Landmark ruling finds failure to provide support to asylum seekers is leading to homelessness and destitution

Last updated April 11, 2012Press release

A landmark ruling has found that the failure of the Home Office to provide access to support for asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their further claim for asylum for a minimum of three weeks is leading to homelessness and destitution.

Refugee Action, an independent national charity, intervened to give evidence in the case of MK & AH v Secretary of State for the Home Department at a hearing on 10th and 11th May, 2012. Refugee Action was represented by the Migrants’ Law Project and by Mark Henderson and Alison Pickup of Doughty Street Chambers.

In handing down the decision, Mr Justice Foskett, said: “There are human beings behind each application made and that some… may be extremely vulnerable at the time of making the application for support, the vulnerability being exacerbated by being destitute and homeless at the time”.

The case concerns the failure of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to provide the claimants with accommodation and financial support whilst they were waiting for the UKBA to decide whether their further submissions, including new evidence of the risk of persecution, constituted a new claim for asylum.

The court heard that the claimants had experienced a prolonged period of destitution, and in one case, homelessness, as a result of government policy or practice on access to Section 4 support.

Mr Justice Foskett commented that Refugee Action’s intervention, which included evidence from the British Red Cross and other leading charities, showed that destitution often suffered by asylum seekers awaiting decisions appeared to ‘be an inevitable consequence’ of Home Office policy.

Chief Executive of Refugee Action, Dave Garratt, said: “This case has shone a spotlight on government policy and practice which can leave asylum seekers homeless and hungry. Forcing people into such abject poverty should never be the outcome of government procedure.

When people who have been refused asylum have new or previously undisclosed evidence, or the situation in their home country has changed, making a new asylum claim can be the difference between life and death. Whether they are eventually allowed to stay in the UK or not, the system should not turn its back on people whilst they seek sanctuary.

Many people seeking protection in the UK will have experienced torture and trauma, and may be particularly at risk of illness and mental health problems. Destitution for these people can be especially dangerous.

The poverty and indignity suffered by the claimants, one of whom has already been able to prove his need for protection and gain asylum, undermines our duty to provide sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and persecution in their country of origin. Homelessness and hunger should have no place in a fair and efficient asylum system”.

Evidence provided by Refugee Action at the hearing revealed that the delay from the date of application for Section 4 support to support being provided is now on average 30 days. Research found that only 33 per cent of decisions were made within the Home Office target timescale of 15 days between the submission of an application and a decision being made.

Dave Garratt added: “We will seek to ensure that, as this policy has now been deemed unlawful, it is conclusively withdrawn by the Home Office and further administrative delays to decision-making are not allowed to push vulnerable people into destitution”. Refugee Action is pushing for reform of the asylum support system, including Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and will be making recommendations to the Home Office on the need to protect asylum seekers from destitution while they wait for a final determination of their claim for asylum.

ENDS

For more information, please contact Refugee Action Public Affairs and Communications Manager, Carys Davis on 07876 770122 or carysd@refugee-action.org.uk

Notes to editors:

  • The full judgement can be found here:http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/media/judgments/2012/mk-ah-judgment-10072012
  • Refugee Action is an independent national charity working to enable refugees to build new lives. We provide practical advice and assistance to newly arrived asylum seekers and long-term commitment to their settlement through community and development work. As one of the country’s leading agencies in the field, Refugee Action has more than 30 years’ experience in pioneering innovative work in partnership with refugees. For more information, please visit www.refugee-action.org.uk
  • The Migrants Law Project is a public law and public legal education project that works to protect and promote the rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants in the UK through advice and representation, training and public legal education. For further information or comment, please contact us via our website atwww.themigrantslawproject.org
  • Refugee Action were represented in the case by Mark Henderson and Alison Pickup of Doughty Street Chambers instructed by the Migrants’ Law Project. Mark is a public lawyer specialising in human rights, social welfare, immigration, and EU law. He acts in judicial reviews and appeals at all levels of domestic courts together with the CJEU and the European Court of Human Rights as well as civil claims against the Home Office. Alison specialises in immigration and asylum law, asylum support, community care, prison law, mental health and unlawful detention claims. For more information, please visit: www.doughtystreet.co.uk
  • The Claimants in the case were represented by Platt Halpern Solicitors and by Ranjiv Khubber (of One Pump Court) and Martin Westgate QC (of Doughty Street Chambers). Platt Halpern is a firm in Manchester specialising in providing legal advice for people on low incomes including housing advice with a specialism in asylum support. For more information, please visit: http://www.platthalpern.co.uk