Home Office used 'secret and illegal' policy to deport asylum seeker fleeing persecution in Sudan

·3-min read

An asylum seeker deported due to an "illegal and secret" Home Office policy should return to Britain, the High Court has ruled.

The Sudanese national, a man identified as AA, sought refuge in the UK in June 2020 after fleeing to escape torture and persecution in his homeland.

He claimed he was later enslaved and tortured in Libya while travelling to France - where his claim for asylum was rejected.

Upon arriving in the UK, he had a screening interview with immigration officials - who are legally required to take steps to identify potential victims of slavery or human trafficking.

But AA was not identified as a potential victim of modern slavery and was deported back to France, the court heard.

The Home Office had a published policy to ask two questions, designed to establish if a person had been subjected to slavery, at the time of AA's interview.

But AA argued the Home Office also had a "secret and unlawful" policy not to ask those questions.

Mr Justice Wall said: "Had the claimant been identified as a potential victim of modern slavery, he could not have been removed from the United Kingdom until the process of investigating that issue was complete.

"He would also have been entitled to assistance and support while in this country… However, the failure to refer him led to a removal of the claimant to France. It ended this country's responsibility for him."

The French government will not investigate as he is a foreign national and the alleged acts were not committed by a French citizen - leaving him at risk of being sent back to Sudan.

Home Office lawyers accepted there was a policy not to ask the two questions at the time AA was interviewed.

The policy was adopted to "streamline the interview process" and reduce contact time between people due to COVID-19.

But the Home Office claimed those questions would not have led AA to reveal evidence of being a modern slavery victim.

He was asked directly about exploitation and replied no, the government's lawyers said.

But the judge said there was "objective evidence" AA had been trafficked.

He said: "He had injuries consistent with his having been tortured… There is no obvious reason why he would not have opened up about it if properly engaged in conversation about it.

"That conversation would likely be triggered by the asking of the omitted questions."

Ruling in AA's favour, Mr Justice Wall said he was quite satisfied a "secret policy" was in place which went "directly against" the terms of the published policy.

It also directly impeded a duty to "consider whether asylum seekers have been trafficked en-route to this country".

The judge ordered the Home Office to use its "best endeavours" to bring AA back from France - although he cannot order the department to do so.

But if AA has not been brought back within a fortnight, the Home Office must explain why.

Current UK policy states non-Arab Darfuris - people from the Darfur region of western Sudan - must not be returned to Sudan due to risks of persecution or serious harm.

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