Asylum seeker decision reversed by Home Office as sending him to Syria would be ‘inhumane’

UK 'must take own responsibility' for immigration policy says MEP

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Reports of a 25-year-old asylum seeker being told by the Government he can return to Syria because it is safe to do so shook the public earlier this month. The man fled war in 2017 and arrived in the UK in 2020. Documents from December 2021 show “a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm” was not accepted by the Home Office. This was later reversed given “the UK Government agrees with the UN judgement that Syria remains unsafe”. Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, told sending people back to Bashar al-Assad’s regime “would set a very dangerous precedent”.

She said: “Sending Syrians back to Syria would put the UK Government in breach of its international obligation not to return individuals to places where they would face persecution or other serious harms.”

The asylum seeker, who was not named for his own protection, said he will be targeted as a draft evader, arrested, detained and killed if he returns to Syria.

He claimed: “I am looking for safety.

“My solicitor is appealing against the Home Office decision and says this is the first Syrian asylum refusal case she has seen.”

Speaking to The Guardian, he added: “I hope I will not be forced back to Syria. I am so tired of trying to find somewhere that I can be safe.”

A refusal letter Home Office officials sent him last month, seen by the same paper, reads: “I am not satisfied to a reasonable degree of likelihood that you have a well-founded fear of persecution.

“It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm on return to the Syrian Arab Republic due to your imputed political opinion as a draft evader.”

Ms Ahmed explained the Home Office must find the asylum application to be “credible based on a range of factors, including the asylum seeker’s personal circumstances and the situation in their country of origin”.

The Home Office’s bar is low for Syrian asylum seekers given the “enormous difficulties” it knows they face in providing evidence of their position to support their claim, which adds a layer of mystery to the initial rejection.

It is thought the man’s return would have been the first case of its kind in the UK.

Ms Ahmed said: “Upholding this decision on appeal would set a very dangerous precedent and may encourage other governments to follow suit.

“In the last couple of years, Denmark has already been revoking the residency permits of Syrian refugees. Syria is not safe for Syrian refugees, including draft evaders, to return to.”

Recent research by Human Rights Watch found Syrian refugees who voluntarily returned to Syria between 2017 and 2021 faced “torture, extra-judicial killings, and kidnappings” at the hands of the government and affiliated militias.

Denmark became the first EU member nation to remove the “temporary protection” status of individuals from Damascus or Damascus Countryside, forcing asylum seekers to live in return centres or return to Syria “voluntarily”.

Days after the Syrian man was first given a voice in the media, the Home Office published a statement clarifying they are “not returning people to Syria” in today’s circumstances.

Further, the Syrian man’s lawyers received a letter retracting the Home Office’s decision saying: “It has been concluded that the decision to refuse your client’s protection claim is not in accordance with the Home Office’s published country policy position and is therefore withdrawn with a view to granting asylum.”

Days later, however, reports of two similar scenarios emerged.

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A 36-year-old Yemeni and a 21-year-old Afghan had their asylum claims rejected on the basis they would not be at risk in their home countries.

Yemen and Afghanistan — just as Syria — are presented as big conflict zones within the Home Office’s own guidance.

The Afghan man arrived in the UK five years ago after fleeing forced conscription by the Taliban at his madrassa.

Because of a cannabis-related conviction, he was informed by Home Office officials they want to revoke the refugee status he was previously granted.

The Home Office letter, from December 15, 2021, states the Taliban are now the de facto authorities in his country. They wrote: “It is not considered that they [the Taliban] would still have an adverse interest in a low-level person such as you.”

Ms Ahmed said: “Such inhumanity is unsurprising.

“The UK Government is going to extreme lengths to disregard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.”

In December last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel told Parliament: “Asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive in the country via legal routes.

“Even if their claim is successful, they will be granted temporary refugee status and face the prospect of being indefinitely liable for removal.

“Asylum seekers will be able to be removed from the UK while their asylum claim or appeal is pending, which opens the door to offshore asylum processing.”

It has been suggested Ms Patel’s stance on immigration and asylum might be a strategic effort to counter criticism she has not done enough to stop the boats crossing from France to the English coast through the Channel.

Rim Turkmani, research director for Syria with the Conflict Research Programme at the London School of Economics, said: “This case could make her look tough in the eyes of those critics showing she is prepared to crack down on asylum applications as well as immigration.”

Speaking to DW, he added: “Too many people do not understand the difference between asylum seekers and other immigrants.”

Ms Ahmed claimed: “Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently before the Lords, would criminalise seeking asylum, discriminate between refugees, push back boats at sea and detain asylum seekers offshore.”

The bill, having passed by MPs in the House of Commons in December, is due to go to the committee stage on January 27.

The clause causing the most concern is one that enables the Home Office to strip an individual’s British citizenship without prior notice.

While the Home Office has been able to remove someone’s citizenship for more than a century, reviewing each case personally, the new part of the law would open up a route for the Government to do so much more easily, and without the need to tell them.

Ms Patel says the law would be used in “exceptional circumstances” on people who pose the most risk to the UK, including terrorists, war criminals and spies.

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