A British woman living in Spain who helped 11 Syrian asylum seekers who were left homeless and hungry on the streets of Madrid after being forcibly removed from the UK has said she is ashamed of the UK government’s behaviour.
The all-male group were left destitute after being put on a flight to Madrid by the Home Office last week. They had arrived in the UK in small boats from Calais and are part of a Home Office plan to remove almost 1,000 such arrivals.
Barbara Pomfret, an adviser to corporate companies about social responsibility, who is based in Granada, said she wanted to offer support to the asylum seekers, especially when she learned they had been left in the street. The 40-year-old paid for food and a few days of accommodation for the group and set up a crowdfund page with her husband, Thomas Pomfret, to help support them.
“As a UK citizen I am ashamed that our government would leave asylum seekers on the streets with absolutely no support. As I see it the only difference between me and this group of people is luck. And if I was ever so unlucky as to find myself in a similar situation I hope that someone with more luck would be willing to help me.”
The asylum seekers say they all come from the same area in the south of Syria and, in the absence of their own family units, want to try to stay together.
As refugees who fled the conflict in Syria they have strong grounds to receive international protection. However, under EU legislation known as the Dublin regulation, an asylum seeker who is confirmed to have passed through another safe European country before reaching a second country such as the UK, may be returned to the first country, although issues such as torture, trafficking and family ties should be considered before removal from a second country takes place.
Toufique Hossain of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who has represented asylum seekers who arrived in the UK on small boats, said: “The home secretary’s own data overwhelmingly shows that our clients are who they say they are: torture survivors, victims of trafficking, fleeing persecution. They are refugees and they have legitimate reasons to have their claims considered in the UK.”
Several of the asylum seekers told the Guardian they had close family members in the UK. All have fled persecution and some have experienced torture.
Although the Home Office wants to return about 1,000 small boat arrivals, officials have only returned 185 Dublin cases since October 2018, with 37 returned since August 2020. Another charter flight is scheduled for 17 September.
A network of human rights and anti-racist activists are supporting the asylum seekers in Madrid after visiting them outside the airport on Thursday night.
On that first night some of the 11 slept on the streets, a few bedded down in a social centre and the youngest one, who told the Guardian he was 17, slept on the living room floor of one of the activists’ homes. The activist, Kilde, told the Guardian. “I asked him what he needed and he said that all he wanted was to phone his mum.”
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All but one of them say they were removed from the UK without having their identity documents returned to them, a matter Home Office sources said they were looking into.
“A travel or identity document is not required for that country to process an individual as the details of those being returned are shared and agreed in advance,” a Home Office spokesperson said previously.
Home Office sources said the UK was under no obligation to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers who had returned to the EU member state responsible for their claim.
The 11 Syrians in Madrid expressed thanks to Pomfret and the activists but said their current situation was unsustainable. “I miss my family so much,” said one of the asylum seekers, aged 45. “I have brothers in the UK. We travelled there on small boats because we wanted to reunite with them.”
He said that some of the 11 were teenagers and looked up to the older ones such as him. “Some of them are just kids. If I say I’m going out for some fresh air they get worried and say: ‘Where are you going?’ I joke with them that I’m not their father or mother but they have nobody else.”