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Press release: Refugees stranded on British Military Base granted indefinite leave to enter the UK

5 December 2018

Six refugee families from various countries in North Africa and the Middle East have been granted indefinite leave to enter and remain in the UK. They had spent the past 20 years living in limbo in the UK’s Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) in southern Cyprus.

The AIRE Centre intervened in the case before the Supreme Court and is incredibly grateful for the assistance and pro-bono representation of Allen & Overy LLP, Michael Fordham QC, Natasha Simonsen and George Molyneaux from Blackstone Chambers and Katie O'Byrne from Doughty Street Chambers. 

In 1998, the families were rescued after being abandoned by human traffickers on a sinking vessel in the Mediterranean. The RAF airlifted 75 passengers, including members of the six families, to one of the SBAs, where they were recognised as Convention refugees. Since then, however, they have lived in disused, dilapidated and hazardous military accommodation in SBAs. They sought admission to the UK in 2013 but in November 2014 they were refused entry and judicial review proceedings were instituted.

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 Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that the Refugee Convention applies to the SBAs, and invited additional submissions on various legal issues. The UK government agreed to grant the refugees indefinite leave to remain shortly before the Supreme Court was due to hear further argument on those matters.

Matthew Evans, Director at AIRE Centre, said: 

“We are delighted that the Supreme Court had held that the Refugee Convention 1951 extends to the UK’s Sovereign Base Areas and that the UK government has now, finally, acknowledged the right of these families to permanent residency in the UK".

Read the interim judgment in the case here

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