'Racial prejudice' claim rejected at Border Agency

UK Border Agency Officers
Image caption The UK Border Agency admits that the inquiry raises 'significant concern'

An inquiry into alleged behaviour towards asylum seekers at the UK Border Agency office in Cardiff has found all claims but one "unsubstantiated".

A former worker claimed staff acted inappropriately - on one occasion singing a derogatory song about an asylum seeker.

But the investigation did criticise staff for passing a toy monkey to officers who granted asylum status.

The agency said it was now implementing several recommendations.

The claims against the Cardiff staff came to light in February after a temporary case worker raised the matter with MPs.

Louise Perrett, 29, from the Vale of Glamorgan had spent three months employed by an agency at the Newport Road office in Cardiff.

She described how staff kept a toy gorilla which was put on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application.

She said the gorilla was used as a "form of public ridicule".

She also alleged that in one case a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who she believed had the right to stay in the UK, was told she would be removed.

When she queried the decision, Ms Perrett claimed a member of the legal department responded: "Umbongo, umbongo, they kill them in the Congo."

But an internal investigation by the Border Agency's professional standards unit has found all allegations, except for the toy monkey issue, unsubstantiated.

It also said no members of staff should face disciplinary action.

The inquiry report stated: "The investigation found no evidence to corroborate Ms Perrett's claims that there is a cultural problem within the asylum teams in Cardiff which allows bad behaviour or that staff have made the inappropriate comments as alleged.

However, conduct unit added: "The report makes some criticism of the asylum team that held the 'grant monkey'.

"Although it was concluded that Ms Perrett misinterpreted its significance it was accepted that her misconception of it could have been felt by others and as such it was unwelcome.

"The investigation established that the 'grant monkey' was not used as a badge of shame as alleged however it accepted that its subsequent removal from the office was correct.

"No further action needs to be taken in respect of this matter."

The investigation said there were also concerns that members of staff at the office had been advised by their union not to cooperate with the inquiry unless they had been directly invited for interview.

It also raised the issue of how staff can effectively 'whistle-blow' on inappropriate behaviour.

Responding to the findings, the Border Agency said that while disciplinary action was not been taken, the report still raised "significant concern".

The agency said it would address the issues by:

  • Overhauling its approach to 'credibility issues' by introducing a new asylum instruction procedure and training
  • Assessing 50% of all Cardiff asylum decisions on the basis of United Nations' guidelines
  • Inviting the Wales Refugee Council and other partners to help design awareness sessions for staff
  • Bring in new arrangements for staff to raise issues above their managers

Commenting on the report, Cathy Owens from the campaign group Amnesty International said: "The summary of the investigation makes interesting reading.

"It suggests that the behaviour reported was not so bad as to lead to disciplinary action, but it was poor enough that it raised serious concerns about how asylum seekers were treated, and that this has lead to an overhaul of the training process, further assessment of decisions made in Cardiff and new opportunities for staff to raise issues of concern."

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