Failed asylum seekers win action against home secretary
Thursday August 23, 2007
A high court judge has ordered Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, to stop sending failed asylum seekers back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr Justice Collins heard evidence that some of those who had been returned by the UK had suffered rape and torture at the hands of officials or agents after arriving at Kinshasa by charter plane in February.
Ten failed asylum seekers brought the action after Ms Smith refused to halt another charter flight scheduled to take 70 people to Kinshasha on August 30.
They were represented by Christopher Jacobs, who argued that the removals should not go ahead until after an asylum and immigration tribunal (AIT) hearing in September to evaluate whether Congo was a fit country to return asylum seekers.
Lisa Bush, representing the home secretary, said there was strong evidence that the country was a safe destination and that many of the claims were lies or exaggerations.
But the judge ruled Ms Smith must accept that she could not remove any failed asylum seekers until the AIT came to a decision although she could take the case to appeal. “In the meantime, she must not remove any failed asylum seekers,” he said.
The tribunal will hear from former immigration officers and security staff in Kinshasha, who will give evidence about what happened to some of those on the February charter flight, and from victims of torture, beatings and rape.
Mr Justice Collins asked Miss Bush whether the home secretary had “completely reliable” evidence that there was no risk for the deportees. She said there was “no realistic possibility” that those returned faced a risk.
The judge said: “Difficult decisions have to be made. But you are playing with people's lives and if you get it wrong, the decision may affect whether a person lives or dies or whether they are dealt with in an appalling fashion.”
He said he understood the home secretary was under pressure from those trying to stem the tide of immigration. “If you chose to take the job then you are landed with these sorts of pressures,” he said.
He pointed out that his decision did not mean an end to removals to the Democratic Republic of Congo, only a halt until the AIT made its decision.