A Palestinian refugee who spent much of 2020 on hunger strike in a row with the Home Office over his age is ruled to be 31 years old – despite insisting he is 26.
The man – who cannot be named for legal reasons – came to the UK in 2007 claiming to be 14. But an assessment at the time found he was 19.
In 2019, the man was granted leave to remain in the UK and requested that his records reflect what he said was his accurate date of birth.
He was turned down as a nightingale hospital volunteer in 2020 because the age he claimed to be differed from the age his paperwork said he was – prompting a mental health breakdown, the Court of Appeal heard.
He went on hunger strike following the row and his supporters – who launched a legal battle to get his age changed – said he views it as a key ‘part of his own identity’.
But three Court of Appeal judges today ruled that the Home Office had done its age assessment of the man ‘necessarily and properly’.
A leading campaign group calling for immigration reform claims the case gives ‘entirely the wrong message’ to people who may be tempted to lie about their age when claiming asylum.
Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK told MailOnline: ‘This is another example of entirely the wrong message going out to migrants and traffickers.
‘The case clearly shows that it pays to lie and deceive the authorities at the point of entering the UK because whatever happens after that the chances are you will be allowed to stay.
‘Our immigration system really has gone to pot.’
A Palestinian refugee who spent much of 2020 on hunger strike in a row with the Home Office over his age is ruled to be 31 years old by three Court Of Appeal judges – despite insisting he is 26. Pictured: The Royal Courts of Justice which houses the Court Of Appeal
They said the evidence available was not capable of establishing that his claimed birth date was right.
It is understood the man does not stand to gain anything from being officially recognised as being older.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the man’s circumstances evoked the ‘greatest sympathy’, but stood by the Home Office assessment.
The man fled Gaza in Palestine after he had been ‘severely mistreated’ by militant group Hamas for refusing to become a suicide bomber.
He came to the UK as an asylum seeker and settled in Bristol after he was granted indefinite leave to remain.
He has lived in the city since then but suffered a mental health breakdown when he volunteered to help at Bristol’s Nightingale Hospital last year.
The judges said he suffered a severe relapse in his mental health after he was turned down as a volunteer because of a discrepancy between the age he said he was, and the age his official paperwork said he was.
Judges said that rejection had triggered a ‘serious relapse’ in his mental state, he had refused to eat or drink and was admitted to hospital. He was in critical condition for a time.
Last summer his supporters and adopted family appealed for help to mount the legal challenge to his age assessment.
They said the man saw the issue of how old the UK Government said he was to be a key part of his own identity.
He was turned down as a Nightingale Hospital Bristol (file image) volunteer in 2020 because the age he claimed to be differed from the age his paperwork said he was – prompting a mental health breakdown, the Court of Appeal heard
He was supported by mental health charity Mind, The Guardian reports, who told the Home Office in the summer: ‘His date of birth is part of his identity as it is with all of us, but that sense of identity is overlaid with the most traumatic of experiences: loss of country, parents and being subject to torture and multiple mental disorders.
‘Any further loss of identity, such as the day you were born, can therefore become catastrophic to the sense of self.’
He went on hunger strike for months and was admitted to Bristol’s Southmead Hospital in April.
The NHS mounted its own legal challenge for the right to force feed him – but in July, the courts ruled the man had the right to refuse food.
Judges said he was now accepting ‘some clinically assisted nutrition and hydration’ pending the outcome of the appeal, but warned his life was in ‘imminent danger’.
In July, hospital bosses responsible for the man’s care asked a judge in the Court of Protection – where issues relating to people who might lack the mental capacity to take decisions for themselves are analysed – to consider the man’s case.
The man went on hunger strike for months and was admitted to Bristol’s Southmead Hospital (pictured) in April
Mr Justice Hayden decided against authorising medics to provide the man with nutrition and hydration by artificial means against his will.
The judge said every effort should be made to ‘persuade, cajole and encourage’ the man to accept nutrition and hydration.
But the judge concluded that the man should be allowed to say ‘no’ if he wanted to.
The Home Office is under no obligation to change the man’s date of birth, judges said.
Judges were concerned about the impact their decision would have on the man and Lord Justice Phillips said ‘no effort’ should be spared in encouraging him to ‘choose life’.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: ‘Three separate Court of Appeal judges and the High Court have unanimously ruled that the Home Office handled this case ‘necessarily and properly.’
‘We handle cases like this as sensitively as possible and hope this individual is able to make a full recovery.’