The Home Office rejected a family reunion application from Samir (not his real name), who has been living alone on the island of Samos since 2019, to join his older brother, a refugee in the UK, in February 2021, claiming that there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship.
The Independent reported in May that Samir, who was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was 17, was facing sexual assault and bullying on the Greek island.
His lawyers challenged the Home Office’s refusal. An immigration judge subsequently ruled last week that his continued exclusion from Britain constituted a disproportionate breach of his right to a family life with his brother, and that he must be transferred to the UK “ as soon as possible” in order for his asylum claim to be considered.
Samir, who has been assessed as being at high risk of suicide, told The Independent on Monday that his tent had been burnt down in the night, and provided video footage of the structure ablaze. It was destroyed by a large fire that broke out in the Vathy camp on Sunday night.
The camp was due be closed anyway, with plans to move hundreds of migrants into a controversial €43m (£36.9m) “closed” asylum centre on the island. No major injuries were reported to have been caused by the fire.
Samir, who fled to Europe after fleeing detention and torture in his home country, which cannot be revealed to protect his identity, said: “The fire came to my tent and I was scared, so I left the tent. Everything has been damaged except that I just managed to rescue my papers and my phone. I don’t know where I will sleep now. I’m homeless.”
The teenager also spoke of facing sexual harassment, adding: “A few weeks ago I was walking to meet my solicitor and two older men tried to have sex with me. They gave me a kiss on my cheeks, then I ran away.
“I’m really, really scared. I don’t know where to go. I can’t sleep outside. Things are becoming worse and worse here.”
Handing down her judgment, Judge Jackson said she had attached “significant weight” to a medical report of professor David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, who assessed Samir as being in a “complex chronic traumatised state” and suffering from a “severe depressive disorder”.
The report, published in July and seen by The Independent, states that it is “clear” that Samir will not recover from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive”.
Dr Bell said Samir was in the top 5 per cent of most traumatised cases of around 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.
Judge Jackson said the report identified Samir’s current condition and living circumstances “at the very high end of serious and compelling” and gave a “very poor prognosis” for Samir “should those circumstances persist in Greece and he is denied the support of his brother in the UK”.
“I have no hesitation in the present case in accepting on the basis of the evidence before me that there is a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s Article 8 rights,” she added.
Samir’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, told The Independent: “Samir has endured a legal process of over a year before reaching this ruling. Meanwhile the conditions on Samos are increasingly volatile and dangerous and the burning down of Samir’s tent is just latest example of events which continue to traumatise him.
“The Home Office must now set out what action will be taken to expedite and facilitate Samir’s safe arrival into the UK to be reunited with his brother.”
Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage International, said: “Samir’s struggle to join his brothers demonstrates just how fundamental safe routes to family reunion are for refugee children. Yet this government closed the refugee family reunion route from Europe last year, and now plans to further limit refugee family reunion in their Nationality and Borders Bill.
“As a result, many more children and young people like Samir risk being left alone in squalid camps or pushed to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers, instead of being safely reunited with family so they can rebuild their lives. The government must rethink and act to save lives by opening safe routes and expanding family reunion.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.
“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”