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Afghan asylum-seekers win the right to stay

Written by: Staff

London, May 11 (UNI) Britain's High Court Justice Sullivan today said the nine Afghan asylum-seekers, who hijacked an aircraft to the country had the right to remain in the country until it is safe for them to reuturn home.

Justice Sullivan, while making the ruling, attacked the way ministers had dealt with the case. He said the Home Office had failed to follow correct legal procedures and had ''deliberately delayed'' giving effect to rulings by an immigration adjudication panel.

The Judge ordered the Home Secretary John Reid, to grant the hijackers discretionary leave to remain, subject to a review every six months.

He also made an order that the Home Office should pay legal costs on an indemnity basis ''the highest level possible,'' to show his ''disquiet and concern.'' ''Successive home secretaries had failed to grant them nine discretionary leave to enter Britain and allowed them only temporary admission, fearing that to let them live and work in Britain would amount to ''a charter for future hijackers,'' he said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair criticised the ruling and said that he hoped the government would successfully appeal.

Mr Blair said, ''We can't have a situation in which people, who hijack a plane we are not able to deport back to their country. It is not an abuse of justice for us to order their deportation. It is an abuse of common sense.'' Justice Sullivan, said ''It is difficult to conceive of a clearer case of 'conspicuous unfairness amounting to an abuse of power', lest there be any misunderstanding. The issue in this case is not whether the executive should take action to discourage hijacking, but whether the executive should be required to take such action within the law as laid down by Parliament and the courts.'' The nine Afghans, escaping the Taliban, hijacked a Boeing 727 in Afghanistan on an internal flight from Kabul in February 2000.

They forced the crew to fly to Stansted, in Essex. Armed with guns and explosives, they held the plane at the airport for 70 hours surrounded by police and SAS troops before giving themselves up.

The cost to the taxpayer of the hijacking and its aftermath of court hearings and support for the hijackers 'who have not been allowed to work' has been unofficially estimated at 10 million pounds.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary at the time of the hijacking, promised that everyone on the aircraft would be deported ''as soon as reasonably practicable.'' In July 2004, an immigration adjudication panel ruled that they could not be sent back to Afghanistan. To remove them would be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights 'not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

In August 2005, Charles Clarke, the third Home Secretary to deal with their case, introduced asylum policy instructions that gave him a new discretion to refuse entry to applicants considered to fall within certain ''exclusion criteria.'' Mr Justice Sullivan said the Home Office had engaged in ''a transparent attempt to find a form of words that would enable the Home Secretary to defy the adjudicator's decision without having to acknowledge that he was doing so.'' ''For a period of nearly 17 months the Home Secretary deliberately delayed giving effect to the adjudicator's decision in order to give himself time to devise a revised policy, which would purportedly justify not implementing the adjudicator's decision,'' the judge said.

He said the revised policy of last August was ''a paradigm of a minister being given unfettered administrative discretion to depart from a published policy, whenever he thinks it appropriate to do so.'' UNI XC AD VD DB2002

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