Home Office leaving stateless people facing detention and destitution, warns UN

Poor evidence-gathering and lack of legal aid means people too often wrongly denied status, says UNHCR

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 16 December 2020 07:56
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<p>The procedure designed to help regularise stateless individuals in Britain is not functioning as well as it should, the UNHCR said</p>

The procedure designed to help regularise stateless individuals in Britain is not functioning as well as it should, the UNHCR said

The Home Office is leaving stateless people in the UK at risk of homelessness, destitution and prolonged detention, the UN’s refugee agency has warned.

A procedure designed to help regularise the status of stateless individuals in Britain is not functioning as well as it should due to procedural weaknesses and the approach to decision-making, the UNHCR said.

The UK established a mechanism for recognising and protecting stateless people in 2013, allowing them to apply for statelessness leave to remain for five years. From 2013 to 2019, there were approximately 160 first-time grants of leave through the procedure.  

However, a new report by the UNHCR, based on an audit of 36 cases decided in 2016 and 2017, found that shortcomings in evidence-gathering and the lack of legal aid and right of appeal in the procedure meant applicants were too often wrongly rejected.

The research found that there was a lack of clarity in grant and refusal letters around what facts were considered and whether they were accepted or not, as well as a tendency to sometimes consider facts in isolation.

Harry, 70, whose Jewish mother survived the Holocaust, is one of the few who has been through the procedure and recognised as stateless. He was born in Namibia and grew up there and in South Africa, but hasn’t got citizenship in either country.

As a young man, he was an anti-apartheid activist. After being detained, he fled the regime and arrived in the UK in the early 1970s. Initially fearing deportation and imprisonment in South Africa, and seeing no solution, he avoided seeking to regularise his status in the UK until the procedure was introduced in 2013.  

“It really has been a slog,” said Harry, who was only able to marry his British partner of many years after he received indefinite leave in 2019. “Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has gone through this. It is absolutely knocking your head on walls.”  

Seven decades stateless, Harry hopes to apply for British citizenship soon

Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UNHCR’s UK representative, urged the government to ensure that statelessness applications were eligible for legal aid in England and Wales, that there was right of appeal to an independent body and that stateless people were not unlawfully detained.  

She said: “Being denied a nationality can be devastating. Statelessness can mean a life of enforced illegality without prospects or hope – being unable to regularise one’s presence in any country, socially excluded, economically marginalised, discriminated against and vulnerable to exploitation."

It comes after The Independent reported last year that more than 1,000 people had been forced into years of hardship in the UK after the Home Office refused to grant them any form of immigration status even when officials were made aware they have nowhere else to go after being rendered stateless.

Lawyers said the former Malaysian citizens had been languishing in Britain at the mercy of the hostile environment after being stateless for more than 10 years - in what was branded a “Windrush-style” scandal.

Ms Pagliuchi-Lor added: “Procedures to formally identify statelessness open the door to a recognition of rights and potentially to naturalisation. The UK is one of the first countries in the world to have established a statelessness procedure, and this is very positive. Strengthening these procedures will prevent people falling through the gaps.” 

The Home Office has been approached for comment.  

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