Metro

April 19, 2024

UK authorities arrest Home Office staff for selling residency to asylum seeker

UK authorities arrest Home Office staff for selling residency to asylum seeker

UK Home Office staff

A Home Office case worker has been arrested on suspicion of trying to sell the United Kingdom (UK) residency to an asylum seeker living in Northern Ireland, BBC reports.

BBC News Northern Ireland can reveal the official allegedly contacted a vulnerable man and asked for £2,000 in return for approving his refugee application.

It is understood sensitive Home Office records were used as part of the attempted scam.

The Home Office said the member of staff has been suspended.

It said it expected “the highest standards” from its staff, but it would be “inappropriate” to comment further due to the live police investigation.

Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said they were “deeply concerning allegations” and the Conservative government had “lost control” of the asylum system.

BBC News Northern Ireland has spoken to the intended victim, who we are calling Renas to protect his identity.

He said he was contacted by a worker employed as an asylum “decision maker” in the north of England.

Renas said he received a call in early March 2024 where it was claimed “95% of people like you” have their applications refused.

The decision maker then allegedly suggested a direct payment would guarantee success.

“He said I could be sure he would refuse my application,” Renas said.

“But if I could help him, he could help me and he asked for some money. He asked for £2,000.

“He basically offered me a positive decision.”

Renas, a former journalist, said at first he thought it was “a total scam”, but it became clear to him the man on the phone did work for the Home Office.

“He had all my information. He gave me very specific details from my application.”

Renas recorded a subsequent video call he received from the decision maker, which he passed to police and which has also been seen by the BBC.

The footage appears to show an individual using a laptop which has official Home Office software containing case files.

“He targeted the most vulnerable people in society,” Renas said.

“There will be other asylum seekers who are going through the same process, or maybe there are some people who have already been scammed like this. I feel this is my responsibility to inform them.

“I was persecuted in my home country by the authorities. I was already afraid of the Home Office and other institutions here.”

Renas raised concerns with his solicitor who alerted the authorities.

In a statement Lancashire Police told BBC News Northern Ireland, “We can confirm we have arrested a man on suspicion of misconduct in public office, suspicion of money laundering, bribery, and computer misuse offences.

“Officers from Lancashire Constabulary alongside partners from the Home Office arrested the man, in his 30s, in the Ramsgreave area of Blackburn.

“An investigation remains in its early stages and enquiries are ongoing.”

It is not clear how many other individuals could have been targeted in this way, if any of those individuals handed over money, or if any cases were approved on the basis of a payment.

Renas has since been assured his refugee status is secure, and the decision to grant him UK residency was not affected by the alleged actions of the decision maker.

It was a “very confusing time” for Renas, his lawyer Sinead Marmion said

Immigration solicitor Sinead Marmion said the actions of the decision maker were “egregious”.

“My first thought was this cannot be real,” she said.

“This is an exceptionally unusual situation.”

She praised her client’s “integrity”, adding: “For him to be able to raise an issue like this took a lot of guts.

“He was initially quite frightened about what was going on, and it was difficult for us to give him any comfort because it was a very confusing time.”

Asylum claims – a legal request for sanctuary, or refugee status, in another country – can be made by anyone who comes to the UK under an international convention agreed in 1951.

In 2022 BBC Newsnight reported claims from Home Office insiders who said the system for dealing with asylum claims was blighted by “inexperienced and low-paid” staff being hired to handle applications.

‘Shocking’

“Given backlogs, and promises to clear backlogs, there has been a recruitment very quickly of people who perhaps are not vetted enough and aren’t qualified enough to actually deal with matters of such magnitude” Sinead Marmion said.

She describes Renas’ experience as “shocking but perhaps not surprising”.

Last year a senior Home Office official revealed to a committee of MPs the proportion of asylum decision makers who leave their jobs each year stood at 28%.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We expect the highest standards from our staff to ensure asylum claims are properly considered, decisions are sound and that protection is granted to those who genuinely need it.

“The member of staff was arrested and suspended. It would be inappropriate to comment further as the matter is subject to a live police investigation.”

Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said: “These are deeply concerning allegations and it is right that the police are looking into this matter.

“The Conservatives have lost control of our asylum system across the board and should be working round the clock to restore integrity and public trust.”

Renas said he is “relieved” his refugee status has been confirmed by the Home Office and he can now move on with building a new life in Northern Ireland.

“I have hopes to build a career here. I have some real hopes that I can do that,” he said.

Source: BBC