Unlawful Detention – Asylum seekers to sue

Asylum seekers who were illegally detained in the UK, some of whom were victims of torture, are to sue the Home Office.

More than 20 asylum seekers have lodged a claim for compensation, which lawyers suggest could be owed to thousands who were held unlawfully between January 2014 and March 2017, which was a time when the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy towards migrants was paramount.

The claimants were arrested and detained by the UK Border Force under Home Office guidance and the Dublin 111 regulation, which states that refugees must claim asylum in the first EU country that they arrive in. The regulation permitted the detention of asylum seekers before they were returned to the country of their arrival in Europe – but only if there was a significant risk of them absconding and if it was proportionate.

The supreme court found, in November 2019, that the Home Office policy was unlawful and ruled that the claimants were entitled to subsequent damages.

Among the claimants, there is a Sudanese national who had been arrested and tortured in Sudan on suspicion of being loyal to an opposition political party.  Another an Iranian national arrested and tortured in an Iranian prison for his political activities.

Waleed Sheikh, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day and who is representing the claimants, said that many of the clients are vulnerable individuals who had been forced to flee their countries, not out of choice, but due to the most horrific experiences, which most of us in the UK will fortunately never witness or experience.

Having made the brave and dangerous journey from across the world in the hope of finding safety and a secure future in a free country, they were instead put into detention centres. He said that it was more than likely that thousands of other asylum seekers in Britain are also entitled to make a claim.  Sheikh added however, that it was difficult to trace them. Some are now abroad and many do not speak English.  There is no obligation for the Home Office to contact those who were held illegally.

It is estimated that the department may have to pay £8,000 to £10,000 for each month a claimant was held.  Other factors such as the detention’s contribution to any health problems could also increase the payouts.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The individuals in question were only detained to facilitate removal to a safe European country.  We took immediate corrective action in March 2017 to ensure that we remain able to detain those in a similar position, who we determine are at risk of absconding”.  The spokesperson stressed that the department was committed to fixing a ‘broken asylum system to make it firm and fair’.

Sheikh, however, questioned this commitment.  “The hostile environment has not just been tolerated but nurtured and championed by successive home secretaries. That it should then foster a culture within the Home Office of dehumanising asylum seekers, of detaining almost by default and without proper checks should surprise no-one”.