Laissez-passer issued to International Civil Servants of the United Nations

Proper UN Convention status refugees are issued with a blue travel document, accepted worldwide.  I will always remember the first one I held and how it made me want to cry.  

Not all asylum seekers can show the well founded fear of persecution needed to gain refugee status.  UK asylum seekers granted the lesser status of Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR), or humanitarian protection under the European Convention on human rights, or those granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) are still nationals of the countries they have fled.  They are generally expected to keep their national passports current and use that to travel outside the UK to third countries.  Alternatively, in certain circumstances they are allowed to travel under a brown travel document or Certificate of Identity, issued by the UK government.  These are now issued by the new Border and Immigration Authority and cost £210.00. 

In order to get a brown travel document you need to show that you have applied to your own country for a passport and this has been formally and unreasonably refused.  Reasonable refusals – such as because of criminal convictions or failure to complete military service – will mean that the UK, too, will refuse to issue the travel document and you will be marooned here.

Only if you can show written evidence of the refusal and can show that it was unreasonable will you be issued with a brown travel document.

Mr and Mrs V call themselves “refugees”.   Technically they are not.  They are Serbs and left Yugoslavia in 2000 and typical of many who sought safety in the United Kingdom.  In 2002 they were granted ELR for four years, as was the practice then.  This temporary ELR status meant that the UK reserved the right, after the four years had elapsed, to decide that it was safe for them to return to their own country.  For them it meant four years of underlying tension – never knowing whether this would be their home for good, whether they should put down roots, or whether they should always hope to go back home.

They managed to get a brown travel document each, also valid for four years.  This enabled them to travel to see other close family members who had also left Yugoslavia.  Both the ELR and the travel documents ran out in 2006.  The Home Office was swamped with applications from the many hundreds in identical positions, wanting their ELR extended or converted into the more coveted ILR. 

Mr and Mrs V have recently got a decision.  They now have ILR and may stay in the UK indefinitely.  Many others are still waiting.

Once they have been here for a whole year with ILR, and providing they have been resident in the UK for five years by then, Mr and Mrs V will be able to apply for naturalisation as British Citizens, provided they can find the £735 fee for a couple applying together.  The will have to show that they are of good character and sound mind, and that they are familiar with the life and language of the United Kingdom.  If they are over 65 they may be exempt from the life and language test.  Once they are British Citizens, they may apply for a British passport to travel to other countries.

Until then, Mr and Mrs V have a conundrum.  They would very much like to travel to a third country to visit Mrs V’s elderly mother, paralysed by a stroke, but they have no laissez passer.  They must apply to the Serbian embassy for new passports.  If those are issued, they must travel under these passports – which seems odd when the UK has acknowledged that they are unable to return to Serbia and, indeed, their former brown travel documents were stamped good for every other country in the world but their own.

If the passports are refused, then they will have to show that the refusal was unreasonable.  Only then will the travel documents be issued.

Mr and Mrs V may be able to persuade the Border and Immigration Agency to issue a brown travel document on compassionate grounds.  They will need to show that they have to travel urgently and will need evidence of the compassionate grounds, such as a doctor’s certificate for Mrs V’s mother.  In the meantime Mrs V’s mother gets older by the day.

Try explaining that to a couple who speak about 100 words of English between them …

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