Photo by AHMAD BADER on Unsplash

When Palestinians were forced to flee Palestine in 1948, the United Nations established a body, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to protect and assist Palestinian refugees who were sheltered in refugee camps in Gaza, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and largely in Lebanon. At that time, the international community recognised these Palestinians as refugees ipso facto but, as long as they were deemed to be protected and assisted by UNRWA, they were not entitled to seek protection in any member state that signed up to the 1951 UN refugee convention. Without UNRWA, those Palestinian refugees would be automatically entitled to refugee status in any country that signed up to the UN refugee convention; but, with UNRWA protecting and assisting them, any Palestinians who fled their UNRWA registered camp and host country to claim asylum elsewhere were required to demonstrate they had a well-founded fear of persecution from the state or from a non-state entity, just like any other refugee.

I have worked with Palestinian asylum seekers, mostly from Lebanon, since 2000, and over the years hundreds of my clients told me about the challenges they faced born and raised as refugees. I was so moved that, in 2007, I visited the camps in south Lebanon and saw for myself the poor conditions.

My clients said UNRWA was not able to provide them with the assistance they needed, but UK courts disagreed.

Hearing stories of the terrible conditions in the camps which I saw for myself, and reading report after report that described the lack of resources available to Palestinian refugees, I was convinced I would one day find a case that enabled me to successfully argue that UNRWA was unable to provide the necessary help to my client, and that my client should therefore automatically be granted leave to remain as a refugee. 

AB and NB, a child and his mother, are Palestinians born in Lebanon and registered with the UN agency UNRWA. AB has severe physical and intellectual disabilities. In AB and NB’s cases, which first went before the UK immigration court – the First tier Tribunal - in 2020, we argued that, as UNRWA was unable to provide AB with healthcare and education appropriate to his needs, the UK should recognise both AB and NB as refugees.

The immigration judge referred their cases to the European Court of Justice and, in March 2022, the European Court made a ruling that was favourable to my clients (CJEU NB, AB C-349/20). 

After that, in March 2023, my clients’ appeals were sent back to the UK’s First tier Tribunal.

In Lebanon, AB was largely housebound, immobile and he received no education.  In the UK, thanks to medical treatment, therapy and education, AB experienced very significant improvements in his functioning and skills including his speech and communication which had a major beneficial effect on his self-confidence and emotional wellbeing.

The First tier Tribunal decided there was no NGO in Lebanon with a formal and stable relationship of cooperation with UNRWA such that they could properly be described as assisting UNRWA to carry out its mandate, and, in particular there were no NGOs capable of assisting UNRWA to meet its mandate in relation to AB in respect of the provision of healthcare and education. The Tribunal also decided that AB and NB’s reasons for leaving Lebanon were because of AB’s disabilities and therefore were beyond their control.

Having found that UNRWA had ceased to provide AB and NB with assistance and protection, the Tribunal decided they were entitled ipso facto to the protection of the Refugee Convention. 

As these appeals were allowed by a First tier Tribunal, and the Home Office did not try to appeal, the linked judgement is not a reported one and it does not bind other UK judges. However, I share the details of this immense victory because, though not binding, it may influence Home Office and judicial decision-makers considering Palestinian claims which argue that UNRWA is not able to provide necessary assistance.

If you have a family law case you need assistance with, please contact Mavis on 020 8885 7986 to arrange for an appointment with a solicitor in the family team.

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