In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal has today held that the 1951 Refugee Convention has been extended to the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, and ordered the Secretary of State for the Home Department to re-consider her decision to refuse a group of recognised refugee families admission to the United Kingdom.
The Claimants are the heads of six refugee families, who were among a
group of 75 individuals who washed ashore on the SBA in October 1998, after the
boat they were travelling in foundered off the Cypriot coast. Following their
arrival on the SBA, the six were detained for months. They were released after
being recognised as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1999/2000
following a procedure conducted in conjunction with the Home Office and the UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
For the last 18 years the six refugee claimants and their nineteen children endured 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.
The Claimants claimed that the 1951 Refugee Convention applies to the SBA and that the UK could only comply with the obligations owed to the Claimants by allowing their resettlement to the UK. The Secretary of State for the Home Department argued that that the 1951 Refugee Convention was never extended to the SBA and that the families have no grounds on which to seek resettlement in the UK.
The Court of Appeal has told held that the 1951 Refugee Convention does apply directly to the SBA by virtue of the UK’s earlier extension of the Convention to the coly of Cyprus in 1957. As a result, the UK owes direct obligations to the Claimants by operation of public international law. The Court of Appeal held that the “[t]he Secretary of State must take the decision once more but on the basis that the Refugee Convention applies directly and the United Kingdom owes direct obligations to the Claimants by operation of public international law” (§79). The Court further stated that “[t]here can be no justification for any future decision which leaves these Claimants’ position unresolved for any further length of time” (§84) and that it “would regard it as unreasonable and a failure of the obligations to the refugees if resettlement was not achieved rapidly” (§85).
The full judgment can be read here.
Tom Hickman and Jason Pobjoy acted for the Claimants, instructed by Leigh Day solicitors.