Home Office wrong to send asylum seeker back to Ethiopia, rules judge

Home Office wrong to send asylum seeker back to Ethiopia, rules judge

A leading Scottish judge has found the Home Office guilty of making a serious blunder by unlawfully returning an Ethiopian asylum seeker fleeing persecution and made a “groundbreaking” ruling that it had to return him to the UK to continue with his case.

Solomon Getnet Yitbarek fled Ethiopia’s brutal regime five years ago and has an ongoing asylum claim in the UK. However in a case described as “shocking” even to veteran asylum lawyers assisting him, he was detained during a routine appointment to sign on with the Home Office and deported back to Ethiopia, where he feared for his life.

He claims that he was mistreated on route, with excess pressure applied to handcuffs to keep him quiet, and once in Ethiopia – where both his father and brother were imprisoned, tortured and later died due to their opposition to the ruling regime – was forced to flee into Sudan illegally, to avoid capture.

Meanwhile his lawyer, Lia Devine of Latta Law – working with advocate Alan Caskie – took the case to the Court of Session, where judge Lord Colin Tyre ruled that the Home Office must issue Yitbarek with new travel documents and flights and return him to the UK at its expense. He returned earlier this month, was reunited with his pregnant girlfriend and is continuing with his asylum claim.

Describing the ruling as “groundbreaking” Devine said: “We knew we had a strong case in terms of what had happened, however, we were never sure if we would ever be able to obtain an order for his return. This does not happen often. We were all delighted with the result achieved.”

Stuart McDonald MP, SNP spokesman on immigration, asylum and border control, said the latest in a long line of irresponsible decision making by the Home Office meant there was now cause to “look at whether the Home Office should at least be stripped of its role in deciding asylum applications”.

He added: “The Home Office continues to act like a law unto itself – not only putting into full force the Conservative government’s awful policies and rules, but too often going further and behaving in an even more outrageous way. From Windrush to unlawful detentions, a mixture of under resourcing and poor decision making means the Home Office is too often getting it wrong.”

Celia Clarke, director of campaigning group Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said that wrongful return sometimes went unchallenged. Surveys for BID show that only half of those in detention centres have legal representation. She said: “Detention is meant to be used as a last resort but in practice we find that it is being used as a first resort.”

Home Office spokesperson confirmed that Yitbarek had been “removed in error”. She added: “As soon as the court ruling was received, arrangements were put in place to return him to the UK for his case to be dealt with.”

Solomon Getnet Yitbarek from Ethiopia, now 27, fled to Sudan with his mother and brother after his father had been arrested by Ethiopian authorities for his political actives. It was too dangerous to return to their own country, yet life here was difficult too.

Five years ago he met a British Ethiopian woman at church and the two married and came to the UK, where they settled in London. He was working, studying, and he was safe.

But the relationship broke down after three years, by which point his brother had also been arrested and detained in Ethiopia. “The same issue was the politics that my dad had also been arrested for,” he says.

Afraid for his future, Yitbarek, who had also campaigned for Ginbot 7 – a peaceful Ethiopian opposition political organisation whose members have been targeted and detained by the Ethiopian government – sought advice and applied for asylum. However his case was refused. The Home Office said it did not believe him.

He was detained for immigration purposes and moved to several detention centres before ending up in Dungavel in South Lanarkshire in March this year, where he had to find a new lawyer and was put in touch with Lia Devine, of Latta Law. She believed there were grounds to put in a fresh asylum claim, and after doing so, applied successfully for bail.