Do you know anyone who claimed asylum but was nevertheless prosecuted for using forged travel documents to enter the country?
English courts routinely handed out 6-9 month prison sentences to refugees, even when they could prove they were fleeing torture and human rights abuse, and even when sole carers of small children, if they were caught using forged travel documentation to enter the country. This custom and practice was all the more gross in its obvious racism, for it is most unusual in the UK for first offenders committing a non-violent crime to receive prison sentences.
This practice has now been held to be contrary to Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention, which states that:
“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorisation, providing they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Lord Justice Simon Brown, delivering the judgment of the Queens Bench Division on the appeals against conviction of Adimi, Sorani and Kaziu, was astounded that
“until these challenges were brought, n arm of State, neither the Secretary of State, the DPP, nor anyone else, had apparently given the least thought to the United Kingdom’s obligations arising under Article 31.”
And he insisted that
“steps must now be taken to ensure that Article 31 protection is accorded its proper place in domestic law and practice.”
Law Report, 12 August 1999).
It is estimated that the number of people wrong convicted for fleeing to this country (or through this country on the way to somewhere else) by use of forged travel documents number several thousands. From the point of view of the asylum seeker, it has always been a very serious matter to be convicted of travelling with false documentation. When putting his claim for asylum, his conviction counts against him as far as ‘credibility’ is concerned, i.e., the immigration adjudicators are given a licence to disbelieve everything he says. In addition, the conviction makes it difficult to secure admission to any other country. Finally, a criminal conviction is usually a bar to being accepted for British citizenship.
It is therefore very important that everybody convicted of this offence committed while they were asylum seekers should appeal against conviction. The Crown courts appear to be willing to grant leave to appeal out of time, even if the conviction was several years ago, but it seems that to date they have had very few takers, presumably because people do not know that things have changed.
If any reader knows anybody who was an asylum seeker convicted for using false travel documents, please tell them to appeal against their conviction. It may also be worth considering that people who were subsequently disbelieved and refused asylum because their conviction inclined immigration adjudicators to disbelieve them, ought to be able to challenge the decision to refuse them asylum on the grounds that the refusal too was in effect an unlawful penalty for carrying false travel documents. Thus the refusal can be argued to be contrary to Article 31 also.