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Muslims Need Not Apply

By RAEKHA PRASAD

The Guardian, Apr. 16, 2003

"Non-white Britons are becoming part of the collateral damage of the fight against terrorism as family members are denied visas to visit them."
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"The backlash from the war on terror on Britain's non-white population is growing. Applications to visit relatives in Britain from countries with large Muslim populations are twice as likely to be turned down than they were just over a year ago. Families in Britain's biggest ethnic minority communities are now struggling to have relatives visit them."
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"An analysis of last year's statistical reports from British embassies around the world by Citizens Advice, the charity and national body for the bureaux, shows that refusals increased by more than 100% in countries with big Muslim populations."
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"The biggest rises in refusals were for applications from the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. In Tehran, refusals jumped 188% between the first and second half of last year. From Jan. to Jul., 8.5% of applicants were refused, but from Aug. to Dec., a quarter was turned down. In New Delhi and Mumbai, refusals increased 105% during the same period."
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"Britain's biggest non-white communities have been badly affected. There are 1 million people of Indian descent and 500,000 of Bangladeshi origin in the U.K. Refusals of applications from families in Calcutta rose by 443%, and in Dhaka more than 60% of applications to visit relatives in Britain were refused in the second half of the year, compared with 38% in the first."
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"While it is getting harder for some people to visit relatives, it is getting easier for others. Refusals of applications from North America declined by 29% and from South America by 1% during the same period."
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"This dramatic rise in refusals of applications from one set of countries, many observers say, is driven by the 'war on terror.' Decisions may be based less on hard evidence than on the possibility that applicants could be in some way connected to terrorist organisations."
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"In Pakistan, a frontline state in the 'war,' Britain has already limited its visa services. Significantly, refusals of applications from Nicosia, a gateway between Europe and the Muslim world, rose by 1,300% last year."
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"Lawyers say discrepancies between refusal rates for applications from different regions occur because immigration staff 'discriminate on the basis of nationality.' Immigration experts say that considerations are not based solely on the merits of each case, but on prejudicial attitudes about those who come from poor, Muslim states."
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"Two separate applicants in Dhaka last year, for example, received refusal letters with identical paragraphs justifying the decision. One man wished to visit his dying mother, with the cost of the trip to be paid for by his brother in Britain. The other, whose brother had a mental illness, intended to fund himself. Both refusal letters stated that 'it is common for prospective emigrants to leave their families in Bangladesh, often for protracted periods, if given the opportunity of working abroad . . ." In short, both were accused of being economic migrants. Both appealed and won."
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" 'These were two entirely different applications,' says Mahmud Quayum, an immigration worker at Camden Law Centre who represented the men's families in Britain. 'How could they have exactly the same refusal?' "
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"None of this was on Labour's wish list. When the Tories removed the right of appeal for people refused visas for family visits, black and Asian Britons claimed it made them second-class citizens. A 1997 election pledge to restore appeals acknowledged that 'families need to be together for key life events' and pledged to 'extend our commitment to the family to our immigration and asylum procedures.' "
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"The new right to appeal was established in 2000 - at a price. Fees were set of 500 for an oral hearing and 150 for a paper one. The government, under pressure, first reduced the fee, then last May abolished it, though not without opposition from some visa officers who argued that this would lead to a rise in unfounded family visit applications."
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"Not only has that prediction failed to materialise, but requests have fallen in the places where refusals have soared. In Mumbai, the number of applications shrunk by a third in the same period that refusals doubled."
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"It is feared that some officers who believed the fee acted as a disincentive hardened their decision-making after it was abolished. Mick Chatwin, a barrister specialising in immigration law, says Whitehall's focus on making the system fairer drifted away once appeals were introduced. 'These views are so ingrained and run so deep in the Home Office and Foreign Office, that unless they're kept in check, they prevail.' "
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"As refusals rise, so do the number of appeals. Refusals are overturned on appeal in about 70% of cases."
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"The Foreign and Common wealth Office says all applications are decided on merit and denies that the absence of a fee affects decision-making."
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"In a letter to Citizens Advice, Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien claimed that the sudden rise in refusals was accounted for by last year's axing of 'pre-assessment procedures' whereby applicants were filtered and those who 'did not appear' to meet immigration rules were discouraged from applying. Yet this does not explain why refusals are concentrated at particular posts."
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"Unless the government offers clear reasons about why its gatekeepers appear to be exercising their powers inequitably, non-white Britains are left wondering whether their standing has fallen from second-class citizen to the enemy within."
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