The Court of Appeal has been hearing, this week, a case between the UK Government and a group of refugees who have lived on a British Sovereign Base Area (SBA) in Cyprus for nearly 20 years.
In April 2016 the High Court declared that the decision by Theresa May, the then Home Secretary, not to allow entry to the UK for the six refugees, and their nineteen children, currently stranded on a Ministry of Defence (MoD) base in Cyprus, was unlawful and must be quashed.
The April 2016 judgment of Mr Justice Foskett held that whilst the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to the SBA as a matter of international law, the UK and the SBA Administration are required to act within the spirit of the Refugee Convention because they adopted a policy to do so. The judge found the Home Secretary had failed to act within the spirit of the Refugee Convention in her decision of November 2014, which denied entry to the families, as she did not take into account crucial concerns raised by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The six claimants are appealing the High Court judgment in relation to:
- The application of the Refugee Convention
- Breach of the Refugee Convention
- Unequal treatment contrary to Article 8 and Article 14 ECHR
The Government disputes these arguments and it is appealing the High Court judgment on the grounds that:
- The 2014 decision was not legally invalidated by the failure of the Home Secretary to take into account the view expressed by the UNHCR that the relocation of the refugees to the Republic of Cyprus was no longer “a desirable or practical option”
- The 2014 decision would have been the same even if the UNHRC’s views were considered
In October 1998, a group of 75 individuals from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, arrived in the SBA after a boat in which they were travelling to Italy foundered off the coast of Cyprus. Following their arrival, the six claimants who took this case were detained for between eight to fourteen months.
Between 1999 and 2000 the six men and women were released after being recognised as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention following a procedure conducted by the SBA Administration in conjunction with the Home Office and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The six claimants and their children have remained living on the SBA ever since.
According to their lawyers, the six claimants and their families have had to endure deteriorating living conditions on the SBA with no access to healthcare, living in bungalows which were due to be demolished in 1997 and which were found to contain potentially harmful levels of asbestos in 2008.
Expert reports commissioned by the UNHCR in 2013 found high levels of anxiety and depression amongst the families with all children being assessed to have suffered in their “psychological health” due to their living conditions.
The Government has argued during the case that it reached an informal agreement with the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) to accept the refugees in 2005, however, the Government has failed to provide and written assurances from the RoC of this agreement.
In November 2014 the Home Secretary refused to consider the claimants for admission into the UK. That decision was subject to judicial review proceedings in the High Court, brought by the six claimants, in March 2016.
Rosa Curling, of Leigh Day's Human Rights team, said: “The conditions in which our clients and their children, recognised refugees, are living on British overseas territory is unacceptable. Successive UK governments have allowed this horrendous situation to continue for decades and it must now come to an end. The only lawful, durable solution to the situation is the resettlement of our clients in the UK and we hope the Court of Appeal will now intervene to ensure this can happen without further delay.”