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Vulnerable asylum seekers face Article 3 breaches in Italy, holds tribunal
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Vulnerable asylum seekers face Article 3 breaches in Italy, holds tribunal

The tribunal has concluded, finally, that particularly vulnerable asylum seekers face breaches of Article 3 if returned to Italy to have their asylum claims processed under the Dublin Regulation. It would be fair to say the circumstances where this applies are tightly drawn by the tribunal: the vulnerability would need to be severe and very strong evidence of the severe vulnerability would be needed. The case is R (SM & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dublin Regulation – Italy) [2018] UKUT 429 (IAC).

This is a huge vindication of literally years of hard work by counsel and solicitors involved in these cases. Although the Home Office will no doubt appeal.

The full headnote:

(1) Subject to paragraph (2) below, on the evidence before the Upper Tribunal, no judge of the First-tier Tribunal, properly directed, could find there is a real risk of an asylum seeker or Beneficiary of International Protection (BIP) suffering Article 3 ill-treatment if returned to Italy pursuant to the Dublin Regulation, by reason only of the situation that the person concerned may be reasonably likely to experience in Italy, as a “Dublin returnee”. The evidence does not rebut the general presumption that Italy will comply with its international obligations in such cases.  

(2) However, the evidence before the Upper Tribunal is markedly different from that previously considered by the High Court in “Dublin” cases concerning Italy, such that it cannot, without more, be said a human rights claim based on Article 3 is bound to fail, if the claim is made by a ‘particularly vulnerable person’ (as described in paragraph (3) below). 

(3) The categories of “vulnerable persons” identified in the Reception Directive are a starting point for assessing whether a person has a particular vulnerability for the purposes of this paragraph. The extent of a person’s particular vulnerability must be sufficiently severe to show a potential breach of Article 3. It is difficult to specify when a particular vulnerability might require additional safeguarding to protect a person’s rights under Article 3. The assessment will depend on the facts of each case. However, a person who makes general assertions about mental health problems without independent evidence or who has been diagnosed with a mild mental health condition or has a minor disability may have sufficient resilience to cope with the procedures on return to Italy, even if it entails the possibility of facing a difficult temporary period of homelessness or basic conditions in first-line reception facilities. There will be cases where a person’s particular vulnerability is sufficiently serious that the risk of even a temporary period of homelessness or housing in the basic conditions of first-line reception might cross the relevant threshold. Such cases are likely to include those with significant mental or physical health problems or disabilities. Other people may have inherent characteristics that render them particularly vulnerable e.g. unaccompanied children or the elderly. 

(4) In the case of a ‘particularly vulnerable person’, the following considerations apply: 

(i) A failure by the respondent to consider whether to exercise discretion under article 17(2) of the Dublin Regulation is likely to render the certification decision unlawful; 

(ii) If the respondent considers whether to exercise such discretion but decides not to do so, the return and reception of the person concerned will need to be well-planned. Although the Italian authorities would not want to leave a particularly vulnerable asylum seeker or BIP without support, the evidence indicates that there is no general process, similar to that which exists for families with children, to ensure that particularly vulnerable persons will not be at real risk of Article 3 treatment, while waiting for suitable support and accommodation, of which there is an acute shortage. In order to protect the rights of such a person in accordance with the respondent’s duties under the European Convention, the respondent would need to seek an assurance from the Italian authorities that suitable support and accommodation will be in place, before effecting a transfer.  

(iii) It follows that a failure to obtain such an assurance prior to the transfer of a particularly vulnerable person is likely to give rise to a human rights claim that is not necessarily ‘bound to fail’ before the First-tier Tribunal.

Greg Ó Ceallaigh has a bit more on the case over on the Garden Court website.

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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