First published in Clarity: November 12 2014
In the past week, a petition calling on the Home Office to revoke a deportation order for Wadih Chourey, a Lebenese man with Down’s syndrome has gathered over 75,000 signatures. Wadih, who moved to Britain in 1997 with his parents, seeking refuge from the gangs who had targeted his family for abuse, had previously appealed successfully against the decision on human rights grounds. However, the Home Office successfully challenged the outcome, and the case is now being heard by the court of appeal.
Wadih’s case is the latest example of a disabled asylum seeker being vigorously pursued by the Home Office, in spite of compelling evidence that their illness or disability would make it hard for them to reintegrate into their country of origin. In this case, it is has been established by Wadih’s brothers that he is incapable of looking after himself, and that given the unstable political climate of the region, it would be dangerous to deport him. His brothers have emphasised the fact that Wadih has never claimed any benefits from the state, and helps out in the family bakery in Twickenham. “It’s a terrible waste of their (the Home Office’s) resources,” Vince Cable MP stated, “and it’s fundamentally inhumane.”
Across London, Enoch Fadoyin, and in Manchester, Manjeet Kaur, have faced similar experiences in the past year. Enoch, an autistic boy born in England to a Nigerian father who was in the country on a student visa, requires high level support, and has little awareness of danger, faces being deported with his family to a country he has never lived in, in spite of his teachers stating that even a change of schools would be highly stressful and upsetting. In Nigeria, he would be labelled an outcast – in some parts of the country, autism is linked to witchcraft and the influence of ‘evil spirits.’ His case is ongoing.
Manjeet is a paralysed polio survivor and political campaigner, who moved to Britain three years ago to escape intimidation, physical attacks and death threats from the Indian government. An Afghan national, she faces deportation back to India, where she previously lived with her husband, Amitt Bhatt, a campaigning journalist who exposed government corruption in books that Manjeet researched and proofread. Manjeet was housed in Manchester following her application for asylum, though she faced eviction soon after when the Home Office rejected her case. Her work with RAJAR has improved the lives of disabled asylum seekers across the city.
In each of these three cases, interventions on behalf on behalf of the asylum seeker have prompted a sympathetic response from the public, in spite of the widespread perception of discontent about immigration levels. There is evidence that such interventions can work, particularly if they attract the attention of a local MP. In 2012, Lemlem Hussein Abdu, a 62 year old disabled woman living in Sheffield, was allowed a last minute reprieve against deportation to Ethiopia – a country she fled from in 1978 – after Paul Blomfield MP intervened, supported by the Bishop of Sheffield. But in a number of other cases, asylum seekers have ultimately been deported.
Characteristic of the appeals process is the length of time it can take for a decision to be reached, with some taking close to a decade to resolve. It recently emerged that the Home Office has a backlog of nearly 20,000 asylum decisions to work through, with the caseloads reaching back as far as 1996. Given that approximately half of cases are overturned on appeal, it is demonstrably an expensive and drawn out process, particularly if an appeal is successful. One lost tribunal case in particular, cost the Home Office £1 million after the fees for its appeal were calculated.
Though the Home Office has refused to publish details of how much they have spent on legal battles, further details drawn from the Home Office Account Report 2012/13 demonstrate the disorganised and wasteful state of the appeals process. Millions of pounds are being spent on legal battles, including a £8.9 million liability for cases of unlawful detention against the UK Border Agency (UKBA). There were charges for £713,000 in claimant legal costs borne by the Home Office in a special payments category, and in one case involving two families led to a compensation payment of over £100,000 pounds was paid.
Recent allegations that Home Office officials have been set targets to reject 70% of asylum appeals, have only exacerbated the situation. Such targets, if they exist, surely compromise the ability of the Home Office to make impartial decisions. A decision made on the back of weak evidence that was submitted under pressure, is more likely to be overturned or appealed against. In affairs such as these, the public are more likely to respond well to an increase in successful cases, rather than an increase in appeals against morally suspect decisions, and an arbitrary number of deportations which will put disabled people at genuine risk of harm.