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Supreme Court sitting in Manchester to hear Palestinians’ challenge to exclusion from refugees scheme in UK

On Thursday 9th March 2023, in the Supreme Court’s first sittings in Manchester, justices heared an appeal by a Palestinian refugee who claims they should have been allowed the opportunity to settle in the UK under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

The scheme was set up in 2014 to help people fleeing the conflict in Syria to resettle in the UK.

At first the scheme was only open to Syrian nationals, but after seven months it was extended to include people who had fled the conflict to neighbouring countries, regardless of nationality.

However in practice Palestinian people fleeing the Syrian conflict, who are registered with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), were barred from the VPRS and are barred from the current UK Resettlement Scheme, because they are excluded from registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and only the UNHCR can refer people to the VPRS.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, which has a major base in Manchester, the Palestinian refugee appealing to the Supreme Court argues that the VPRS unlawfully discriminated against them in breach of section 29(6) of the Equality Act 2010.

Section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010 requires public authorities to have due regard to equality issues, but the refugees say the Home Secretary failed in that duty when setting up the VPRS.

The Court of Appeal ruled that section 149 (1) did not apply outside of the UK. Now the Supreme Court will consider what is the territorial scope of the public sector equality duty in section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010.

The appellant, who is stuck in a refugee camp alone in Lebanon, is a 64-year-old woman suffering from significant health complaints. Her husband and son are missing in Syria, presumed dead, her son-in-law and minor granddaughter are missing, presumed dead, having tried to reach safety in another country.

Their lawyer, Erin Alcock said:

The court is being asked to decide an important point of principle about when public authorities are required to have regard to equality issues. This case relates to a refugee resettlement scheme and decisions of the Home Secretary that could have a real impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We are delighted the Supreme Court is sitting in Manchester this week, bringing these issues to a wider audience.”

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