United Kingdom : Victory for asylum seekers
9 septembre 1997 (MAHA)
LONDON, 9 September 1997 (MAHA)
In a case affecting thousands in Britain’s refugee communities, two asylum seekers won the right to continue to receive disability living allowance in a British High Court on 13 August 1997.
Both asylum seekers have been granted anonymity by the Court. One person suffers from symptomatic HIV infection which causes him fatigue and pain. He also has a leg injury caused by a grenade explosion and suffers the permanent consequences of wounds through torture. The other applicant is an eight-year-old girl who is HIV positive. Her mother is also HIV positive, and her older brother died of AIDS.
"This is an important victory," Welfare Rights Worker Carolyn George told MAHA. "It restores benefit rights to thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom are the victims of torture or persecution. Anyone whose benefit was cut off in similar circumstances should now ask for their benefit to be reinstated."
An attack on the most vulnerable
Although the Asylum Bill or Act says nothing about HIV/AIDS, and makes no specific reference to health care, Kate Jones, a solicitor for Immunity Legal Centre, explains that "income support acts as a ’passport’ to many services," including free prescriptions. (However, she notes, people were nevertheless entitled to free prescriptions on grounds of low income.)
The Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996 came into force on 5 February 1996 and removed entitlement to social security (like disability living allowance) for large groups of immigrants including asylum seekers. The Conservative Government promised [per thou] [per thou] protection to those receiving benefit before the new rules were introduced, but Tory Department of Social Security Ministers then reneged on that promise.
"These benefit cuts," says Jones, were an "attack on the most vulnerable members of society."
Entitlement to other benefits has also been denied prior to the High Court ruling. Many disabled or terminally ill asylum seekers, some of whom were the survivors of torture, were left without any official financial support.
The previous Government justified removing protection from pre-February 1996 claimants by arguing that all DLA awards for asylum seekers were now subject to review. "Perversely," explains Carolyn George, Welfare Rights Worker for CPAG, "they said they had grounds for review because the law had changed !"
In other words, the very law that many were promised protection from was used to do this. The current Labour Secretary of State for Social Security "has conceded that the argument put forward in the High Court is correct," says Jones, "but there are still many who are not entitled to any benefit at all."
Jones demands that the Government must "honor its pre-election pledge and urgently consider restoring full benefit entitlements to asylum seekers."
No civilized nation
Last year, the Act faced several legal challenges, resulting in the reversal or postponement or some of its provisions.
For example, a legal challenge to the lawfulness of the Regulations was won in the High Court by a female asylum seekers known as Ms. B. and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) at the end of June 1996. It was decided that the way in which the Regulations had been brought into effect was unlawful.
"No civilized nation," stated the Judge, "could tolerate the poverty which these regulations had created."
At the time, demonstrations by the Campaign Against the Immigration and Asylum Bill brought 30 000 people to the streets.
Last year, Blackliners housing development worker Ginny Lee told MAHA that "the devastating effects this Bill will have on Black people living with HIV and AIDS can not be underestimated." Most of the clients at Blackliners are refugees and asylum seekers.
Other groups warned publicly that restricting entitlement to social security will have "serious implications for their health and, in the case of communicable disease, the community as a whole."
The climate fostered by the Act had by Fall 1996 "created a situation where even sympathetic professionals have offered services on a more reluctant basis," says Robert Lee of the Black HIV Working Group. Lee worried, for example, that some health authorities could interpret the regulations to completely restrict access to all medicine.
One health authority had, last Fall, made it clear that "everyone requesting HIV/AIDS services is entitled to them wihtout exception," Lee told MAHA. "This is the kind of response that we tried to encourage" during last year’s fight to kill the Bill.
Nevertheless, the Black HIV Working Group documented "several instances" where "legal refugees or those granted extended leave to remain have been refused medical services or have been presented with invoices." In one such case, a person received an invoice for several thousand pounds while in hospital, left hospital, and subsequently died.
The Uganda Community Relief Association also reported that African refugees suffering from HIV/AIDS were already being denied medical treatment and support.