Stowaway teacher sues Home Office

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is today expected to concede that immigration officials mishandled the case of a Zairean who stowed away on board a cargo ship in order to claim asylum in Britain.

In a High Court hearing which raises for the first time the issue of how stowaway refugees are treated at the country's ports, the Zairean - a 29-year-old teacher - is suing the Home Office, claiming he has been wrongly detained as an illegal entrant.

While the Home Secretary is expected to contest the damages claim - maintaining that the Zairean entered the country illegally - Kenneth Clarke has apparently accepted that he was dealt with at the port in an 'unsatisfactory manner'.

Mr Clarke is granting him leave to enter the country, while his claim for asylum is considered.

The case comes amid increasing concern over the plight of stowaway asylum seekers. Immigration lawyers believe many fleeing persecution are being turned away at ports without being given a chance to have their claims heard. British immigration rules state that anyone claiming refugee status cannot be summarily removed.

The teacher was one of six stowaways who had hidden for 17 days in the hold of a German cargo ship which arrived at Tilbury docks, Essex, in March last year. They faced immediate expulsion.

Detained on the ship, they broke out. Four were caught and deported - two were reported to have been assaulted by the ship's crew. The other two escaped and a few days later the teacher claimed asylum at the Home Office immigration headquarters in Croydon.

With Home Office knowledge he lived in a London hotel, but in March he was arrested and detained until last week.

Yesterday his solicitor, David Burgess, said: 'The allegation is of stowaway refugees surviving terrible conditions, including violence from the ship's crew, only to be turned away unlawfully by British immigration officers.

'The fact that the Home Office have chosen not to dispute this must raise the greatest concern about the treatment of asylum seekers not only at Tilbury, but also at other relevant seaports.'