Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Whistleblower's claims about Cardiff asylum office

Louise Perrett, who made the allegations
Student Louise Perrett worked at the office last summer

Two MPs are calling for an inquiry after a former worker detailed a culture of hostility and aggression at the UK Border Agency in Cardiff.

Home Affairs Select Committee chair Keith Vaz said he was concerned by claims that officials took pride in refusing applications.

Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott is also calling for an investigation.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency says it expects the highest levels of integrity and behaviour from all staff.

Louise Perrett, 29, worked as a case owner in the asylum team for three-and-a-half months last summer.

The social policy student has also claimed that staff kept a toy gorilla which was put on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application.

Jenny Willott MP
These are some of the most serious accusations I have seen levelled at UKBA and seem to imply that the agency is institutionally racist
Jenny Willott MP

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

Ms Perrett, from Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, also said that one official had said of asylum seekers: "If it was up to me I would take them all outside and shoot them."

After challenging the official, she said she was told: "Well, you'll quickly discover that no-one in this office is very PC, in fact everyone is the exact opposite."

She also claimed that she saw general hostility, rudeness and indifference alongside impeccable professionalism, kindness and generosity.

"Unfortunately the latter was very few and far between," she said.

'Shocking claims'

One case involved a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who, she said, had the right to remain in the UK but an official decided the woman and her children should be removed.

Ms Perrett claimed that when asked whether there were any grounds to remove them, a member of the legal department responded: "Umbongo, umbongo, they kill them in the Congo."

Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the agency, said: "The UK Border Agency expects the highest levels of integrity and behaviour from all our staff.

"This individual has never raised these issues with us. We take all allegations of inappropriate behaviour extremely seriously.

UK Border Agency office in Cardiff
The agency said the allegations had not been raised with them by the individual

"The UK Border Agency deals with each asylum application on the merits of the case.

"If an asylum application is refused, the claimant will normally have a right of appeal to the independent asylum and immigration tribunal."

Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, in a statement said the accusations justified "a root-and-branch parliamentary investigation" into the agency.

"These are some of the most serious accusations I have seen levelled at UKBA and seem to imply that the agency is institutionally racist," she said.

"UKBA management claim that all complaints over staff conduct are dealt with properly. But the picture painted suggests that senior members of staff are guilty of creating a culture where many asylum seekers are treated appallingly.

"I will be tabling a series of parliamentary questions to try to get to the bottom of this."

The Welsh Refugee Council (WRC) also backed a "thorough investigation" into what it called the "shocking claims".

The WRC said the agency needed to "address the underlying weaknesses of the asylum system and not just the attitudes of its frontline staff".

Kate Smart, the WRC's director of policy, communications and advocacy, said: "Welsh Refugee Council's confidential and independent advice services regularly see people who have suffered horrific experiences in their own countries - some have been tortured, others have witnessed the torture and killing of family members.

"It is very worrying to hear reports that such people may have been treated insensitively by case owners at the UK Border Agency's Cardiff office."

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