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HOME OFFICE DID NOT INFORM FAILED ASYLUM SEEKERS OF 'HARD CASE' SUPPORT SCHEME

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Home secretary David Blunkett has been ordered by the High Court to rethink his policy of not informing failed asyl...
Home secretary David Blunkett has been ordered by the High Court to rethink his policy of not informing failed asylum seekers that they might qualify for 'hard case' housing support while they await return to their home countries.

A judge in London said Mr Blunkett's practice of withholding information

about the scheme was based partly on the view that making the policy more

widely known would encourage unfounded applications for assistance.

'It is a fundamental requisite of the rule of law that the law should be

made known,' said Mr Justice Stanley Burnton.

'The individual must be able to know of his legal rights and obligations.'

There was no evidence to justify the home secretary's view that wider

publication of the scheme would encourage undeserved applications.

Hard case support comprises basic full board accommodation, normally outside London. To receive it the person must be able to show they are complying with efforts to remove them from the UK.

Ordering a reconsideration of his non-disclosure policy, the judge said Mr

Blunkett would 'doubtless' take into account evidence that some people

unaware of their eligibility for hard case support made false duplicate

asylum claims to obtain assistance and ended up in prison.

'Quite apart from other considerations, the cost of keeping them in prison

must be very much greater than the cost of YMCA accommodation,' the judge

said.

Mr Blunkett was given leave to appeal against the ruling, which came in the

case of Iraqi Kurd Ibrahim Salih and Iranian Behnam Rahmani.

Both men are now receiving accommodation and support but won permission to

challenge the non-disclosure policy as unlawful.

Mr Salih, who is staying at a privately-run house for asylum seekers in

Birmingham, eventually discovered that he qualified as an exceptional case

for continuing support because, although he was complying with effor ts to

remove him from the UK, no safe route had yet been found for his return to

northern Iraq.

He had stated: 'I have only been able to survive by begging others in the

house for food. It is difficult and stressful. The others cannot afford to

support me. I cannot get enough to eat. My diet is very poor.

'I feel degraded by my situation. I am desperate for support.'

Mr Rahmani's case was also considered exceptional because he has won

permission to challenge the refusal of asylum in the courts in a case which

the home secretary regards as 'not wholly unmeritorious'.

The two men, like other asylum seekers, are not allowed to work for gain and found themselves destitute when support was withdrawn after the failure of their asylum pleas.

Neither was informed by the government's National Asylum Support Service -

or, initially, by any other agency or lawyer - that they might still qualify for continuing support as 'hard cases'.

The judge said the home secretary's assumption that legal representatives

and voluntary organisations were adequate sources of information about the

hard case scheme was 'unfounded as a matter of fact'.

He said it was a 'matter of concern' that many lawyers acting for asylum

seekers did not inform their clients of the scheme.

It was 'unprofessional and certainly uncaring' for solicitors simply to

close their file once a destitute asylum seeker's claim had been rejected.

He also found it surprising that those who sought advice from the Refugee

Council might not be told of the scheme or referred to solicitors who could

advise about it.

The judge said he was 'by no means insensitive' to the problems caused by

large-scale immigration of asylum seekers.

He had in mind that Mr Salih and other Iraqi Kurds whose cases had failed

for lack of credibility must be regarded as economic migrants.

But, by introducing the hard cases scheme, Mr Blunkett 'has himself

recognis ed that common humanity requires that even failed asylum seekers,

who are prohibited from working and have no other avenue of support, and

have good reason not to return to their own countries, must be provided with the essential basics of life.'

Welcoming the fact that Mr Blunkett had been given leave to appeal against

the ruling, a Home Office spokesman said: 'In the majority of cases there is nothing to prevent a failed asylum seeker from leaving the UK and therefore most will not qualify.

'In some cases where a failed asylum seeker is unable to leave immediately

through no fault of their own, the Home Office will consider a request for

hard case support.

'However, given that only a small minority of people qualify for hard case

support, we feel that widely publicising it will encourage abusive

applications from those not eligible, further delaying support for those who do.'

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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