Katie O’Byrne acts for AIRE Centre: Refugees on Sovereign Base Areas granted indefinite leave to enter UK

Six refugee families who have been stranded on a British army base in Cyprus for over 20 years have been granted indefinite leave to enter the UK for permanent residence. 

In 1998, the families were rescued after being abandoned by human traffickers on a sinking vessel in the Mediterranean. The RAF airlifted 75 passengers to Akrotiri in southern Cyprus, where they were recognised as refugees. However, until now, they have lived in limbo for 20 years in Dhekelia in disused, dilapidated and hazardous military accommodation. They subsequently sought admission to the UK in 2013 but in November 2014 they were refused entry and judicial review proceedings were instituted.

The UK Government has consistently denied legal responsibility for the Claimants and their families. Instead, it argued that the Refugee Convention did not extend to the Sovereign Base Areas (“SBAs”) and that the families had no grounds on which to seek resettlement in the UK.

The Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that the Refugee Convention applies to the SBAs, and invited additional submissions. Shortly before the Supreme Court was due to hear final argument, the UK Government agreed to grant the refugees indefinite leave to enter the UK.  The Claimants were represented by Leigh Day.

Katie O’Byrne acted for the AIRE Centre, which intervened in the case and made written and oral submissions in the Supreme Court.  Katie was led by Michael Fordham QC of Blackstone Chambers.

The AIRE Centre argued that the Refugee Convention applies to the SBAs, and that international refugee rights and human rights require practical and effective solutions, which the domestic UK Courts must secure. In particular, the UK has positive obligations towards refugees under various international instruments, including an obligation to prioritise the best interests of the children involved. This requires the UK to secure the refugees’ ‘status rights’ under the Refugee Convention and to take reasonable measures to address known risks to their physical integrity.

The AIRE Centre press release is here.  The Leigh Day press release is here.