The Home Office has announced a new policy of reviewing whether all refugees require protection at the end of a five year initial period of leave. The policy is effective from 9 March 2017. The updated policy states that all those who apply for settlement protection after completing the appropriate probationary period of limited leave will be subject to a safe return review regarding the country situation at the date the application is considered. Those who still need protection at that point will normally qualify for settlement.
The policy goes on to state that “A person’s case may also be reviewed at any point in the process either when triggered by their actions, for example, they are convicted of a serious crime, or in light of a significant and non-temporary change in conditions in their country of origin such that they no longer need protection. Refugee leave may be revoked where someone no longer needs, is no longer entitled to protection due to their actions, or should not have been given protection under the Refugee Convention.”
Active review for refugee applications for settlement has always been there and in previous policy and guidance documents it appears that there was a presumption that refugees would be granted settlement after completion of the 5-year period unless the applicant had criminal convictions.
The updated policy seems to suggest that ALL applications for settlement will be subjected to a review. If there is a change in the country situation, then safe return will be considered.
In practical terms this will cause further hardship for refugees who will be extending their leave to remain. Employers are already making it difficult for refugees in their working places when their visas are expiring. Some refugees have had to stop studying and it may get more difficult now for refugees to continue with their courses if their leave to remain is about to run out.
Looking at this from a practical level if a refugee is refused settlement and left with no leave to remain they would then in theory face detention and removal. The difficulty lies in whether the Home Office will be able to remove people or they will just drive more people into living in the shadows with no leave to remain, no access to healthcare, unable to rent or operate a bank account?
Theresa May stated in 2015 that the Conservative Government would introduce the safe returns policy and stated as follows:
“So we’ll introduce strengthened ‘safe return reviews’ – so when a refugee’s temporary stay of protection in the UK comes to an end, or if there is a clear improvement in the conditions of their own country, we will review their need for protection. If their reason for asylum no longer stands and it is now safe for them to return, we will seek to return them to their home country rather than offer settlement here in Britain…”
The new Settlement Protection instruction sets out the details of the policy. Settlement may now be refused where:
- There has been a “significant and non-temporary change in country situation”
- There have been changes in personal circumstances
- The refugee has returned to their country of origin or habitual residence
- The refugee has obtained a national passport from their home country
- There is evidence the original decision to recognise refugee status was incorrect
- Any dependents of the refugee have travelled home or obtained a national passport
A “significant and non-temporary change in country situation” is described in the policy as follows:
In relation to changes to the country situation, this refers to changes that are significant and non-temporary such that a fear of persecution can no longer be regarded as well-founded. Caseworkers should note that the overthrow of one political party in favour of another might only be transitory or the election of a new government may not automatically mean that there is no longer a risk of persecution for the individual refugee. The changes must be such that the reasons for becoming a refugee have ceased to exist.
Taking the Zimbabwe situation for example, when nature takes its course a significant change will probably only be considered as significant and non-temporary if there is a regime change. The upcoming elections in 2018 usually come with a cycle of pre-election violence and this is characterised by the actual government in power rather than one individual. The current Operational Country Information and Policy Note Zimbabwe: Opposition to the government dated January 2017 recognises the dangers that are faced by opponents to the regime. It states as follows “The Zimbabwe Police Force is highly politicised and there are reports of people being arrested for political reasons but most are held for one or two days and then released. However, there are reports of some opponents being tortured or otherwise abused in detention. ZANU-PF critics are prosecuted for insulting the president and people are arrested for online activities perceived as inciting public violence. Politically motivated violence does occur, but tends to fluctuate, often peaking around elections (both local and national) (see curbs on freedom of expression, including state sponsored violence, arrest and detention). It would be for a person to show why they would be targeted for arrest or abuse on return to Zimbabwe”.
The change in a country like Zimbabwe would therefore have to be significant and non-temporary to warrant a refusal for settlement.
There is a suggestion that a change of someone’s personal circumstances may disqualify from settlement. So, for example if a grant of asylum was made based on domestic violence and the perpetrator has died or the laws in the country of origin has changed then this may give rise to a refusal. Other areas are where claimants have been granted asylum based on FGM and the law in that country has changed then that may lead to revocation. The guidance does state that “Revocation action on grounds that the protection need has ceased to exist should only be considered where there is no risk of persecution or serious harm on any grounds.
This policy means that there will be no security for refugees who have not settled and it will be more difficult for them to settle and integrate in the UK. The Home Office will also require numerous resources to review all the applications. Decision making in the Home Office is characterised by delays and poor service which will no doubt cause more uncertainty for one of the most vulnerable group of people in our society. People who have come to the UK from war torn countries where they have already faced devastation and personal loss will now face another uncertain period in their lives.