A British court has ruled against an attempt by the Home Office to postpone the hearings of two unaccompanied minors from the Calais refugee camp hoping to join family in the UK after they were refused entry.
During a hearing in the Upper Tribunal on Tuesday, the judge ruled that while postponing the transfer was “undoubtedly more convenient...less expensive and more comfortable” for the Secretary of State, the individual rights of the youngsters to be moved to the UK “clearly outweighed” such considerations.
The stay applications before the court related to the cases of two boys currently in France, whose requests to join family members had been assessed and then rejected by the Home Office in an accelerated process that bypassed the accepted Dublin III procedures in France.
Delivering his verdict, Judge Bernard McCloskey said: “My conclusion is that the exercise of this tribunal's discretion should be against the Secretary of State.
“While it will undoubtedly be more convenient and probably less expensive and more comfortable for the Secretary of State and the circle of protagonists involved... not to have to defend these cases for some considerable time, the individual rights of these claimants to expedited justice is the decisive factor which clearly outweighs all of the other considerations.”
In total, there are challenges relating to seven individuals currently in France whose applications were refused by the Home Office in December after the Calais camp was demolished, despite the fact that they had family ties in the UK.
The Home Office had applied to stay these individual cases until a judicial review brought by Citizens UK over the Home Office's alleged systematic failings over reunited unaccompanied minors in the camp with family in Britain, due to be heard in May, which would likely cause a delay of at least three months.
But lawyers representing two of the youngsters, AO, who recently turned 18, and 16-year-old AM, both Eritreans currently in accommodation centres in France, are calling for the British Government to urgently relocate them to the UK where they both have family.
One of the young people in question, who at the time the expedited process was initiated was a minor but very recently turned 18, is said to be "anxious and exhausted" after he was rejected from reuniting with his brother in the UK.
The teenager, who fled Eritrea in 2015 to seek refuge in the UK where he could be reunited with family members, arrived in the ‘Jungle’ camp in September 2016 following a “traumatic” journey to France, and was shortly afterwards dispersed to a reception centre for foreign unaccompanied minors (CAOMIE) in western France, which he was told would afford him a legal route to Britain.
But his application was refused with no reasons save for “other”. While his brother in the UK has since sought to try and ensure that he continues to engage in a legal process, he has been concerned that the applicant has become so disillusioned that he may seek to disengage entirely from any legal process.
The centre AO was staying in was closed on 25 February, and he was given a choice either to register asylum claims in France or to forfeit his accommodation. He was transferred temporarily to accommodation for adults, but it is unclear how long he can stay there.
The other boy, a 16-year-old orphan, has been seeking to reunite with his uncle in the UK since his arrival in France. A medical expert has assessed him to be at risk of suicide as a result of his past experiences and the delay in reunion with his uncle.
Following the court ruling, the teenagers are expected to be transferred to Britain, although there remain concerns that this will not happen for a matter of weeks.
In response to the ruling, Mark Scott, the boy’s solicitor from the firm Bhatt Murphy, said: “The Home Office today tried to delay refugee children from accessing a legal challenge to the rejection of their claims for family reunion.
"The Upper Tribunal rejected this and accepted that that the vulnerability of the applicants meant that there was a requirement for prompt judicial scrutiny.”
Rabbi Janet Darley, from Citizens UK’s Safe Passage project, said: “Children should not be forced to wait for months to access their legal right to family reunion. We hope that the Government puts more effort into establishing a functioning family reunion system, rather than preventing children from accessing their legal rights.”
When approached for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for them to comment on ongoing proceedings.
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