On 25 May 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that Theresa May acted unlawfully when she was Home Secretary. And with just over two weeks to go until the general election, these findings are another blow to the Prime Minister. But despite the ruling, the media are barely reporting the story.
In 1998, 75 people (including children) were washed up on the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus, after their boat got into difficulty off the coast. Initially detained for some months, they were granted refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
But since then, they have been living in increasingly deteriorating conditions. According to a press release from the families’ solicitors Leigh Day:
For the last 18 years the six refugee claimants and their nineteen children have had to endure deteriorating living conditions on the SBA where they are housed in ex-military accommodation which was due to be demolished in 1997. Many of the children have spent their whole lives on the SBA.
Theresa May became involved in 2014 when, as Home Secretary, she refused to take legal responsibility for the families. And despite the fact that the families were granted refugee status, May argued that did not extend to the SBA. She therefore argued that the families had no right to resettlement in the UK.
The case was taken to the High Court in 2016, where the government lost. And although the court agreed that the SBA was not technically covered by the convention, the UK was obliged to act in the spirit of that convention.
But May wasn’t happy with this decision and appealed. And the Court of Appeal went further. It found that the SBA was indeed covered by the convention and that the UK had a direct responsibility for the families there. Leigh Day explains:
In a unanimous decision the Court of Appeal has today (25 May 2017) found that Theresa May acted unlawfully by refusing to consider allowing entry to the UK to a group of refugee families stranded on the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus.
The judgment found that:
There can be no justification for any future decision which leaves these Claimants’ position unresolved for any further length of time. As the Judge made clear, their present conditions are quite unacceptable. That appears to be common ground… I would regard it as unreasonable and a failure of the obligations to the refugees if resettlement was not achieved rapidly.
The lead claimant in the case, Tag Bashir, stated:
We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has found in our favour and confirmed what we have always known: that we are the responsibility of the UK Government. For the last eighteen years the UK Government has sought to ignore us and has left us stranded on the SBA living in awful conditions. All we have ever wanted is an opportunity to work and make a future for our children. We hope that the Home Secretary will now allow us entry to the UK. We will keep fighting until she does.
And Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day, quoted May’s own words back at her:
Our clients have been in legal limbo for 18 years living in wholly unacceptable conditions on a British military base. They have suffered enough. Now is the time for the Government to show compassion and a ‘strong and stable’ resolve to address this situation which has festered for far too long. We hope the UK Government will not seek to pursue further costly legal proceedings and will face up to its responsibilities by allowing this small group of recognised refugees entry to the UK.
Lack of compassion
May acted without compassion in denying these families their right to live in the UK. And in doing so, she has forced adults and children to live in appalling conditions. May not only broke international law to deny them the right to live in the UK, she condemned them to live in accommodation that was due to be demolished some twenty years ago.
It is a damning indictment of the Prime Minister that she was prepared to act in this way. And it is a damning indictment of the way her government treats refugees.
Meanwhile, the BBC and other media outlets appear to be ignoring the story. And this is massively beneficial to May, as she would prefer that stories of her breaking the law didn’t make headline news.
But on 8 June, we do have a chance to vote for compassion. To vote to do things differently and build a kinder, more compassionate society.
– Vote on 8 June!
– Discuss the key policy issues with family members, colleagues and neighbours. And organise! Join (and participate in the activities of) a union, an activist group, and/or a political party.
– Also read more Canary articles on the 2017 general election.
Featured image via Flickr
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