Asmerom Woldegebriel from Centrepoint takes a closer look at the value of human rights and the Human Rights Act to their work, as part of BIHR’s March for Human Rights campaign. Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity for homeless young people, offering a safe place to live, as well as support with healthcare and employment. Thirteen per cent of the young people at Centrepoint are refugees or have leave to remain, which means that it isn’t safe for them to return home.

There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land - Euripides, 531 B.C.

Human rights matter. They matter to young men like Binen Sholam* who is one of the many young people subjected to a prolonged wait for a decision to their asylum claim, effectively condemning him to spend almost half his childhood in limbo, unable to plan for his future.

Binen made his asylum claim in October 2009. He waited for more than seven years only to be refused on all grounds. He travelled a perilous journey to seek asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries and is grounded in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

People are forced to flee their homeland in fear of their life due to war, internal conflict or persecution. As they travel, refugees are subjected to many risky situations, risks which only increase for young people.

Binen, whilst now safe from armed conflict, found no greater certainty on arriving in the UK. He was not allowed to work in the UK while his asylum claim was pending and his seven years of uncertainty are now being compounded by another long legal wait to contest the decision to refuse him asylum.

The European Court of Human Rights gave its view on the need for the asylum decision process to be speeded up across Europe in its judgement B.A.C. v Greece concerning the failure of the Greek authorities to process the applicant’s asylum claim and the effect of such delay on the individual’s right to family life. The Court found that a delay in processing an asylum claim breached right to respect for private and family life (Articles 8) and the right to an effective remedy if rights have been breached (Article 13), as enshrined by the European Convention.

In the UK, the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights are made real through the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the rights into our own law. In turn, these rights are inspired by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  

Similarly, the Home Office has been accused of delays and poor decision making in its handling of immigration cases. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigated complaints against the Home Office and agencies in 2015, and upheld 69% of them. That is more than double the average for the public sector. In one case, a teenage refugee had to wait 10 years before he was allowed to stay.

In our own courts, the High Court in the UK found that the Home Office’s systematic failure to provide support for asylum seekers, whilst they waited for a decision on further claims for asylum, risked their right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3) of the Human Rights Act. This delay in support was for a minimum of three weeks, and had led to homelessness and destitution.

Binem is now 24 years old. He fell victim to a system that has left him, in the words of the Parliamentary and Health Service ombudsman, in “administrative limbo” because officials continually overlooked his application leaving him unable to access education or to work.

Unless governments at home, and abroad, start to heed human rights law, including our Human Rights Act, and the judgements of courts like the European Court of Human Rights, Binem’s case will continue to be the norm rather than the exception.

* name has been changed to maintain confidentiality