Refugee Crisis

Seraphus supports the statement calling for an urgent, humane and effective governmental response to the refugee crisis. Its signatories include retired judges, Queen’s Counsel, barristers, solicitors and law professors. The statement appears on Monday 12 October 2015 in The Times and The Guardian and it has 342 signatories comprising:

12 - Retired Judges
103 - Queen’s Counsel
30 - Partners and Directors
24 - Professors of Law and International Migration
127 - Barristers
24 - Solicitors
23 - Law Academics

The signatories believe that, as a matter of urgency:

1. The UK should take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it. The UK's present offer is deeply inadequate: in Lebanon alone, a country of 5 million, there are 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees.

2. Safe and legal routes to the UK, as well as to the EU, need to be established. Permitting travel by ordinary means will do much to halt the hazardous boat traffic and will save lives. Such routes ought to include:

(i) Humanitarian visas – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation.
(ii) Resettlement schemes, accepting refugees directly from the country of persecution or from neighbouring states.
(iii) Humane family reunion policies, such as allowing child refugees in the UK to be joined by adult family members.

3. Safe and legal routes within the EU, including the UK, should be established. For instance:

(i) A relocation scheme to take refugees from destitute conditions elsewhere in Europe;
(ii) A suspension of the ‘Dublin’ system, save for the purpose of family reunification.

There should be access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.

International refugee law developed following the horrors of the Second World War because states, including the United Kingdom, recognised that people fleeing persecution have a moral and legal entitlement to protection.

But many member states of the European Union, including the UK, make it impossible for people to gain access to these rights by normal means of travel. They require regular visas conditioned on an early return home. There is no such thing at present as a visa for travel from refugee-producing countries such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan, permitting entry in order to claim asylum.

This situation, coupled with draconian penalties on airlines and ships which carry undocumented passengers, including those fleeing persecution, has created the conditions which drive individuals and families into the hands of people-smugglers, with unseaworthy and overloaded boats or suffocating lorries.

The EU’s ‘Dublin’ system, under which asylum-seekers are compelled to apply to the first member state in which they land, is dysfunctional. In certain member states, particularly at the EU’s periphery, reception conditions have collapsed and determination procedures are rudimentary.

Like many others, we consider that the UK Government’s offer to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East, spread over 5 years, is too low, too slow and too narrow.

Asylum Aid campaign - close the protection gap for women

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Please join Asylum Aid in their campaign to close the protection gap for women seeking asylum. See their campaign leaflet below or, for further information, visit the website, here.

‘Now is your chance to help close the protection gap for women seeking asylum.

Take action in the new campaign under the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum which starts today!

In the past few months new initiatives have come into play for women facing rape and violence at home and abroad. But women seeking asylum are falling through a protection gap.

William Hague and Angelina Jolie signed off an international agreement on how a woman raped during a civil war should be supported. But if that woman comes to the UK to seek protection she isn’t guaranteed the same support. There is a glaring hypocrisy in how we treat women and girls who seek protection in the UK; they continue to be missed out of government policies on violence against women.

We believe that no woman seeking asylum should have to tell her story:
* in front of her children
* to a male interviewer or interpreter if she is not comfortable with this
* to someone who doesn’t understand how trauma affects memory
* without being given counselling
* without information about her rights as a woman in the asylum system

We believe that five particular measures in Hague and Jolies’s international agreement are also vitally important for women seeking asylum in the UK.

Let’s tell Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to use her powers to put these measures in place in the asylum system now:

Ø Provide childcare during screening and asylum interview
Ø Guarantee that women can have a female interviewer and interpreter if they choose
Ø Training for interviewers and interpreters on sexual violence, trauma and memory
Ø Counselling and support for trauma for women who have experienced gender-based harm
Ø Information about the asylum process, rights and entitlements specific to women seeking asylum

Take action now to close the Protection Gap for women seeking asylum:

* Send a Protection postcard to your MP

* retweet us @asylumaid

* write your own tweets using hashtag #ProtectionGap (we’ve attached a tweet sheet)

* put the attached information onto your website

* use the attached images

For more information do go to
www.asylumaid.org.uk/protectiongap or contact Debora Singer MBE on 020 7354 9631 extension 208.’

US and UK responses to the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa

The US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has announced his decision to designate Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. This is in consequence to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa. As a result, eligible nationals of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone who are currently residing in the United States may apply for TPS with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The designations mean that eligible nationals of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone (and people without nationality who last habitually resided in one of those three countries) will not be removed from the United States and are authorised to work.

The UK Home Office have a different view. The Home Office does not consider it is appropriate to introduce a concession to grant leave because of the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone. The Home Office goes on to state that an individual should not be granted asylum soley on the grounds that they fear returning to a place where Ebola is prevalent.

However, the Home Office accepts that the outbreak has had a significant impact on the healthcare systems in the countries affected - diverting resources away from the treatment of non-Ebola related diseases. Therefore, a claim that a person may face a breach of Article 3 of the ECHR on return to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, based on serious illness should be carefully considered.

High Court finds that the operation of the Detained Fast Track asylum system is unlawful

In a landmark ruling in a case brought by Detention Action, the High Court has today found that the way the government operates the Detained Fast Track asylum system is unlawful.

In a judgment between Detention Action and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with the Equality Human Rights Commission as an intervener, handed down on 9 July 2014, the Judge (Ouseley J) ruled that ‘the DFT as operated carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness.’

The Judge highlighted failings in the Fast Track system and made suggestions as to how they might be remedied, but found that these did not by themselves lead to the system being inherently unlawful. However, the Judge said that lawyers were instructed too late and there was an unjustified period of activity between induction of the asylum seeker into the system and the allocation of lawyers, this was unfair and can be remedied by instructing lawyers earlier in the process.

However, even if the Home Office allows for earlier instructions of lawyers the other deficiencies in the system may still mean that there are instances of unfairness in individual cases.

Please read the press release from Detention Action for further information on the judgement and the Fast Track process.
Detention Action DFT Press Release copy 2Detention Action DFT Press Release copy

UNHCR recommends suspension of forced returns to Mali

The UNHCR set out its new position regarding returns to Mali.

The UNHCR recommends the suspension of forced returns of nationals and habitual residents of Mali until the security and human rights situation has stabilised to the extent that it is safe to resume returns. The security in Mali deteriorated since the coup on 22 March 2012. This led to large scale displacements into neighbouring countries.

The position paper can be found here.

X-Rays of Children (Part Two)

Following the concerns raised by corporate partners of the UK Border Agency, such as Chief Medical Officer and the Children’s Commissioners (see our first blog on this subject here), the trail of dental x-rays for age assessment has been cancelled.

The agency was informed by the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) that the trail constitutes 'research' and that, as such, it requires the approval of a research ethics committee before it can proceed. No x-rays will take place until such time as we have the appropriate ethical approval. Given the questionable results of age assessment by use of x-rays we would hazard a guess that the agency will struggle to get approval.

More when we have it.

X-Rays of Children

The UK Border Agency are planning to restart x-rays of child asylum seekers in order to establish their age. This process was originally dropped over three years ago due to the health risks of those being screened.

Upon this announcement the medical profession, immigration lawyers, and the UK children's commissioner objected to the re-start of this process. The children's commissions said that this is 'a clear breach of the rights of vulnerable children and young people and may, in fact, be illegal'. It was also said that to x-ray children in such circumstances might also constitute assault.

The medical profession warned against the use of checks involving potential harm from ionising radiation when there was no intention of clinical benefits. Also, the scientific evidence suggests that it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to determine the child's age from an x-ray.

Alison Harvey, general secretary of the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, said in a letter to the Border Agency: "Age is disputed with a frequency that gives rise to the most grave concerns, and despite official acknowledgement that you cannot date-stamp a child, the Home Office continues to pursue the chimera of certainty in this area, to the most grave detriment of children who are subjected to doubt, to disbelief, detention and denial of services and now, it is proposed, to irradiation."

More when we have it.

Biometric Cards for Asylum Claims

Those granted leave as a result of a successful asylum claim will start receiving Biometric Residence Cards. Currently such cards are issued for European nationals, and those on work or student permits.

The biometric data will be taken as early as possible during the asylum claim. The idea is that these details will be taken while the applicant’s claim is under consideration to ensure that, as far as possible, when a decision is made on a case, the UKBA is able to serve the BRP with the other grant documentation.

The requirement to enrol for the biometric will be explained at the asylum interview and the applicant will be given a letter explaining how to have the biometrics taken at a Front Office Service, usually a Post Office.

This requirement is also being rolled out for anyone now applying for a Refugee Travel Document. There is a fee, in addition to the travel document fee, when applying for the BRP at this stage.

Unaccompanied children returned from the UK to France

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, revealed that the UK Border Agency have been returning unaccompanied children to France. This occurred within 24 hours of arrival and to those who did not register an asylum claim on entry. Once returned to France, there is little or no administrative trace of the children.

She went on to reveal that this was detailed in a document entitled the 'Gentleman’s Agreement’ by UKBA staff as part of a pack providing details of the policies and procedures guiding the operations around entry. The policy has been operational between April 1995 and August 2011 and was ended due to the intervention of Atkinson.

It doesn't sound very gentlemanly to us.

For further information click here.

Israel to detain people entering the country irregularly for up to 3 years, or more

Israel to detain people entering the country irregularly for up to 3 years, or more

The Israeli Parliament passed a bill authorising the detention of anyone who enters the territory without prior permission. The detention can last up to 3 years. If the Israeli authorities believe a person is from a country it considers to be a source of anti-Israel terrorism, detention can be longer than three years.

Amnesty International's Interim Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Ann Harrison commented that “Israel has the right to protect its borders, but it does not have the right to abandon its international human rights obligations to asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants, or to criminalise them as ‘infiltrators’, which only fuels xenophobia and discrimination.”

For further information click here.

Greece: New Asylum Services

The Greek government has established three new asylum services - the Initial Reception Service, the Asylum Service and the Appeals Authority.

Their new Initial Reception Services is established to provide services to third country nationals who are arrested due to illegal entry or stay in Greece, under conditions that guarantee human dignity and their rights. The services includes identification, registration, medical screening and support, advice on their rights and entitlements, and the referral of vulnerable persons.

The Asylum Service will receive asylum seekers and decide their cases. The Appeals Authority aim to overcome the shortcomings of the past which has resulted in criticisms from both the domestic and the international community.

More when we have it.

Forced Returns of Tamils to Sri Lanka

The Human Rights Watch has asked the UK government to halt deportations of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. The UK Border Agency's Operational Guidance Note fails to make reference to the return of Tamils despite accepting torture is widespread. Those individuals forcibly removed on passenger flights are not met by British Embassy staff and their situation thereafter is not monitored.

The Human Rights Watch documented eight recent cases of arrest, severe torture, rape and interrogation upon return, supported by medical evidence. Following this report Freedom of Torture also called on the UK government to stop all forcible removals of Tamils to Sri Lanka.

A copy of the Human Rights Watch report can be found
here.

UKBA Language Analysis in asylum cases. UKBA Language Analysis in Asylum Cases

Dr John Campbell, Head of Department of Sociology an Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS] produced a report concerning the UK Border Agency's [UKBA] use of Language Analysis in asylum cases.

The UKBA states that the purpose of their analysis is to properly determine the place of origin for asylum seekers. Dr Campbell spent time examining the process, the procedures, as well as linguists' claims of being experts.

Dr Campbell concludes that the process is not objective and is fundamentally political. It is based on flawed assumptions about language, and on subjective, rather than objective, criteria. There is also very little empirical evidence to support language analysis.

It is an invaluable read for anyone dealing with asylum cases. The full report can be found
here.




Undocumented migrants keep on facing obstacles to access basic rights and justice

The European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a new report entitled “Fundamental rights of migrants in an irregular situation in the European Union which argues that, “while EU Member States have a right to control immigration, non-compliance with migration regulations cannot deprive migrants in an irregular situation of certain basic rights to which they are entitled as human beings”.

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum said, “We employ irregular migrants as cheap domestic workers to clean our homes. We eat the fruits and vegetables that they pick. But despite their contribution to our societies, when irregular migrants try to access healthcare or education services, or try to seek justice in case of abuse, they often face a closed door or, worse, deportation. Human rights belong to all human beings. And we remain human beings even if we do not have a passport, or a visa or a residence permit.”

A recent course by given by
Raza Husain QC at Matrix Chambers explained how EEA law may be relied upon to safeguard those rights.

Article 1F of the Refugee Convention and Discretionary Leave

Article 1F excludes certain individuals from full refugee status, and the protections that come with that status. Those excluded include:

  • Persons who have committed a crime against, peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity;
  • Persons who have committed a serious non-political crime; or
  • Persons guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

From 02 September 2011 a person that falls under this exclusion but who cannot be returned because of potential breaches to their Article 3 human rights protection will be granted a new restrictive discretionary leave on the following basis:

  • the leave will be issued for a maximum of 6 months at any one time;
  • there may be conditions restricting employment or occupations in the UK including restrictions on the individual working / volunteering a particular regulated / professional field.
  • there may be conditions prohibiting education;
  • there may be residence restrictions;
  • there may be conditions requiring the person to report at regular intervals;
  • there may be restrictions on the individual working / volunteering a particular regulated / professional field.

The full guidance can be found by clicking here.

The UKBA and Country Reports

The UKBA is responsible for considering asylum applications. In order to do so effectively they must fully take into account relevant information from the applicant's application and evidence, and then review it in conjunction with available country of origin information, as well as other relevant factors.

The UKBA’s department called the Country of Origin Information Service (COIS) collates and summarises information on countries giving rise to asylum claims in the UK. It was the use of those reports that the Independent Chief Inspector investigated between October 2010 and May 2010. The ICI concluded:

  • The UKBA needs to adopt a consistent approach to the use of COIS reports;
  • 17% of decisions demonstrated a selective use of COI reports or contained assertions which the full range of country information did not support;
  • the information in the COI reports was sometimes used selectively or otherwise inappropriately in decision making;
  • COI was also included selectively in statements of policy with the risk that case owners could make decisions without taking into account all available evidence;
  • there was no consistent coordination of the various COI documents produced by the Agency; and
  • in the absence of a COI report, case owners operated very different approaches to researching COI and there was no mechanism to pool obtained knowledge.

The ICI said that the reports play a vital part in ensuring that decision makers are equipped with the most up-to-date and accurate information about conditions in other countries, but improvements needed to be made, and we wholeheartedly agree.

The full report can be found here.

European countries commit to take 300 refugees from Malta and 700 from North Africa

European countries pledged to relocate about 300 people from Malta, and to resettle about 700 people coming from Libya, Commissioner Malmstrom said. The commitment were made at a Pledging Conference on Relocation and Resettlement held in the margins of the Justice and Home Affairs extraordinary Council.

Pledges were reportedly made by Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hungary, Denmark, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Norway.

The UK Government decided not to accept any refugees who had managed to cross the Mediterranean fleeing turmoil in Libya. The Home Secretary said that the UK would not join the“burden sharing” scheme. This has been further confirmed by the deputy PM, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who, in contradiction to his comments detailed in our blog post found here, backed the decision not to open the borders. He said we would instead provide practical support directly in Italy. In a direct comparison, Ireland's Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch said, “We believe it's a very good and worthwhile gesture in the circumstances. There are other countries with far greater resources than us who will be taking less.” A leading example from Ireland who are able to offer help despite their perilous economic position.

More when we have it.

Libyans in the UK

The UKBA accepts that Libyans in the UK may be unable to return due to the current situation in Libya. The UKBA asks that you keep proof of original travel plans as evidence of your intention to comply with your original visa requirements. They ask that you monitor the situation, and make arrangements to return as soon as it is safe to do so.

The UKBA does not, however, confirm how any future immigration applications will be considered if you are forced to overstay your leave. It is likely ... Read More...

Iraq

The Netherlands will stop deporting Iraqis - Dutch Minister for Immigration and Asylum Gerd Leers announced that the Netherlands will stop deportation of Iraqis to their home country. Read More...

Seraphus Solicitors & Legal Aid

Legal Aid services now available at Seraphus. Read More...