Britain must accept refugees who land at Cyprus military bases, court rules

Britain must accept refugees who land at Cyprus military bases, court rules
Britain may be forced to take in refugees landing at its two military bases in Cyprus after a UK court of appeal ruled it is obliged to do so under international law.

The ruling was made on a case concerning six families living on the Dhekelia base who were denied access to Britain in 2014 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May.

The families, originally from Ethiopia, Sudan and Syria, have been stuck at the military bases in “legal limbo” for 18 years, despite living in wholly unacceptable conditions, their lawyers claim.

May at the time denied entry to the refugees, among a group of 78 people rescued from a stranded Lebanese fishing boat bound for Italy. Despite having strong ties with Britain, she said they could be resettled in Cyprus instead. 

The court, however, overturned May’s order at the time and said although the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention did not apply as a matter of international law, the UK still had to act in the “spirit” of the convention.

That order was taken a step further on Thursday as three judges ruled the convention applies directly to the bases and the UK is therefore under legal obligation to protect refugees landing there. It urged serving Home Secretary Amber Rudd to “rapidly” reconsider the decision to admit the refugees.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We will carefully consider the implications of this decision and whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Sudanese refugee Bashir, who is living at the Dhekelia base with his three children, has said conditions are becoming dire as people stopped receiving cash allowances seven months ago and now risk being denied food aid as well.

“People are trying to borrow from their neighbors, or to get small things to do for very small money, for their families,” he said.

Bashir, however, seems determined to get to the UK despite its opposition, as he believes it will open doors for his children.

“It is for the children, I think England is still a good place when they finish school to go to good universities and get a good job and build a good future,” he told the Guardian.

“I have hope for that. Actually what I want is just to have a proper job, to participate in society, to have a normal future.”

The claimants’ lawyer, Tessa Gregory, said the case had been dragging on for too long now and called on the government to show some “compassion.”

“Now is the time for the government to show compassion and a ‘strong and stable’ resolve to address this situation. We would appeal to the home secretary to do the decent thing, to show compassion and let them into the UK."