UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, welcomed Thursday’s ruling by the UK Court of Appeal, which found that the 1951 Refugee Convention does apply to the British Sovereign Base Area (SBA) in Dekhelia.
The ruling, which overturned an initial high court decision, means that a solution to the plight of six refugee families who arrived on the base in 1998, may now be in sight.
The refugees and their family members who joined them or were born in the meantime have found themselves in a legal limbo, with the UK neither recognising the application of the 1951 Convention to its sovereign bases in Cyprus nor resulting obligations towards the refugees.
UNHCR has long been seriously concerned about the plight and precarious situation of this group of refugees. The SBAs are military bases and not designed for permanent habitation, and hence the refugees had limited access to services like education and healthcare while on the bases. Their rights were curtailed and they were unable to travel. A 2013 psychological assessment commissioned by UNHCR documented the adverse consequences of leaving these refugees and asylum-seekers in this predicament for so long.
Now that the UK appeals court found that the 1951 Refugee Convention does apply to the SBAs and that the United Kingdom has a direct obligation to these refugees under international law, a lasting solution to their predicament may be in sight.
UNHCR said in an announcement that it now encourages all parties concerned to expeditiously find a durable solution for the refugees and resolve this long-standing situation in line with the court’s decision.