Deportation policy breaches human rights

Deportation policy breaches human rights


Written by: Frances Webber

The new decade has started with a rebuff for British deportation policy from the European Court of Human Rights.

On 12 January 2010, the Court in Strasbourg ruled that the proposal to deport 34-year-old Abdul Waheed Khan, who had lived in the UK since the age of three, breached his rights to private and family life under the Human Rights Convention.

Mr Khan was born in Pakistan in 1975, and came to the UK in 1978, when he was three years old, as a dependant of his father. He went to school here. In the 1990s he got into trouble with the police twice for minor offences, but in 2003 he got into drugs and was sentenced to seven years for helping to import 2.5kg of heroin. He was released early for good behaviour, in 2006, and has kept out of trouble since. But in May 2006 the Home Office decided to deport him because of the drugs offence. He argued that he no longer had any close relatives or any social, cultural or family ties in Pakistan, having never returned there, and didn’t even know what part of the country his family came from. He was the main source of support for his mother and siblings, who had various health problems. His appeals were dismissed. After his application to the European Court, his British girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s first child.

Before 2006, the Home Office would not have dreamed of deporting someone like Mr Khan, who has lived in the UK for over thirty years. But deportation of those here since childhood has become increasingly common since the ‘foreign prisoners scandal’ which resulted in the resignation of Charles Clarke as home secretary in May 2006 (Read an IRR News story: ‘Moral panic’ over foreign nationals released from prison). Immediately after the scandal, immigration rules were changed to create a presumption in favour of deportation, and further legislation made deportation of foreign offenders mandatory where human rights were not breached. The idea that someone here since infancy, educated here and with all their important ties here should not be deported – an idea supported by Council of Europe recommendations and by the European Court itself – was swept away in the rush to rid the country of ‘foreign criminals’.

A few of those deported or threatened with deportation have taken the British government to the European Court of Human Rights, but Mr Khan’s is the first recent case to succeed. In June 2009 the Court upheld the 2007 deportation of a 31-year-old Turkish national, Ümit Onur, who had been in the UK from the age of 11 and whose parents and three sisters were British. Mr Onur was deported following a series of criminal offences including burglary and robbery, although he had a British partner and two British children, suffered from depression and had borderline intellectual functioning and dyslexia and had never returned to Turkey in the nineteen years he had lived here. And in the same month, the Court upheld the deportation of Jamaican Joseph Grant, a drug addict and habitual petty offender who had been living in the UK for over thirty years, since the age of 14, and had four generations of his family here (mother, siblings, children and nieces and nephews, and a grandchild).

In the 1970s and ’80s, European Court judges ruled the deportation of ‘integrated aliens’ or ‘virtual nationals’ unlawful on the grounds inter alia that host states should take responsibility for the children of the migrant workers recruited to rebuild post-war Europe, and should seek to rehabilitate, not reject them. Recent European deportation policies have moved a long way from these principles, and the European Court has followed. Human rights lawyers and migrant groups welcomed the outcome of Mr Khan’s case, expressing the hope that the judgment presages a return to the Court’s first principles.

Related links

Download a copy of the judgment (word doc, 288kb)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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