Judges open door to refugees spurned by France and Germany

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BRITAIN WILL have to accept thousands more asylum-seekers, following a Court of Appeal ruling yesterday. The judgment represents an embarrassing defeat for Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, who was found to have acted unlawfully in ordering that three asylum-seekers be sent back to France and Germany.

The two countries do not recognise persecution by non-governmental forces, and therefore refuse asylum to individuals claiming to have been persecuted in their home countries by groups such as neo-Nazis, guerrillas, or fundamentalists.

Three senior Court of Appeal judges, headed by Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, found that neither country could be regarded as safe for refugees who face persecution in their own countries from forces other than the state. The judges said Britain was consequently obliged to consider their asylum applications.

Britain had previously relied on the Dublin Convention that people applying for asylum within the European Union should have their application heard in the first member state in which they set foot.

The Court of Appeal ruling was described as "very important" by Anne Owers, director of Justice, the human rights organisation. She said the Government would have to review its Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is based on the assumption that other EU states are safe destinations for asylum-seekers, even though those states may have a harsher interpretation of the United Nations convention on refugees.

Although Mr Straw agreed in June this year to reconsider the applications of all three, the appeal case went ahead to clarify the law. There are at least 200 other asylum-seekers in a similar position and the ruling could be significant for thousands more who come to Britain from France, Germany or Austria, which has a similar interpretation of the refugee convention.

The Court of Appeal ruling was based on the cases of a Sri Lankan Tamil who fears persecution by the Tamil Tigers, a Somalian in fear of a local militia leader, and an Algerian who said that Islamic fundamentalists had threatened to kill him.

The Home Secretary is expected to appeal to the House of Lords.