By Claire Gordon • 14 January 2022 • 13:07
The Home Office has told asylum seekers from some of the world’s most dangerous conflict areas that it is safe for them to return there, contradicting their own advice about sending refugees back to particular countries. The war zone refugees are a 36-year-old from Yemen and a 21-year-old from Afghanistan who have both had their asylum claims rejected by government officials on the basis that they would not be at risk in their home countries.
The new cases follow the revelation that another young man, a 25-year-old from Syria, was also told it was safe for him to go home. According to the government’s own guidance, as well as that from UNHCR, there are huge dangers involved in returning refugees to countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The Syrian man fled from his home country to avoid forced conscription into Bashar al-Assad’s army in 2017. He said if they had pushed him into the forces there, he would have been made to kill other Syrians and if he is returned, they will seek him out as a draft evader, detain him and kill him.
While the Home Office has accepted he did flee forced conscription, the refusal letter states: “It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm on return to the Syrian Arab Republic due to your imputed political opinion as a draft evader.”
However, the day after the Guardian approached the Home Office for comment about the case, the man’s lawyers received a letter retracting the decision. “It has been concluded that the decision to refuse your client’s protection claim is not in accordance with the Home Office’s published country policy position and is therefore withdrawn with a view to granting asylum,” it said.
As for the other war zone refugees, the man from Yeman was told he was being refused as officials “do not accept that there are problems in Yemen”. “I was so depressed and disappointed with the decision. All aspects of Yemen are a disaster,” the asylum seeker said. His lawyers have appealed against the decision but there are significant backlogs and the man has yet to be given a date for his appeal.
In the case of the 21-year-old Afghan man, the Home Office letter, dated 15 December 2021, states that the Taliban are now the de facto authorities in Afghanistan. It adds: “It is not considered that they [the Taliban] would still have an adverse interest in a low-level person such as you.”
UNHCR said that, while it cannot comment on individual cases, it calls on states to suspend forcible returns of asylum seekers “to countries that remain volatile, lack sufficient security or are unable to offer adequate human rights protection”, as reported by the Guardian.
A spokesperson added: “Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria are among the countries which UNHCR recommends forcible returns should be avoided. While conflict has subsided in Afghanistan, a humanitarian emergency is ongoing, making forced return inappropriate. In both Yemen and Syria, the dire humanitarian context is compounded by conflict and insecurity.”
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