UK Supreme Court passes judgment on refugees in British base areas of Cyprus

UK Supreme Court passes judgment on refugees in British base areas of Cyprus

The claim by six refugees from north Africa and the Middle East, who arrived at the British sovereign base areas (SBAs) in Cyprus in 1998 on a vessel from Lebanon, that they are entitled to resettlement in the UK, has been examined at London’s Supreme Court.

After their ship foundered off the Cypriot coast, the claimants were airlifted to the British SBA in Akrotiri. Since they have lived in “highly unsatisfactory conditions” in disused service accommodation in the Dhekelia base area.

The basis of their case was that they were entitled to entry into the UK by virtue of their status as refugees protected by the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), as modified by the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967).

So, the first question considered by the Supreme Court was whether the refugee Convention applied to the SBAs. The claimants said that the Convention applied by virtue of the UK having made a declaration in 1956 that it was to apply to Cyprus. The UK Home Secretary claimed that the SBAs were “new entities” in international law, created in 1960, in relation to which no such declaration had been made.

However, the Court judged that the Cyprus Act 1960, which was making provisions for Cyprus’s independence from the UK, did not alter the status of the base areas, but merely excluded them from the transfer of territory to the new Republic of Cyprus.

“The mere fact the UK lost 97 per cent of the island of Cyprus did not alter the status of the 3 per cent that it retained. The status of the base areas vis-à-vis the rest of the world did not change. The convention continued to apply to the base areas,” stated the British judges.

But in relation to the specific demand by the claimants for resettlement to the “metropolitan” territory of the UK, the Supreme Court has been dismissive.

The court said that a state’s duties under the Convention to a refugee reaching a particular territory for whose international relations the state was responsible were in principle and in normal circumstances limited to providing and securing the refugee’s convention rights in the context of that territory.

The court also considered whether a 2003 ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between the UK and the Republic of Cyprus whereby the full range of Cypriot governmental services would be provided to refugees, but at the expense of the UK, was valid under the UK obligations emanating from the refugee Convention.

Noting that such an agreement is unique, the court decided that it was valid, as “it was hard to see any objection in principle to some or even most or all of the supporting facilities required for refugees being provided by co-operative and effective arrangements with the Republic.”

However, the Supreme Court has reserved judgement on another question that has arisen.

The authorities of the Republic of Cyprus took the position that the 2003 memorandum did not apply to refugees such as the claimants who had already arrived in the base areas before its coming into effect (in May 2014).

The UK Home Secretary’s case, however, was that it was agreed (but not in writing) between the Cypriot authorities and the Sovereign Base Areas Administration in 2005 that it would deal with refugees in accordance with the memorandum, irrespective of the date of their arrival.

According to the court, the question remained whether the UK had been entitled in 2005 to make similar arrangements to the memorandum for the provision by the Cyprus Republic of facilities in respect of the claimants without their consent and, if so, whether the 2005 “agreement” had been a legally effective means of doing so as it was an informal one.

That (and other issues) required a further hearing to be arranged, states the Supreme Court decision…. / IBNA