BHT in landmark Court of Appeal case that protects children and vulnerable asylum seekers

When I arrived in England in my late teens, I was somewhat bewildered and a little bit afraid, to be honest. I was also extremely lonely. I didn’t know how to meet people and the culture was very different to what I enjoyed growing up in South Africa.

Yet I had everything going for me. I spoke English as my first language, my skin is white, and I had a UK passport thanks to my English-born parents. Nobody doubted my right to be in England. I was entitled to claim financial support for my housing and living costs, which I did. I hadn’t experience trauma. In fact I had just about everything going for me.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an asylum seeker, traumatised by war, murder and rape, traumatised by being separated from ones family, traumatised by abuse on the journey to the UK.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to fear authority for every good reason, to have people disbelieving you, having to cope with a legal system which is totally alien which uses cultural references that are unfamiliar to you. You have to rely on charitable giving to eat. You are alone, sad, homesick notwithstanding the horrors you have escaped from.

And then the officials tell you that you are lying, that there is an inconsistency in your story, that you will be deported.
This can be the experience of children going through the UK asylum system.

But a judgement in the Court of Appeal in the case of a 15 year old boy fleeing persecution from the Taliban in Afghanistan, should mean that children, young people and other vulnerable persons, including those lacking capacity, have an effective right of access to the tribunal and a voice in the proceedings. The case was brought by BHT’s Immigration Legal Service, and argued by Stephanie Harrison QC and Raza Halim from the Garden Court Chambers.

In a nutshell, the Court stated that contradictory statements made by children should not always be fatal to a case, and that the child’s history should be taken in the context of the country material and the expert reports which should be given more weight than minor contradictions made by a child. The case also confirms that the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal have the power to appoint litigation friends in appropriate cases.

This case has established that “a child is foremost a child before he or she is a refugee”. The Court has provided new guidance to Tribunals to ensure that children and vulnerable persons have their voices heard in asylum proceedings.
Please take the time to read an account of the case and the ruling on the Garden Court Chambers website.


Photo of the Day: Time for an Epiphany in the UK

img_4812Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the day when, traditionally, trees and decorations are taken down. Some people take their decorations down before New Year, or at least before they return to work. My Photo of the Day is of me dropping our tree off at the recycling point on The Level earlier today.

In the Christian tradition, today is also Epiphany, when the Magi, the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings from the Orient, however you wish to call them, visited the baby Jesus and, having been warned in a dream, an epiphany, returned home by a different route, thus avoiding Herod who has asked them to let him know of the whereabouts of the baby.

It was from that moment that Mary and Joseph realised that their lives and that of their son were in danger, and they did not return home, rather fleeing to Egypt, thereby becoming refugees, until it was safe to return home.

In Britain there is a terrible confusion between immigration and asylum, and in certain newspapers these terms are interchangeable. Worse still is the phrase ‘illegal immigrants’ to describe asylum seekers. An asylum seeker is someone who can expect protection under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

As a South African who refused conscription into the apartheid army, I moved to Britain in 1979. I am an immigrant. I could have sought political asylum had I not, through a complete accident of birth, not been born to English-born parents. Around 100,000 fellow young South African men were granted asylum in the late 1970s and 1980s. It is noticeable that the tabloids never complained about these asylum seekers ‘swamping’ the U.K.!

Epiphany is also a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation. I hope that in 2017 there will be an epiphany in the UK regarding those seeking refuge and asylum. This can apply to those escaping war, particularly women (who are horribly under represented in those arriving in the U.K. yet who often experience the worst abuses in conflicts). It also can apply to people in our own country seeking refuge and asylum – women and children escaping domestic violence and abuse in the home, people with mental health problems, and a safe, warm and dry refuge for people living on the streets.

Solidarity with Refugees

This Saturday (31st March) there is a March in Lewes, organised by the Lewes Amnesty International Group and the Lewes Group in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, to demonstrate solidarity with Refugees.

If you are free and can make it to Lewes, please assemble at 12.30pm at County Hall for a rally in the Precinct and hear an address by the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr. Susan Murray.

BHT has an Immigration Legal Service, and we work with many refugees and their families. This is an area of our work that has seen its funding reduced for well over a decade, and there can be very hostile media portrayals of refugees. That is why I am promoting this important event.

The European Migrant Crisis: please support the work of BHT’s Immigration Legal Service

Over the last few weeks, few will not have been moved by the plight of those risking everything to find a safe haven in Europe, away from regions where war, oppression and strife are destroying lives and communities.

BHT’s Immigration Legal Service is a team of immigration advisors and solicitors who provide free legal help to asylum seekers.

The Immigration Legal Service is currently representing a family fleeing the conflict in Syria in their asylum applications to the Home Office. This is the information about that family provided by my colleagues in the Immigration Legal Service.

“When the parents arrived in the UK in early 2014 they were granted asylum. Their two sons, who lived with them in Syria, then applied to join them in the UK under the refugee family reunion provisions of the Immigration Rules. Their younger son aged 16 was granted asylum.  However their older son, Khalil, being over 18, was refused entry to the UK. Fearing for his safety, Khalil had already fled to Lebanon and has since made the journey to the UK across ten European countries, including in a dinghy from Turkey to Greece.

“He eventually made it to Calais where two other British family members went to visit him by car.  However, he still had to make a dangerous and illegal journey hidden in a lorry in order to enter the UK. As a Syrian, Khalil will almost certainly be granted asylum.  Because of the ongoing crisis in Syria, the Home Office is now recognising Syrians as refugees and, accordingly, granting them leave to remain in the UK.

“Like many Syrians this family has nothing to return to in their own country. Despite the ongoing crisis in Syria, there is no exceptional Home Office policy to allow Syrian asylum seekers to enter to the UK and to seek asylum.

“However, if they can make it to the UK they most likely will be granted asylum. Had the Home Office allowed this family’s older son to be reunited with his family he would not have had to make the dangerous journey to the UK to claim asylum. We will now work to ensure that he is granted asylum and is able to restore his family life in safety.”

We represent asylum seekers of all nationalities and in the event that their applications are refused (the Home Office refuses more than half the asylum applications it receives), prepare their cases for appeal before a Judge. We have a higher than 60% success rate at appeal, thereby ensuring that people who should have been recognised as refugees by the Home Office get the protection they need.

We act for many asylum seeking children who have no family or relatives to turn to for support (last year we acted for more than 100 young people). We also act in trafficking cases, some domestic violence cases and judicial review work.

Under the recent government cuts to free legal aid there is no longer funding available to assist the family members of refugees in the UK to make applications to join their families. We receive limited funding for the work we do, which often does not cover the cost of the cases.

In order to ensure that our service remains available to everyone in need of our help we have to secure additional funding and ask that you donate what you can so that we can continue to help other asylum seekers like this family to move on from the trauma of conflict and persecution in their own countries and begin to rebuild their lives in a safe environment. Please give generously.

You can support our work by making a donation on our JustGiving page.

Refugee Week: Family Reunion

This week has been Refugee Week.  Each day I have posted a simple account of the work undertaken by BHT’s Immigration Legal Service.  Some have involved clients who have been tortured and persecuted.  Today’s story is a less dramatic account of a family being reunited.  It is not an account that might make the media, but it shows the range of the work this service undertakes, and the importance of a successful outcome for our clients.  I am grateful to all staff in the Immigration Legal Service for their dedicated work, week in, week out, and for providing me with the real life stories that I have posted this week.

A Family Reunion

P and her family are recognised refugees in the UK. P instructed Brighton Housing Trust to assist  her in making an application for her mother who had a serious eye condition to join the family in the UK. The application was refused by the entry clearance officer.

BHT represented her on appeal. There was limited medical evidence from her country of origin, however, BHT was able to obtain a statement from a UK-based eye specialist and succeeded in demonstrating the extent of the macular degeneration and consequences of the illness, which tipped the balance in the client’s favour.

P’s mother is now safely in the UK and being cared for by her family.

Refugee Week: The account of a young Iranian, beaten and imprisoned for demonstrating against the regime

N is an Iranian national and arrived in the UK when he was 16 years old. His family in Iran had a history of opposition to the Iranian regime. His father and uncle were executed when he was a child and his elder brother had also been detained. Prior to leaving Iran, Mr N attended a number of demonstrations against the regime. He was beaten severely by the authorities during the demonstrations and was eventually arrested by Iranian State Security. He was beaten and kept in solitary confinement for 3 months with little food and water and no access to daylight. He was forced to  sign a confession and was then transferred to prison where he spent 20 days before being released. Eventually he fled the country with the help of an uncle.

He claimed asylum in the UK but his case was refused by the Home Office. They did not accept that he was telling the truth about what had happened to him.

Brighton Housing Trust lodged an appeal to the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal and obtained evidence including a report documenting the torture he had suffered in support of his appeal. The judge accepted the evidence and found that Mr N would be at risk of detention and further ill treatment amounting to persecution if he was sent back to Iran.

Mr N’s appeal was allowed and he was found to be a refugee meaning that he will be permitted to remain in the UK and is no longer at risk of suffering further torture and ill treatment.

Refugee Week:The story of a 16 year old Syrian Kurd

S is a 16 year old Syrian Kurd. He had attended anti-government demonstrations in Syria and subsequently his family were targeted by the authorities leading to the disappearance of his mother, father and brother. He was able to flee to a relative’s house who immediately arranged his escape from Syria. Having made his way to the UK he claimed asylum.

The Home Office refused to accept that Syrian Kurds had played any significant part in the continuing turmoil in Syria and rejected his claim for asylum.

Detailed evidence was uncovered confirming the role that Kurds have played in the uprising in Syria and Brighton Housing Trust represented S at his appeal hearing. S was successful and the decision of the Home Office overturned resulting in a grant of Refugee Status to him and therefore the protection he requires in order to avoid him suffering the same fate as his family members.