivered by a systemic overhaul – or radical transformation - of the current system.

The impact of poor decision making can be devastating – for many it’s a matter of life and death. There are early signs of efforts to change the culture within the Home Office but root and branch reform is urgently needed. Windrush exposed the terrible human cost when the Home Office gets it wrong. The government has a chance to make this right.

Steve Crawshaw, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Freedom from Torture

The Windrush scandal exposed the systemic injustices and devastating impacts of the UK’s immigration system. Lessons Not Learned makes clear that many others continue to suffer from the injustices and harm that the scandal exposed. This includes the Home Office’s culture of disbelief.

The report is co-branded by a group of organisations including the Helen Bamber Foundation, The Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Survivors Speak OUT, and UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group.

We're writing an open letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, asking that she adopt the recommendations in our 'Lessons Not Learned' report.

Quotes from our partners:

"People who have survived torture and trafficking are being failed by the current system.  Getting it right means tackling the culture of disbelief head on and from the very top down. 

"Through root and branch reform it is possible to build a system that protects people from torture and trafficking, that is just and fair, and is one that we can all be proud of."

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive of the Helen Bamber Foundation

"Every day at JRS UK we meet people who have had crushing experiences of the asylum process. Many will describe how they have faced a wall of disbelief from the Home Office, which appears to take no account of their experience. Worse, once rejected, asylum seekers become subject to the hostile environment and face years of destitution, homelessness and may cycle in and out of detention. Asylum seekers we accompany often say that they feel their best years have been stolen from them by the asylum process.

"There have been many reports over the years detailing failures of the current asylum system, which have similar findings and made overlapping recommendations about the need for future change. This report aims to bring these together. The Home Office must not continue to ignore these reports and sensible recommendations for improvement. Reform is not beyond its grasp to deliver – it simply requires political will."

Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK

"The Windrush scandal was not a one-off accident; Windrush was the inevitable result of institutionalised racism, a culture of disbelief and the migrant scapegoating myths peddled by politicians.

"This searing report lays bare the suffering and injustice inflicted on the most vulnerable asylum seekers. Our shared future can and should be one where the UK takes a constructive and global lead so that people who flee in fear for their lives are protected, and so that everyone who moves here is treated with humanity. Priti Patel must read this report and implement its lessons."

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of JCWI

"The systemic mishandling of asylum claims in the UK, over many years, is a shameful scandal with devastating consequences. That those who have looked to Britain for protection from the violence, persecution, rape or torture they have endured, should be treated so unfairly and insensitively at the hands of the UK Home Office, is simply unacceptable. It must end.

"We are pleased to have contributed to this important report which exposes the deep seated and historic dysfunctionality of our asylum decision-making process. The case for root-and-branch reform is unanswerable and we urge the Home Office to act urgently."

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council

"LGBTQI+ people have their chances of receiving refugee protection severely limited when the Home Office places unrealistic demands on them for evidence.

"The Home Office refuses many applicants who have mountains of evidence such as photographs and witness letters. The Home Office needs to change its approach and make refugees feel welcome."

Leila Zadeh, Executive Director of UKLGIG