A Tale of Two Countries
The travel advice from the Foreign Office for British citizens travelling to Somalia is ominous: ‘The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland except for the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel…Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Somalia, including kidnapping….There is a constant threat of terrorist attack in Mogadishu…Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate, including in crowded places…’.
The message is pretty stark, do not go to Somalia because you will get caught up in a terrorist attack. This seems to chime with what we see on the news; indeed, the Foreign Office website itself lists seven ‘major attacks’ in 2017 alone and go on to state that ‘During 2016 there were frequent and major terrorist attacks on civilians and military personnel across the country, including in Lido Beach, Galkayo and el-Adde in addition to 45 such incidents in the Mogadishu area’.
What the Home Office tell Somali asylum applicants is rather different however. Asylum refusal letters frequently quote the country guidance case of MOJ & Ors (Return to Mogadishu) Somalia CG  UKUT 0042 IAC which says ‘Generally, a person who is “an ordinary citizen”…on returning to Somalia after a period of absence will face no real risk of persecution of risk of harm such as to require protection under Article 3 of the ECHR or Article 15(c) of the Qualification Directive’. This directly contradicts the Foreign Office website which clearly states that terror attacks are numerous and that they can be both indiscriminate and target civilians. The Home Office also quote in their internal guidance Country Information and Guidance: Somalia) the case of AMM and others (conflict; humanitarian crisis; returnees; FGM) Somalia CG  UKUT 00445 (IAC) which states that ‘The armed conflict in Mogadishu does not, however, pose a real risk of Article 3 harm in respect of any person in that city, regardless of circumstances’. This is the legal position for asylum seekers despite the constant, indiscriminate terrorist attacks in the area. It is clear that, contrary to the position of the Foreign Office, according to the Home Office the ongoing armed conflict in Somalia does not pose that much of a threat.
Of course the level of risk on return to Somalia and the consequent likelihood of being granted asylum is coloured by numerous factors including the applicant’s gender, clan affiliation, family ties and whether they have previously been targeted. However what is clear is that the story of Somalia the British government tells to British citizens is quite different to the one it gives to those fleeing its violence. Neither are these double standards limited to Somalia. The British government seems to have two slightly different versions of the facts for many countries from which people claim asylum. And when it comes to trying to fit your story into the complex and ever-narrowing requirements of Immigration rules, slightly different emphases in the facts can result in vastly different outcomes.
*Michael Goldin is part of René Cassin’s Immigration Detention Campaign Group, find out more about how to get involved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org