An asylum seeker was paid £15,500 in compensation by the Home Office after the latter accepted that it had disclosed sensitive details of the asylum seeker with officials in his home country in the Middle East, thereby endangering his life and those of his relatives.
The Home Office committed the breach while authenticating the asylum seeker’s personal details with officials from his home country, thereby violating its own obligations under the Refugee Convention and European and UK laws.
Even though the Home Office eventually granted admission to the asylum seeker, it conceded that it had committed a grave error by erroneously disclosing his personal details to officials in his home country in the Middle East, thereby making it difficult for him to ever return home without fearing for his own life.
Having admitted the error, the Home Office has now paid £15,500 in compensation to the asylum seeker and has said that it is treating the case with utmost seriousness.
‘In accordance with our obligations under the Refugee Convention and European and UK law, we do not disclose information about an individual’s asylum claim to that person’s home country, or seek information in a way that could expose them, or any family who remain in that country, to serious risk. We take any breach of this principle extremely seriously,’ it said.
As per Article 33 of the Refugee Convention which came into effect in 1951, countries that are in the process of granting asylum have to ensure that an asylum seeker should not be returned to the country ‘where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’ However, neither the Convention nor any other international law obligates any country to accept refugees.
As such, the UK is within its rights to determine whether an asylum seeker is indeed a refugee before granting him permanent admission. Even though the Home Office may not have violated any international law by trying to ascertain the asylum seeker’s claims, it did violate Article 33 of the Convention by disclosing his personal details to officials in his home country.
However, according to Dan Carey, solicitor of the affected asylum seeker, the Home Office did not initially concede that it had committed a mistake by sharing the victim’s details with his home country, thereby giving rise to suspicions that the practice ‘was not an isolated aberration’.
‘The Home Office were slow to concede that they had done anything wrong in this case, which makes me worry that it was not an isolated aberration. Asylum seekers entrust the government with extremely sensitive, sometimes life-threatening, information in the course of their asylum claims and it is vital to the integrity of that system that it is kept confidential.
‘Least of all do they expect that it will be shared with their persecutors in their country of origin. This can place lives at risk and prevent any hope of future return,’ he said.
Considering that the UK continues to receive asylum requests from thousands of refugees from all over the world, it remains to be seen how the Home Office would verify new claims without actually sharing personal details of refugees with their home countries and thereby putting their lives in peril.