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IRANIAN FAMILY WHO SOUGHT ASYLUM IN GREAT BRITAIN FACING EVICTION BY THE BRITISH HOME OFFICE
By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
(ANS) – A massive row is brewing, if not already under way, surrounding the rights of immigrants who have sought asylum in the United Kingdom .
In the current case under consideration by the British Home Office, an Iranian family have lost their appeal against a decision to remove their benefits and evict them from their home in Bury, Greater Manchester.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Khanali family came to the UK claiming they were persecuted because they were Christians, but their application for asylum was refused.
The BBC says the Home Office has the power to stop benefits to speed up their departure.
The family’s two children could now be taken into care under section nine of the Asylum Act.
“It’s a terrible situation the family are in and the council is now in a very difficult position,” said councilor Tim Chamberlain, executive member for health and wellbeing at Bury Council, near Greater Manchester.
“We’ve got to walk a very difficult tightrope between what we’re required to do under the act and what we’re obliged to do in terms of protecting the best interests of the children.
“As we understand it the best interests of the children are that they remain with the family.
“What we’re now being asked to do under section nine of the Immigration Act undermines the Children’s Act.”
The family’s solicitor, John Nicholson, said they were distraught at Tuesday’s decision.
“It’s been an inhumane process all the way through section nine,” he said.
“They’ve been hounded even before the birth of their six-month-old baby right the way through her early months and they don’t know which way to turn.
“We are quite shocked because we think this law not only is inhumane but also that the Home Office have carried it out in a wrong way and we would ask the home secretary to reconsider the whole pilot scheme.”
The BBC says the family had won a similar hearing against the Home Office earlier in August, but now face having their benefits withdrawn unless they co-operate with the government and leave the UK voluntarily.
In a statement, the Home Office said it was sending “a clear signal…that failed asylum-seeking families who are refused permission to remain in the UK must return home.”
The statement added: “Support will not be withdrawn where the family is co-operating with arrangements to return them to their home country and there is absolutely no reason for a family to become destitute or to be split up.
“We do not believe that many parents would put their children in this position.”
In a related report titled “Fewer asylum claims made but deportation target may be missed,” by Nigel Morris and Robert Verkaik, posted to www.news.independent.co.uk, the two reporters state: “The Government looks set to miss a much-trumpeted target for removing failed asylum-seekers, despite a sharp fall in the numbers claiming refuge in Britain.”
Morris and Verkaik say that asylum applications have dropped by 21 per cent over the past year to just over 2,000 a month and have plummeted by three-quarters since their peak in 2002.
“But the fall was tarnished by the admission that only about 1,000 failed asylum-seekers were being deported a month, slightly below the figure a year ago,” they say.
The Independent report says: “As part of its clampdown, the Government introduced Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, amending the earlier 2002 legislation, so that families with children can be deprived of housing and basic support if their initial asylum claim is refused. But because local authorities have an overriding duty of care towards children, if a family is left destitute, the children would have to be taken into care.”
The two reporters say that a Christian Iranian couple now face the “inhumane” choice of returning to religious persecution in their homeland or having their children taken away if they remain here.
Zohreh Khanali, 27, and her husband Vahid, 38, could be separated from six-month-old Mobina and Parisa, six, as early as the end of this week, lawyers said yesterday after an immigration tribunal ruling in favor of the Home Office.
The Khanali family, who are living in Bury, outside Greater Manchester, have already lost their battle for political asylum but since arriving in this country two years ago have won support from local councilors, their church and the governors of a primary school where Parisa is being educated.
The reporters state: “The new law being piloted in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and north London , is aimed at encouraging families to volunteer to return home after being rejected for asylum in this country. Those who agree to leave the country are allowed to keep their benefits.”
The reporters quote John Nicholson, representing the family, as saying: “The new law clearly violates international human rights protections to which the UK is party.
“This ‘pilot’ is inhumane in its creation and its implementation. People have fled persecution and need our support.”
Morris and Verkaik write that last September Tony Blair promised that by the end of this year the numbers returned to their home countries would exceed the total of unfounded applications.
They report: “But Home Office figures, covering April to June, show the Government faces a daunting challenge to meet this target. There were 6,220 asylum applications in the second quarter of 2005, down 11 per cent from the previous three months and 21 per cent fewer than the same period last year. In the same period, 3,095 failed asylum-seekers were deported, an increase on the previous quarter, but down 2 per cent on 2004.”
Tony McNulty, the Immigration minister insisted: “We remain committed to removing more failed asylum-seekers on a monthly basis by the end of 2005.”
The two reporters say the figures showed that 55,000 people applied to the UK between April and June 2005 under the Worker Registration Scheme governing workers from the new east European members of the EU. The number of work permit holders and their dependants admitted to the UK last year rose by 4 per cent to a record of 124,310.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the fall was “no cause for celebration” as Britain should not be proud fewe
r people were seeking safe haven.
The reporters say Migrationwatch UK , the right-wing think-tank, welcomed the drop in asylum claims, but urged ministers to “get a grip” on removals.
Humfrey Malins, the Tory immigration spokesman, said the failure to deport bogus refugees “makes a mockery” of the Government’s efforts to tackle the problem.
Margaret Lally, the deputy chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The Government needs to stop measuring the success of its asylum policy simply on the basis of the number of people claiming asylum and start to address more fundamental problems.”
The two Independent newspaper reporters say the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: “Targets shouldn’t guide asylum policy. We should always be welcoming those fleeing persecution but be firm with removing those who don’t have a genuine case.”
They add the Government “looks set to miss a much-trumpeted target for removing failed asylum-seekers, despite a sharp fall in the numbers claiming refuge in Britain .”
Asylum applications have dropped by 21 per cent over the past year to just over 2,000 a month and have plummeted by three-quarters since their peak in 2002, they write.
“But the fall was tarnished by the admission that only about 1,000 failed asylum-seekers were being deported a month, slightly below the figure a year ago,” they say.
As part of its clampdown, the Government introduced Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, amending the earlier 2002 legislation, so that families with children can be deprived of housing and basic support if their initial asylum claim is refused. But because local authorities have an overriding duty of care towards children, if a family is left destitute, the children would have to be taken into care.
The reporters say that a Christian Iranian couple now face the “inhumane” choice of returning to religious persecution in their homeland or having their children taken away if they remain here.
Last September British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised that by the end of this year the numbers returned to their home countries would exceed the total of unfounded applications. But Home Office figures, covering April to June, show the Government faces a daunting challenge to meet this target. There were 6,220 asylum applications in the second quarter of 2005, down 11 per cent from the previous three months and 21 per cent fewer than the same period last year. In the same period, 3,095 failed asylum-seekers were deported, an increase on the previous quarter, but down 2 per cent on 2004.
Tony McNulty, the Immigration minister insisted: “We remain committed to removing more failed asylum-seekers on a monthly basis by the end of 2005.”
The figures showed that 55,000 people applied to the UK between April and June 2005 under the Worker Registration Scheme governing workers from the new east European members of the EU. The number of work permit holders and their dependants admitted to the UK last year rose by 4 per cent to a record of 124,310.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the fall was “no cause for celebration” as Britain should not be proud fewer people were seeking safe haven.
Migrationwatch UK , the right-wing think-tank, welcomed the drop in asylum claims, but urged ministers to “get a grip” on removals.
Humfrey Malins, the Tory immigration spokesman, said the failure to deport bogus refugees “makes a mockery” of the Government’s efforts to tackle the problem.
Margaret Lally, the deputy chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The Government needs to stop measuring the success of its asylum policy simply on the basis of the number of people claiming asylum and start to address more fundamental problems.”
The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: “Targets shouldn’t guide asylum policy. We should always be welcoming those fleeing persecution but be firm with removing those who don’t have a genuine case.”
LEGAL CONFLICT FOR LOCAL COUNCILS OVER FAMILY ASYLUM SUPPORT
Local Councils in the United Kingdom could continue to house families of failed asylum seekers despite tough new legislation to withdraw all of their support, the government has conceded, according to a report posted to www.insidehousing.co.uk.
The website says that landlords could choose to ignore the legislation and continue to house families because the new rules, introduced under section nine of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act, clash with their duties under the Children Act.
It continues: “But the 1989 Children Act tells councils that the welfare of the child should always be the primary consideration and that children should be brought up and cared for by their families wherever possible.”
Two families in Bolton and Bury, who have both been refused leave to remain in the country, look set to provide the first real test of whether the new asylum rules are workable, the website says.
The Khanali family in Bury won a stay of execution on August 5 when a court ruled that the National Asylum Support Service could not evict them from their council-owned property.
At the same time Bolton Council has said it is unlikely to evict the Lusukumu family, despite the fact that they have been refused leave to remain and that the Home Office has confirmed it will withdraw benefits.
A Bolton Council spokesperson said: “There are no plans for the local authority to evict the family and we will help them with basic needs while working through the case.”
And 11 councils in the northwest have written to the Home Office calling for an immediate review of the hard-line immigration legislation.
John Nicholson, practice manager of the Bury Law Center , which represents both the Khanalis and the Lusukumus, told Inside Housing (www.insidehousing.co.uk.) there were real problems with the legislation.
“In both cases the councils have got ALMO set-ups. When they [National Asylum Support Service — NASS] stop the benefits they are not actually the landlord. There is a whole legal issue in there,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “In the rare cases where it does become necessary to end support we would not want children to be made destitute as a result of the actions of their parents, so it would be for local authorities to decide how the interests of the child should be protected under existing legislation.”
The website says the changes, which mean families refused asylum can have their benefits withdrawn in an attempt to force them to leave the country, are currently being piloted in Greater Manchester, north London , Leeds and Bradford .
It adds that the moves have led to fears that without benefits parents could be left destitute — with councils then forced to step in and look after their children.
Meanwhile a report posted to The Guardian newspaper website at www.guardian.co.uk, titled “Councils call for review of asylum law that strips families of benefits” says that a group of local councils yesterday demanded an urgent review of legislation that can leave failed asylum seekers homeless and destitute, and their children taken into care.
In a letter to the Home Office, the councils — 10 in Greater Manchester and one in Lancashire — said they wanted the review to ensure that children were not subjected to distress and suffering.
The report says: “Previously, anyone with children under 18 would still qualify for support if refused asylum. But under section nine of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act, support can be withdrawn from an entire family if no attempt is made to leave Britain voluntarily.”
The provision is being piloted in three areas including Greater Manchester before being extended nationwide, the Guardian report states.
The newspaper says that campaigners have denounced it as inhumane, claiming that those whose asylum claims have failed are faced with a stark option either to return home and face persecution or have their children taken from them.
The
National Asylum Support Service (NASS) has already told two families in Greater Manchester that their benefits — including the rent of council-owned homes — will be stopped.
The newspaper says that both families appealed last week. The Lusukumu family from Bolton , with five of six children under 16, lost and should have handed back the keys of the home last Friday. But the Khanali family from nearby Bury, with two children, one of them still breastfeeding, won and their victory may provide grounds for a judicial review of the Lusukumu case.
Basil Curley, a Manchester councilor and chairman of the consortium of northwest councils, refused to disclose the text of the letter to the Home Office.
But he said in a statement: “The aim of the section nine process was to change the behavior of families of failed asylum seekers and to increase the number of voluntary returns.
“In light of recent experiences in Greater Manchester, the board wants a review of the pilot to be conducted as a matter of urgency.”
The Guardian reports that Ngiedi Lusukumu and four of her children fled to Britain to escape persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo but have been denied asylum. NASS told her that her benefits would be withdrawn from last Friday, a decision that was supported at an appeal on Thursday.
The asylum support adjudicator acknowledged there had been inaccuracies in NASS procedures but said allowing the appeal “would only prolong the inevitable.”
The newspaper said the following day, the Khanalis, Iranian Christians with two children aged six and six months, won their appeal, with the adjudicator again saying the NASS procedures were wrong.
The asylum adjudicator added that the Home Office had ignored representations made by Ivan Lewis, the MP (Member of Parliament) for Bury south, and by the Bury Law Center and a church. Officials denied that they had received representations — but they wrote to the church to say thankyou for its letter.
“The legislation is inhumane to start with but the way it is being handled by the Home Office adds an extra burden to families already enduring extreme anxiety,” said John Nicholson of Bury Law Center , which has supported the Khanali family.
“The Home Office has hounded the family, from the point where the mother was in hospital giving birth, through the early stages of nurturing her baby, to the point where both parents are now suffering the consequences of anxiety and depression and are receiving treatment for their mental health.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said yesterday that issues raised by the northwest consortium would be discussed at a regular meeting with NASS.
She said support for families was stopped when all appeals were exhausted and “where we are satisfied that the family can leave or take reasonable steps to prepare to leave.
The Home Office spokesman added: “Where ceasing support is deemed appropriate, NASS write to the family to give them 14 days notice before support will stop. This is sufficient in the overwhelming number of cases for an appeal to be made and decided by the asylum support adjudicator.
She concluded: “As was made clear when the bill was going through parliament, we hope that families whose support is stopped will act responsibly and leave with their children. But where they do not we must act to ensure the needs of the children are met.”