At 10:30am yesterday, Refugee Action heard news that sent whoops of joy through the audience of our staff conference. The claimants in a recent High Court judicial review (MK & AH v SSHD) had been successful in their case against the Home Secretary. Their case addressed the lawfulness of the Home Office policy of denying asylum seekers access to Section 4 support until a decision is made on their further submissions. Both claimants, MK and AH, found themselves destitute for at least three weeks while waiting for a decision on their support application.
Both claimants had been Refugee Action clients when they submitted their application for support, and we played a key role in the legal challenge by acting as an independent intervener in the case. This means that we offered the Court our unique expertise as an advice agency that supports and assists asylum seekers in exactly this situation, every single day, across England. In the months leading up to the hearing we had our heads down furiously collecting evidence of the impact of this policy on our clients, and debating lines of legal argument with our solicitor, Sonal Ghelani of Migrants Law Project, and our barristers, Alison Pickup and Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers.
Was it all worth it…..? You bet it was. To quote the judge:
‘The evidence in this case drives me to the conclusion that the blanket instruction [concerning access to Section 4] does involve a significant risk that the Article 3 rights of a significant number of applicants for section 4 support will be breached.’
That means the judge agreed with the claimants’ that the policy carries an unacceptable risk that asylum seekers in need of support will be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment – a risk that was strongly suggested by the evidence we collected.
So, what does this judgment mean for asylum seekers? In a nutshell, it means that people who have had an initial asylum claim and appeal refused, but have presented further evidence or information to be considered as a fresh claim for asylum, must not be subjected to a prolonged period of destitution, hunger, homelessness, and desperation. It means they won’t be forced to hop from sofa to sofa, from church pew to park bench, from night bus to rain-soaked doorway. It means they’ll be able to buy food, phone their legal representatives, travel to see their kids, make it to GP appointments, and hold their heads up high with something resembling dignity. Perhaps most significantly, it means they won’t have to make that awful, terrifying choice between suffering the inhumane experience of destitution in order to pursue safety in the UK, or returning to persecution or death in their country of origin.
We believe it’s a choice no person should have to make – and, with a great sigh of relief, we can proudly state that the Court agrees with us. The High Court, one of the most respected legal institutions in this country, has stood up for the rights of asylum seekers.
However, we won’t stop here. We have to make sure the Home Office abides by this judgment, withdraws this unacceptable policy and introduces a fair and transparent system that ensures all asylum seekers who are eligible for support are provided with it in a prompt and efficient manner. If you agree that forcing people into abject poverty should never be the outcome of any government policy or practice, show your support for this cause on Facebook. You can also read the full judgement here.
– Sile Reynolds, OSS Policy Manager, Refugee Action
Posted by Eleanor Dean