Migration experts say Home Office advice that Eritrean asylum seekers can now safely go home is ‘marred by serious methodological concerns’.
British guidance that Eritrea is a safe country for asylum seekers to return to after leaving illegally is “marred by serious methodological concerns”, a government-appointed watchdog has said in a scathing report that comes as record numbers of Eritreans flee their country.
The Home Office updated its country guidance for Eritrea in March to advise that Eritreans are no longer at risk of persecution if they return home after leaving the country without official permission. This guidance is used by UK immigration officials to determine the legitimacy of asylum applications.
On Monday, the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI), a group of migration experts tasked with monitoring information about asylum seekers’ countries of origin, slammed the Home Office for basing claims that Eritrea is safe on controversial research by the Danish Immigration Service (DIS).
The findings of the Danish inquiry “should not be taken as undisputable facts relating to the current situation in Eritrea”, the IAGCI said.
“It is the view of the IAGCI that the two [Home Office country information and guidance reports] are marred by serious methodological concerns,” it added.
The Home Office guidance said that Eritrea’s indefinite national service programme, one of the key reasons young people flee the country, had been shortened to between 18 months and four years.
“The only source relating to the length of military service was the Danish source and we found that problematic; if such a claim were based in fact we would expect to see other sources corroborating that claim,” said Laura Hammond, the IAGCI chairwoman.
The Danish report, published in December, has been criticised as inaccurate and misleading by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch and a group of 23 academics, activists and journalists.
Jens Weise Olesen, a chief immigration adviser at DIS and co-author of the Danish report, has said the research was rushed out after a huge increase in the number of Eritreans applying for asylum in Denmark. He said the report has deterred Eritreans from seeking asylum in Denmark since it was published.
Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, reported that 36,925 Eritrean migrants applied for asylum in Europe last year, a 155% increase from 2013. The UK received 3,552 asylum applications from Eritreans in the year to March, more than from any other nationality, according to the Home Office.
Human rights groups have said that the Home Office is trying to make it easier for the UK to reject Eritrean asylum applications. Gerry Simpson, HRW’s refugee researcher and advocate, said: “The IAGCI report clearly exposes how the Home Office has tried, but failed, to justify rejecting greater numbers of Eritrean asylum claims: by relying on what the small diplomatic community living in Eritrea’s capital itself says are just its own ‘views’ and ‘speculation’ and, even worse, on Eritrean officials’ unsubstantiated claims of human rights improvements.”
Earlier this month, the Home Office said it would “carefully consider” the commission of inquiry’s findings. The Eritrean government has dismissed the UN’s allegations as “unfounded and devoid of all merit”.
Hammond said the Home Office usually takes her group’s concerns on board.
“This is unprecedented because, in the past, whenever we’ve gone to the Home Office and said there’s a particular source that our country experts recommend not be used, they’ve accepted that judgement, and for the most part they haven’t used the sources that we don’t think are reputable,” said Hammond.
The IAGCI, which was formed in 2009 by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, has urged the Home Office to review its Eritrea country guidance and issue a statement saying that the guidance should not be used to decide asylum applications until it has been assessed.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said, “Our country information and guidance is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets; local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations; and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
She added, “Country reports provide guidance to Home Office decision-makers considering asylum claims – but ultimately every application is considered on the basis of each person’s situation and circumstances.”