Courts clash with ministers, once again, over immigration policies

Two families of destitute refugees brought the cases – Al-Ameri v. Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Osmani v. London Borough of Harrow – after being refused the right to seek accommodation in London. Both Ammar al Ameri, an Iraqi national with a wife and two daughters, and Maria Osmani, an Afghani who came with two sons, originally had been sent to Glasgow under the government’s dispersal scheme run by the National Asylum Support Service. However, they were granted leave to remain and wanted to settle in London but the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London borough of Harrow argued that they were Glasgow City Council’s responsibility.

According to Lord Bingham, the answer turned on whether their residence in Glasgow as asylum seekers under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, covering support for asylum seekers, gave rise to establishing “a local connection between the respondents and the Glasgow City Council” as the housing authority for the district where the asylum seekers were now resident. That, in turn, depended on whether the residence was “of the respondents own choice” within the meaning of the homelessness provisions of Housing Act 1996, section 199(1)(a).

“So the question to be asked of each respondent is: ‘Did you reside in Glasgow of your own choice?” Lord Bingham said. “To that question there can be, in the case of each respondent, only one possible answer: ‘No … because, that was the only place where I was offered accommodation and the means to meet the most basic of human needs’.”
Lord Hope also ruled that an asylum seeker who was given leave to remain in the United Kingdom was “free to seek accommodation wherever he likes” and, if homeless, could apply to his local housing authority where he happens to be at the time. However, he recognized that refugees “tend to return to London or the South East in search of employment or because they have relatives there”. “This has given rise to the same concern about pressure on the local authorities in this area which the dispersal policy was designed to remove in the case of destitute asylum-seekers,” he said. “…The financial implications for whichever local authority has to bear this burden are considerable.”

Last week the High Court also ruled that Home Office officials, who forced an asylum-seeker to sleep rough had breached his human rights and had subjected the man to “degrading treatment”. In the case (Regina (Limbuela) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (9 February)), Mr Justice Collins, who has clashed with the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, a number of times over the government’s asylum policy, ruled that too strict application of asylum rules meant that a 23-year old asylum seeker, Wayoka Limbuela, was forced to sleep on the streets and that amounted to a breach of the Human Rights Act. After two nights, this was “certainly degrading at the very least”, he said.