Syrian Christian fails in legal fight over British resettlement project

Man said he was locked out of a project to resettle 20,000 refugees in UK because of his faith

Syrian refugees walk at Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXYZOH
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A Syrian man has lost his legal fight against the British government after claiming a refugee resettlement programme discriminated against Christians.

The man, named only as HNA, travelled to Jordan with his wife and three children in 2014. But they failed to obtain places on the initiative, which offered UK residency to 20,000 people fleeing Syria.

He blamed the decision on anti-Christian sentiment among local UN staff who administered the programme.

But lawyers for HNA failed to show that the project, which closed last year, had discriminated against Christians, the UK’s High Court ruled. More than 100 of those accepted by 2021 were Christian, government figures showed.

In 2015, former UK prime minister David Cameron announced that by 2020, the UK would have accepted 20,000 people fleeing Syria, with priority give to women, children, survivors of torture and those needing medical care.

HNA had fought for the initiative to be declared unlawful on the grounds of discrimination. Such a decision would have cleared the way for compensation for those refused resettlement.

His challenge – backed by the former head of the Anglican Church, Lord Carey – was the second failed attempt to reverse a failed application.

In April, the Court of Appeal in England ruled against a claim by Palestinians living in Syria who said they were barred from applying because they were not Syrian citizens.

HNA said it was more difficult for his family to be resettled because of anti-Christian sentiment in the Middle East after they converted in 2015.

His family was taken to a refugee camp in Jordan but HNA said it was violent and controlled by Islamist extremists.

The family initially kept their conversion a secret. But when their faith became more widely known, they received death threats and were moved to a safe house run by local Christians.

In a witness statement, HNA said that he feared for his life if he was returned to Syria.

In January 2020, he said, “wider family members had come to his dwelling to kill him and take his wife and children”.

Mr Justice Jacobs said the case centred on the role of UN staff but he agreed with the UK government that there was no “satisfactory evidence” that they discriminated against Christians.

He added that no Christian proposed for settlement under the initiative had been rejected by the UK, unlike 365 Muslim refugees.

“Christians and other minorities are not excluded from the Scheme and indeed have been referred to the UK and have arrived here under the Scheme,” he said.

The latest ruling, published on Monday, highlights the shortage of places worldwide for the 1.4 million refugees estimated by the UN refugee agency as needing resettlement.

The UNHCR estimates there are more than 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide, more than 26 million of whom are recognised as refugees. But fewer than 23,000 people were resettled in Britain in 2020.

Updated: July 27, 2021, 1:36 PM