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Home Office reverses decision to deport Palestinian-Syrian asylum seeker after family's pleas

Exclusive: Home Office agrees to consider Yousef Hassan's asylum application after abandoning attempts to deport him to Italy

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 19 October 2017 19:22 BST
Yousef Hassan, 22, left, and his father Jehad, 52
Yousef Hassan, 22, left, and his father Jehad, 52

The Government has performed an unexpected U-turn to allow a Palestinian-Syrian asylum seeker to remain in the UK after desperate appeals from his family.

Home Office officials had threatened deport Yousef Hassan to Italy – the country where he first arrived in Europe after surviving the deadly boat crossing over the Mediterranean Sea.

The 22-year-old was told he could be detained ahead of removal in June, despite having lived in the UK with his family for three years.

But after a campaign by relatives, lawyers, his local MP and MEP, the Home Office has now abandoned attempts to remove Yousef from the UK.

A letter sent to his lawyers said the case “no longer falls under the terms of the Dublin Regulation”, meaning his asylum application will now be considered in Britain.

Yousef’s father threatened to throw himself under any vehicle used to take his son away when The Independent first reported on the case in June.

But now Jehad Hassan is elated at the prospect of his son receiving full refugee status alongside his parents and sister.

“When I told Yousef the news he was so happy he couldn’t talk,” he told The Independent.

The Hassan family are from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which was overrun by Isis in 2015 (Getty)

“He said ‘dad, are you sure?’. I told him yes. His mother was crying and crying because she was so happy. Now all of us can be together.”

But Yousef’s situation remains precarious, with the Home Office still able to refuse his application for asylum when it considers the case within six months.

While awaiting its verdict, he has passed English and maths courses and is progressing to the next level, while his sister is studying chemical engineering and Mr Hassan is working as a delivery driver while gaining a computer science qualification.

“All my family is good for the UK, we are useful,” the father said. “We appreciate everyone who has helped us, I want to thank them all.”

As the descendants of Palestinians who fled to Syria in the 1948 exodus, the Hassan family have always been classed as refugees, living in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus that was overrun by Isis in 2015.

Yousef was just 15 when the Syrian civil war broke out, fleeing his home country after he reached the age of military conscription and was recruited by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Separated from his family in the chaos of the conflict, he journeyed to Europe alone and arrived in the UK in a lorry from Calais in 2014.

Now reunited, the Hassan family are rebuilding their lives in Middlesbrough, where all members apart from Yousef have been granted refugee status.

Because he was too old to gain protection under family reunification laws, Yousef’s entry to the UK was treated as illegal and the Home Office traced his arrival in Europe to where he was fingerprinted in Italy in 2014.

The process gave Britain the means to deny responsibility for his asylum application using the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which allocates primary responsibility to the country of arrival.

Campaigners have described the regulation as “inherently unfair”, both to refugees and frontline countries like Italy and Greece that are struggling to accommodate hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers that the rest of the EU refuses to resettle.

Yousef’s representatives attempted to start a judicial review but the case was dismissed and the Government rejected a claim under the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to family life.

A letter from the Home Office at the time claimed Yousef would be “able to maintain a reasonable degree of contact with his family through such means as the telephone, email and letters” from Italy.

But his family argued that he would end up on the streets in the country, where he does not speak Italian and had no contacts or means of supporting himself.

Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough, wrote to Amber Rudd asking her to intervene in the case and said he was “delighted” at the outcome.

Amber Rudd criticised by asylum seeker who was sent back to Afghanistan

“It’s a good sign but we shouldn’t be totally complacent,” he added. “We should only celebrate when Yousef’s application has been considered and hopefully he is granted the right to stay with his family.”

He said the U-turn came after Labour MEP Judith Kirton-Darling raised the case with Italian authorities, although the Home Office did not give a reason for its abrupt change of heart.

More than 2,700 people signed a petition to stop Yousef’s deportation that condemned the British asylum system as “not fit for purpose”.

It was started by Gary Spedding, a human rights campaigner supporting the family, who called the Home Office’s reversal “a small victory” ahead of the final decision on granting the student asylum.

“Today remains a cause for celebration, now the asylum claim will be assessed without the risk of Yousef being forcibly transferred,” he added.

“The impending threat of him being returned to Italy or even possibly Syria is no longer looming like a menacing shadow over his family’s heads.”

It comes after the Government drew international condemnation for deporting an Afghan asylum seeker to Kabul, despite him being threatened with beheading by the Taliban.

High Court judges found the move was in “prima facie contempt of court” after ordering Samim Bigzad to be returned to the UK pending a judicial review.

A spokesperson for the Home Office has not yet responded to The Independent’s request for comment.

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