Home Office rebuked on translation services for asylum decisions

The Home Office showed "little inclination to look seriously" at its resourcing for translating documents, David Bolt said.

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The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has rebuked the Home Office for resisting calls to spend more on translating vital information that could help to inform decisions on asylum and human rights applications.

The chief inspector, David Bolt, this year called on the Home Office to reconsider how much it spends on translating materials from non-English sources about the political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Turkey. He has now said the department’s response, published yesterday, showed “little inclination to look seriously either at the resourcing of this function or at the way it currently works”.

The briefings are critical because they contain in-depth information about the political situation in countries that people applying for asylum come from, which is used to help assess their applications.


According to Bolt, the Home Office relies too heavily on English-language sources when producing these briefings, leading to some of the most up to date and reliable information being left out – which is especially critical when the political landscape shifts rapidly, as it does in places like the Congo. It also means available English-language sources are sometimes given “more weight than they merit”, he said in a report in May.

In the report, which was made public in August, Bolt urged the department to reconsider its response to an earlier report from the watchdog in 2016, which told the Home Office to ensure it had the resources to translate documents as recommended by its independent advisers.

At the time, the Home Office said it would continue to “decide on a case-by-case basis whether a translation is necessary, balancing the value of the information to the understanding of the country situation and the cost of translation”.

After Bolt reiterated his recommendation, the Home Office agreed to “review whether [it has] ‘set the bar too high’ in terms of translations”.

But its response, published yesterday, repeated its previous statements about the need to balance cost and value, adding that “translations remain cost-prohibitive”.

In a statement yesterday, Bolt said the Home Office response was “poor reward” for the hard work of the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information, which makes recommendations to the Home Office about the sources it should draw on for its country reports.

He also criticised the speed at which the Home Office had made the review public. “In light of the Home Office’s equivocal responses to my recommendations, which I saw for the first time on 4 December, and which show little inclination to look seriously either at the resourcing of this function or at the way it currently works, I am surprised that it has taken four months to publish my report,” he said.

“For the record, I do not believe that the cost of translating material into English should be a consideration where that material is essential to a proper understanding of country conditions.”

Elsewhere in its response, the Home Office also rejected a call to give its reasons when it considers but opts not to translate non-English documents. “We do not consider it necessary to give the reason why we have not translated the material since most of the time English language sources will be sufficient,” the department said.

As a concession, the Home Office said it would add non-English sources it had considered to the bibliographies of its country briefings.

In both cases, the department said it “partially accepted” the recommendations, but had not accepted a core part of the recommendation. It also partially accepted a call to ensure it took full account of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ review of US State Department documents when deciding whether to rely on these for reports, and consider how to include this in its reports.

The Home Office said it would take account of UNHCR’s comments but added that it “[did] not consider it necessary to – and rarely, if ever – include third party’s commentaries on third parties’ reports in our products”.

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