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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK

UK Politics

Straw may appeal on asylum-seeker ruling

Protesters against the Asylum and Immigration Bill in February

Home Secretary Jack Straw is considering an appeal to the House of Lords after being told he acted unlawfully by ordering three asylum-seekers to return to France and Germany.

The Court of Appeal's ruling will affect the status of hundreds of asylum-seekers in Britain who have been ordered to return to the first safe country they reached after escaping their own.

[ image: Jack Straw: Decision defeated]
Jack Straw: Decision defeated
It also throws into confusion parts of the Asylum and Immigration Bill going through Parliament.

Clause nine of the Bill lays down that all European Union countries are safe, to try and make refugees apply for sanctuary in the first safe country they reach and not wait until they reach Britain.

Anne Owers, director of Justice, said: "The case is significant because it clearly establishes that in order to be a refugee you don't have to be persecuted by the state."

France and Germany 'not safe'

Three senior Court of Appeal judges headed by Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, found France and Germany were not safe places to send refugees facing persecution "from forces other than the state".

Under German and French law asylum-seekers must show they fear prosecution by the state.

But UK courts allow non-state persecution as a reason for asylum, if the home state will not or cannot protect the refugee.

The court was ruling on appeals by a Sri Lankan Tamil, a Somali and an Algerian. All three said they would be persecuted by non-state groups if returned to their home countries.

Lul Adan fled from Somalia to Germany in 1997 because her clan was being persecuted by an armed group who had overthrown the government.

Hamid Aitseguer, an Algerian citizen, claimed asylum in Britain last year after travelling through France, claiming Islamic fundamentalist rebels had threatened to kill him and his family.

Geneva Convention

Sittampalan Subaskaran, a Sri Lankan Tamil, came to Britain last year after a German court ruled that his fears of being persecuted by the Tamil Tigers terrorist group did not give him the right to political asylum.

All three were ordered to be returned to Germany or France.

The appeal judges said they had "no doubt" that the asylum-seekers were entitled to protection under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

David Pannick QC, representing the home secretary, told the appeal hearing that as France and Germany were EU member states, the home secretary could not be criticised for treating them as a safe destination under the Convention.

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