‘Mystery’ asylum seeker prompts landmark ruling

A mystery asylum seeker - whose true identity and age are hotly disputed - has won an Appeal Court test case with repercussions for every local authority in the country.

AN asylum seeker who sought refuge in Barking and Dagenham has won an Appeal Court test case which will impact on every local authority in the country.

In a ruling likely to place a huge financial burden on already cash-strapped local budgets, judges ruled councils cannot wash their hands of young refugees and pass responsibility for housing and maintaining them onto central government.

The Eritrean asylum seeker at the centre of the case arrived in the UK in 2007 claiming to be just 17 and therefore a “child in need”.

Barking and Dagenham Council has housed him and provided more than �50-a-week for food and other essentials and almost �120-a-month to cover his travel to and from a south London college where he is studying electronics.

However, the Home Office has always insisted that he is not who he claims to be. They say he was born in 1987 - and was therefore not a child at all when he came to Britain - that he first arrived in the UK as a visitor from Saudia Arabia and is now aged 23.

An immigration judge agreed with the Home Office and rejected his asylum claim in 2008, but Barking and Dagenham has not wavered from its own assessment that he was born in 1990 and is therefore now aged 20.

Most Read

And, despite the continuing doubts over his identity, age and entitlement to support, the council has, “to its credit”, carried on providing him with essential maintenance and support, top judge, Lord Justice Tomlinson, said today.

The issue in court was whether the man - referred to only as “SO”- has been due all the support he has been receiving from the cpuncil as part of the “vulnerable cohort” of young asylum seekers who arrive in the UK as unaccompanied children.

After commenting on the “impenetrable” and “far from clear” nature of the law on the issue, Lord Justice Tomlinson ruled that the council does have the power to accommodate SO as a “former relevant child” under the terms of the 1989 Children Act.

And the judge, sitting with Lord Justice Leveson and Lord Justice Jacob, also ruled that Barking and Dagenham is not entitled to refuse him support on grounds that he is “likely to receive assistance” instead from the National Asylum Support Agency.

The hearing at London’s Civil Appeal Court was considered to have such widespread implications that lawyers for both the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, and the The Children’s Society put forward arguments in court.