Judge condemns Blunkett for not informing asylum seekers of benefits

The Home Secretary was recently reprimanded by a High Court judge for not informing failed asylum seekers that they might qualify for ‘hard case’ support in the case of two Iraqi Kurds.

In the case of Salih and Rahmani v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr Justice Stanley Burnton criticised the Home Secretary David Blunkett’s practice of non-disclosure of a scheme that allows for grants for basic full-board accommodation. The ‘hard case’ scheme is limited to asylum seekers who have been refused asylum, have no further appeal rights, are unable to leave the UK due to physical conditions or because they are bringing a judicial review.

“It’s a fundamental requisite of the rule of law that the law should be made known,” said the judge. “The individual must be able to know of his legal rights and obligations.”

According to the Refugee Council, Home Office policy has been to withhold information about the scheme from asylum seekers, even if they might benefit from it. The group argues that asylum seekers “fortunate enough to hear of the scheme” may wait weeks for a decision on their application for support, even though they have no income, are not allowed to work and are threatened with eviction.

The judge decided that the National Asylum Support Service acted unlawfully in trying to keep information about the hard cases grant secret and noted that “misery and suffering may be involved”. He decided “on principle, a policy such as [the hard cases scheme] should be made known to those who may need to avail themselves of it”. The Home Secretary was given leave to appeal against the ruling.

“It cannot be right to leave people in limbo more or less indefinitely,” commented Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council. “If there’s no realistic prospect of returning an asylum seeker after they’ve been through the asylum process, the Home Office should quickly regulate their status so that they can begin to rebuild their lives. The present situation is resulting in destitution in cases where people are in fact entitled to a form of support, however basic.”