By Daphne Liddle
A WHISTLEBLOWER formerly employed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in Cardiff last week revealed shocking levels of racism and prejudice among those charged with evaluating asylum applications.
Louise Perrett, who worked as a cases officer for just over three months in the UKBA’s Cardiff office, claims that staff there tricked, mistreated and humiliated asylum applicants and routinely refused applications without grounds.
Now her claims are to be the subject of a parliamentary inquiry initiated by Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, and a series of parliamentary questions from her MP Jenny Willott, the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cardiff Central MP.
UKBA’s Cardiff office is one of the Government’s biggest centres for processing asylum applications.
Louise Perrett claimed that staff there kept a stuffed gorilla, known as the grant monkey, which was put, as a badge of shame, on the desk of any asylum officer who approved an asylum application.
She said officials there express fiercely anti-immigration views and take pride in refusing applications.
Perrett claims the tone was set on the first day when one manager said of the asylum-seeker clients: “If it was up to me I’d take them all outside and shoot them.”
Another told her this was to be expected, adding: “No one in this office is very PC. In fact everyone is the exact opposite.”
She added: “I witnessed general hostility, rudeness and indifference towards clients. It was completely horrific. I highlighted my concerns to senior managers but I was just laughed at. I decided to speak out because nobody else was saying anything and major changes are needed at senior management level.”
Perrett reported that one official boasted to her that he tested the claims of boys from African countries who said they had been forcibly conscripted as child soldiers by making them lie down on the floor and demonstrate how they shot at people in the bushes.
She went on to say that she was given the power to make legally binding decisions on whether an asylum seeker was granted or refused asylum after just five weeks of training. She also had the power to detain individuals and families for up to 28 days.
Perrett was advised by her superiors that if she found a case difficult, she should refuse it and “let a tribunal sort it out”. Generally applicants were interviewed without lawyers, independent witnesses or tape recorders. She said only cases raised by MPs were treated properly.
In one case she dealt with a Congolese woman who had the right to remain in Britain.
Perrett says a superior nevertheless decided the woman and her children should be removed, and asked officials whether there were any grounds to remove them.
Frustrated, she approached a member of the legal department. His reply, according to Perrett, was:
“Umbongo, umbongo, they kill them in the Congo.” Keith Vaz commented: “I am deeply concerned by a number of ex-UKBA workers who have spoken out about flaws in the points-based system and behaviour such as this. I will be writing to the chief executive, Lin Homer, to discover what steps are being taken to remedy this culture of disbelief and discrimination.”
Jenny Willott said she was tabling a series of parliamentary questions. “Some of the cases which seem obvious to me are refused.
“UKBA has a responsibility to treat people as human beings, but from Louise’s experience it seems that this does not always happen.”
UKBA has denied Perrett’s claims; Matthew Coats, who heads UKBA’s immigration department, did not comment on her claims but said: “The agency “expects the highest levels of integrity and behaviour from all our staff,” adding: “We take all allegations of inappropriate behaviour extremely seriously.”
Louise Perrett, like any other UKBA official, had to sign the Official Secrets Act. She took legal advice before raising the matter in public.