By Elias Hazou
The British bases said on Monday they are not at odds with the UK’s Home Office position that a group of migrants and refugees living at the Dhekelia base since 1998 cannot be allowed entry to the UK.
On Sunday, the Guardian ran a story suggesting that in the past the bases authorities did not share the views of the Home Office on the issue.
The paper revealed that six refugee families who have lived in Dhekelia for more than 17 years are now seeking a judicial review of the UK government’s refusal to allow them to move to the UK.
According to the Guardian, documents submitted for the court hearing next year “reveal that the officials at the sovereign British base have consistently believed the only solution for the families is to move to the UK”.
The paper cited James Gondelle, former administrative secretary for the sovereign bases in Cyprus, as saying back in 2009: “We remain convinced that entry to the UK will ultimately prove to be the only solution.”
Asked by the Mail to comment, bases spokesperson Sean Tully said their stance is not at variance with the Home Office.
“We’d have to check on the remarks attributed to Mr Gondelle, and if he did say that, we’d have to determine in what context, and get back to you,” Tully offered.
“Our position is the same as that of the Home Office, namely that for obvious reasons the UK will not allow a backdoor to be created through the SBA for refugees seeking entry to the UK,” he added.
According to the Guardian, the six families living at the Dhekelia military base believe the UK’s stance is contrary to their rights under the 1951 refugee convention.
In 1998 75 people – including Iraqi Kurds, Syrian Kurds and nationals from African countries – washed ashore at RAF Akrotiri.
Twenty-nine of these people have since been recognised as refugees, while 37 are considered ‘failed asylum seekers’ by the SBA.
Those recognised as refugees have the right to live and work in the Republic of Cyprus. It’s understood they have chosen not to.
The British government wants them to move to Cypriot territory.
It was as a result of this group of migrants and refugees that the UK and the Republic agreed on a memorandum of understanding in 2003 under which the Republic of Cyprus would process asylum applications of individuals who arrived on the bases after that time.
The Guardian quoted Tag Bashir, 44, who fled Sudan’s civil war, and has had three children while living in an area of the Dhekelia base called Richmond Village.
“For 17 years I have been trying to work, to build a life for my family but there is nothing. My life has been wasted … We haven’t got any guarantees from the Republic of Cyprus and we will not go there.”
Bashir went on to claim that “in 2005 the SBA authorities tried to pressure the refugees to leave, making their lives intolerable – closing down the school, destroying the playground and removing access to medical services.”
According to a 2011 court case (Bashir and others v Administrator of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia), “the appellants argue that if relocated to the RoC there would be a ‘real risk’ of refoulement; only temporary residence permits have been issued (carrying with it the risk that these could be revoked or not renewed on expiry).”
Refoulement means the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees.
The document can be found here: http://www.landmarkchambers.co.uk/userfiles/documents/resources/Bashir_others_v_Administrator_of_SBAs.pdf