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Waging Peace together! (19 August 2019)

Date: 19/08/2019
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, Waging Peace together!

Duncan Lewis’ Public law team took part in a pro bono advice clinic for asylum seekers from the Sudanese community in Bradford in partnership with Waging Peace.

Recently, I was part of the team of lawyers from our public law department that travelled to Bradford in order to conduct a pro bono advice clinic for the Sudanese community in the area. The clinic was organised by Waging Peace, an NGO campaigning against human rights abuses in Sudan. The purpose of the clinic was to speak to individuals about their specific cases and to provide legal advice tailored to their circumstances.

The view on paper

On the face of things, an asylum claim from Sudan appears more straightforward than others, especially in cases involving non-Arab Darfuris. The current country guidance case of AA (Non-Arab Darfuris – relocation) Sudan CG [2009] UKAIT 00056 departed from the previous country guidance case of HGMO (Relocation to Khartoum) Sudan CG [2006] UKAIT 00062 following a concession from the Home Office (contrary to the standard position of the Home Office in such occurrences) in their Operation Guidance Note which ruled that all non-Arab Darfuris were at risk of persecution in Darfur and cannot reasonably be expected to relocate elsewhere in Sudan. The ruling was simple enough and the fact that whole country guidance case was only three pages long in size could not be more telling. Simply by the virtue of being a non-Arab Darfuri you were at risk in Sudan.

This position was further consolidated in the Duncan Lewis case of MM (Darfuris) Sudan CG [2015] UKUT 00010 (IAC) where the court extended the meaning of ‘Darfuri’ to be understood as an ethnic term relating to origins and not as a geographical term. Therefore the current guidance covered even those who were not born in Darfur. Again, one of the things that set this judgement apart from other leading cases is that the whole judgment was only five pages in length. The judges could not be any clearer: any non-Arab Darfuri that lands on the shores of UK seeking protection must be granted that protection.

The view on the ground

Judging from the above, a lawyer could be forgiven for considering all claims emanating from non-Arab Darfuris as ‘slam dunk’ cases. Those who are well versed in the ways of the Home Office however, know to tread with caution. What initially appeared to be relatively simple process has become an uphill battle for asylum seekers who now have to prove their identities, something that has become the focus of such cases. De facto the Home Office’s position is always going to be against the asylum seeker in such cases unless their account is deemed ‘credible’. Proving ones identity is no easy task in a process marred by the overarching system of the ‘hostile environment’.

The single most important stage in the process of an initial asylum claim is the substantive interview. This is the stage where an asylum seeker is afforded the opportunity to lay out their claim in their own words. However, it only takes one glance at the records of these interviews to realise that the entire interviewing system is seemingly set up to test the claimant on their own story and to catch out the slightest slip-up in their account. Questions can be rigid and repetitive, sometimes even almost accusatory. Adding to this is the other major problem asylum seekers face, and that is evidence, or rather the lack of. Just how is one supposed to prove anything about their identity when coming from a country that does not record any significant events such as births, marriages or deaths?

The lucky few equipped with some semblance of an identity-proving document find that that same document is subject to the most intense scrutiny and, in the event that it has survived the difficult and arduous journey to Europe, is treated with upmost suspicion.

Almost half of the people that my colleagues and I saw on the day of the clinic had had their initial asylum claims refused. The most common theme in these refusals was refusal on the basis of their ethnicity, in the majority of cases - not accepting that the asylum seeker is a non-Arab Darfuri because of issues of ‘credibility’. Unfortunately, most asylum seekers that do make it to UK have had little education and do not have an understanding of the system. Often scared and mistrusting of authority, asylum seekers are easily misled which leads to serious consequences regarding their asylum claim.

In one rather odd development in cases involving non-Arab Darfuris, the Home Office updated their own country guidance policy in which they formed the view that ‘cogent’ evidence suggested that the security situation has generally improved in recent years and therefore non-Arab Darfuris were not at risk solely based on their ethnicity.

The Home Office in their country guidance added that ‘Darfuris who are able to demonstrate by their profile, activities and/or experience that they are known to be, or perceived to be, opposing the government, including potentially being linked to rebel groups, are likely to be at risk of serious harm or persecution’.

With this, the Home Office appeared to add another whole layer to cases of involving non-Arab Darfuris, despite the country guidance only requiring that merely being a non-Arab Darfuri warranted protection. However, one would expect this position to change in light of the mass protests and the following crackdown by the authorities in Sudan.

As per the law, a person can only claim asylum once, meaning that you just get one chance, be it before the Home Office or a judge in the Tribunal therefore there is little room for mistakes. Often this boils down to the kind of representation one receives throughout their claim. Human rights and refugee law is an area that not only requires a sound legal mind, but also compassion, empathy, and a willingness to work selflessly for the benefit of another. Unfortunately, this area of law is not averse to lawyers who, regrettably, do not share these ideals and often the retainer becomes merely an exercise of opening and closing a file and billing it after the matter has ended. In these cases, the person who loses the most is the client - the person who needs most the protection. It was, therefore, disheartening to realise that some asylum seekers are where they are due to mismanagement and uncertain representation.

This was the reality for some of the persons that my colleagues and I met during the clinic. We were able to look through their Tribunal determinations and advise them on the best course of action for a fresh claim. Some of the others that we saw were still at the initial stage of their asylum claim and had representation. In these cases, we advised them on the steps they can take to progress their case, especially in matters which had been pending with the Home Office for more than 12 months.

The community centre as a refuge to its people

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the day was seeing first-hand the support provided. Often, asylum seekers come to the UK without knowledge of the English language or British customs and culture, therefore coming to a foreign land where a stigma of being an asylum seeker can often be faced can often leave the individual feeling isolated and unworthy. As such, it was extremely heartening to see the Bradford Sudanese Community Centre provide a supportive and encouraging place to its members who nearly all of whom are or have been asylum seekers.

The centre itself was tucked away in a seemingly unused building however, once you climbed the narrow stairs, the sheer size and breath of the centre had an almost theatrical feel to it. One of the members explained that the centre has in the past hosted weddings, iftar during Ramadan and even an indoor football match for the Sudanese members of the community. Children’s toys and books were scattered around and a table tennis table which had been turned around and used as a notice board.

One person, whose asylum claim was still pending, was one of the few that had come from a higher education background having obtained a degree in IT in Sudan. He described how when they first occupied the centre, it was the asylum seekers who had painted the centre and installed the new floorboards. He added that members, who often unable to work or do anything else meaningful, came and spent time at the centre engaging in long discussions and games of cards. One of the initiatives he was looking to start at the centre was bringing computers in to teach the basics of computing to the members. He said that he had been meeting with a computer technician who owned a business and was willing to give away computers as long he helped fix them. A hopeful and promising future both for himself and the centre.

The team in attendance

Author Amrit Singh took part in the clinic as part of the Birmingham-based public law team. Other members included solicitor and supervisor Darren Middleton and caseworker Zahra Lakha. Those from the Harrow office’s team included trainee solicitor Isabella Kirwan and caseworker Frankie Boon. They were also joined by Frances Nolan from Waging Peace.

Duncan Lewis Public Law Solicitors

The Duncan Lewis Public Law department continues to be recommended by The Legal 500 with the 2019 edition reporting its 'strong presence in this area of the law, making a particularly dominant contribution in immigration, asylum and prison law.'

The Public law team has experience in all aspects of judicial review claimant work, including obtaining emergency orders and other interim relief to prevent breaches of human rights, following up judicial reviews with actions for damages in both the County and High Court and successfully pursuing judicial review matters to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. A particular focus is the team’s work handling cases of the deprivation of British citizenship and deportation threats, with a niche specialism in challenging the treatment of immigration detainees and other marginalised communities.

To contact a member of the public law team, call 033 3772 0409.

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