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.

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.

Refugee Week: Story of a Somalian Refugee

O was an 18-year-old Somali national who last lived in a rural area of southern Somalia. He claimed to be from a minority clan.

His father had been killed by militia and his family had been sporadically targeted too. After a life of living in constant fear O crossed the border to Kenya and after some time there managed to persuade a local businessmen to fund his journey to the UK where he hoped to claim asylum and begin a new life where he could live in safety.

Once in England, O made his claim for asylum but the Home Office refused to accept his clan membership and rejected his claim.

Brighton Housing Trust identified and instructed a Somali clan expert who was able to verify O’s membership of the minority clan he belonged to. After a long battle the appeal against the refusal of his claim was allowed.

Not only has O now been granted Refugee Status but with the assistance of the Red Cross he has also been reunited with his two sisters.

O has now started to rebuild his life in the safety of the UK.

Refugee Week – amazing services, amazing people, doing amazing work

This is Refugee Week, and today BHT is hosting an event at our head office in London Road, Brighton.  There are representatives from a wide range of organisations including the City Council, Amnesty International, interpreting services, and refugee support groups.

BHT ‘s own services are there, too, including Support4Housing and Threshold (both services offer support to refugees, in the case of Threshold, women refugees and their children).

BHT’s main service working with refugees is the Immigration Legal Service, based at Community Base in Queen’s Road, Brighton.  Until today I wasn’t aware of some aspects of their work, such as 41% of the asylum clients whose cases we took on last year were children.  Most of these children will have come to the UK alone seeking refuge.  Many have spent months on dangerous journeys to get here, and some have been looking after younger siblings while doing so.

There are many reasons why these children have come to the UK.  They may have seen their families killed and their homes burnt down.  They may have been trafficked to be exploited by adults, sexually or in other ways.  They may be fleeing forcible conscription, female genital mutilation or forced marriages.

Others may be at risk of violence or imprisonment because of their ethnicity, their religion or simply because of who their families are.

On average, 43% of our work at the Immigration Legal Service is asylum related.  Last year (2009) we took on 306 new asylum cases.  Of the asylum clients whose cases were ‘closed’ (ie. concluded), 33% were granted refugee status, 52% were allowed to stay in the UK on some other basis (for example, humanitarian grounds), and just 15% had their claims refused.

With most of BHT’s work, the consequences of us not providing a service could lead to homelessness, hardship, even destitution.  The work undertaken by the Immigration Legal Service has more serious consequences.  If this service wasn’t here, those who might be returned to their ‘place of origin’ might be faced with even worse consequences, including death.

For all involved in Refugee Week, my personal thanks, especially to BHT’s staff in the quite exceptional Immigration Legal Service.