Page last updated at 15:13 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Probe into border staff 'racial prejudice' claims

UK Border Agency officials (file pic)
Young Border Agency staff used intimidation, MPs heard

The UK Border Agency is investigating whether some staff are "racially prejudiced" towards asylum seekers.

Former worker Louise Perrett told MPs that one colleague had ordered young African men to demonstrate "shooting" to prove they had been child soldiers.

She added that another had sung a derogatory song about the Congo, while staff mocked one another whenever asylum applications were approved.

UKBA boss Lin Homer said an inquiry into the claims was "under way".

Ms Perrett was an agency worker at the organisation's Cardiff office for three-and-a-half months during the summer of last year.

'Horrendous'

She told the Commons home affairs select committee: "What I saw was absolutely horrific and should never be accepted or ignored."

Speaking of her early dealings with one colleague, Ms Perret said: "I asked about the claimants and their [the staff member's] thoughts and was told 'If it was up to me I would take them all outside and shoot them'.

I take very seriously any allegation that any of our leaders in any part of our organisation would be disruptive or racially prejudiced
Lin Homer
UK Border Agency

"I said she shouldn't be saying things like that in the office and it was horrendous... That was an indication of what was to come."

On another member of staff, Ms Perrett said: "He was giving me tips on how to conduct interviews.

"One of his examples was that... when he had young men or children claiming to be former child soldiers, he would make them lie on the floor and demonstrate how they would shoot someone in the [African] bush.

"If he didn't do it immediately, or there was some hesitation, they would be refused [asylum]."

'Gung ho and rude'

Ms Perrett also described how a member of staff reacted, by adapting a 1980s TV advertisement's wording, when she told him about an application she was handling.

She said: "When he asked me where the lady was from, I said the Congo. He said 'Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they kill them in the Congo'."

Ms Perrett also said that, within the Cardiff office, there was a cuddly toy known as "grant monkey" which was placed on the desk of a member of staff as a form of mockery if they granted asylum.

She said that, when she had raised concerns about people's behaviour, these had been "dismissed and laughed off".

Ms Perrett added: "There are good people there. Don't get me wrong. There are good people who work in a professional, courteous manner."

'Intimidation'

But she added: "The younger members of staff were more gung ho and rude from the moment they met an asylum seeker in the interview room."

They showed a "general hostility, not so much in things they would say but in their demeanour and their abruptness and general intimidation that I thought, as a good official, was totally unnecessary", Ms Perrett said.

In response, Ms Homer, chief executive of UKBA, told the committee: "I take very seriously any allegation that any of our leaders in any part of our organisation would be disruptive or racially prejudiced."

When she had found out about Ms Perrett's allegations, she "took the position that we should investigate and this investigation is under way", she added.

"If it generates any [evidence]... we would see that as a very serious priority for the agency."



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