The Interior Ministry has told asylum seekers from some of the world’s biggest conflict zones that it is safe for them to return there, the Guardian has learned.
A 36-year-old from Yemen and a 21-year-old from Afghanistan have both had their asylum applications rejected by officials on the grounds that they would not be in danger in their home countries.
The revelation follows the case of a 25-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who was told it would be safe for him to return to Syria.
The Interior Ministry’s own guide, as well as that of the UNHCR, warns of the dangers of returning to countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The Syrian man who sought refuge in the UK in May 2020 was told by an Home Office official who rejected his asylum application that it would be safe for him to return.
He fled conscription into Bashar al-Assad’s army in 2017, saying he would have been forced to kill other Syrians. He said that if he is forced back to Syria, he will be attacked as a weapons evader, arrested, detained and killed.
While the Interior Ministry has accepted that he escaped from compulsory military service, the refusal letter states: “It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious injury on return to the Arab Syrian Republic because of your added political stance as a drag puller. “
But the day after the Guardian approached the Home Office for comment on the case, the man’s lawyers received a letter withdrawing the decision. “It has been concluded that the decision to reject your client’s claim for protection is not in line with the Home Office’s published country policy and is therefore being withdrawn for the purpose of granting asylum,” it said.
The Guardian has further learned of a Yemeni asylum seeker who was told by the Interior Ministry in a denial of his asylum application in June 2021 that he could return to his country because officials “do not accept that there are problems in Yemen”.
The asylum seeker, 36, an accountant who is married and has two children, has various physical and mental problems, but the rejection letter states that there is “a significant public health program in Yemen”. The health infrastructure in Yemen is hard hit and non-existent in some parts of the country.
“I was so depressed and disappointed with the decision. All aspects of Yemen are a disaster,” the asylum seeker said. His lawyers have appealed the decision, but there are significant backlogs and the man has not yet been given a date for his appeal.
In a third case, a 21-year-old Afghan man who arrived in the UK as a 16-year-old boy after fleeing forced labor from the Taliban at his mattress has been informed by Interior Ministry officials that they want to revoke refugee status. he has previously received and returned him to Afghanistan because he has a hash-related conviction.
The Interior Ministry’s letter, dated December 15, 2021, states that the Taliban are now de facto authorities in Afghanistan. It adds: “It is not considered that they [the Taliban] would still have a negative interest in a lowly person like you. “
The UNHCR said that while it could not comment on individual cases, it called on states to suspend forced return of asylum seekers “to countries that remain volatile, lack adequate security or are unable to offer adequate human rights protection”.
A spokesman added: “Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria are among the countries that the UNHCR recommends that forced returns be avoided. While the conflict has subsided in Afghanistan, a humanitarian emergency is underway, making forced return inappropriate. In both Yemen and Syria, the terrible humanitarian context amplified by conflict and insecurity. “
Anita Vashisht, head of immigration at Wilson’s solicitors, the firm representing the Syrian asylum seeker, said: “The hard and harsh fact is that the Interior Ministry rejected the claim and that decision caused concern for the client. The refusal decision forced us to lodge a complaint. “on behalf of the client, which meant that the court had to spend its resources wasted on dealing with this complaint. This is another shocking example of terrible and illegal decision-making on the part of the Ministry of the Interior.”
Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis’ lawyers, who represent the Afghan refugee, said: “In the context of the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, it is deeply worrying that the Home Office has stated without grounds and in violation of their own policies. “Afghanistan can be safe for those who have been victims of the Taliban in the past.”
An Interior Ministry spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. All asylum applications, including those from nationals of Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, are processed on a case-by-case basis based on the facts provided by the applicant.
“That is the case regardless of the plaintiff’s country of origin and the prevailing situation there. We will not return anyone to countries where they have been shown to be at risk of persecution or serious injury.”