Letter: Status of refugees fleeing Somalia

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article on the Somali woman who has been unable to be reunited with her family ('Refugee who was raped cannot bring family to the UK', 30 September) shed some welcome public light on the disgraceful attitude of the British government towards Somali refugees in this country.

We represent hundreds of Somali refugees. For well over a year, every single application by such refugees that has been dealt with by the Home Office has resulted in a refusal of refugee status. While Somalis such as the woman in your article are being granted 'exceptional leave to remain', this is a status that lacks the security inherent in being recognised as a refugee.

In the past months, happily, massive publicity has been given to the plight of refugees fleeing Somalia and certainly, in the public perception, Somalis have come to symbolise the plight of refugees. On the legal side, as well, the vast majority of Somalis applying for refugee status today fall squarely within the definition set out in the United Nations Convention on Refugees. They have fled violence targeted against them because of their clan origins by those political groupings that control Somalia today. This is something that organisations such as Amnesty International have made clear in their reports, yet the Home Office fails to acknowledge it.

One wonders why. The only answer I can find is that, in the run-up to the introduction of a new Asylum Bill, the Government wants to ensure that the statistics reflect that most individuals seeking refugee status are refused and, therefore, constitute what the Government called 'bogus refugees' when they last attempted to put an Asylum Bill through Parliament. During that exercise, many of our Somali clients were understandably incensed when they found themselves lumped in this category, despite the fact that many of them had escaped horrific persecution and were receiving continuing reports of the killing of those relatives left behind.

Yours faithfully,


B. M. Birnberg & Co

London, SE1

30 September