Posted on November 12, 2013

Taxpayers’ £10,000 Bill to Teach Failed Asylum Seeker to Fly: Ethiopian Given Lessons Despite Government Saying He Must Leave Country Next Year

Eleanor Harding, Daily Mail (London), November 5, 2013

Taxpayers face a bill of tens of thousands of pounds so a failed asylum seeker can train to be a pilot.

Yonas Admasu Kebede will be given flying lessons costing £10,000 even though the Government says he must leave the UK next year.

The 21-year-old from Ethiopia will also get up to £10,000 in living expenses.

A council is being forced to pay up after a court ruled it must meet Mr Kebede’s education costs after leaving school.

Critics called the decision a ‘blank cheque’ which is ‘deeply unfair’ on taxpayers and questioned whether learning to fly should be paid from the public purse.

The council is also funding Mr Kebede’s younger brother, Abiy, 20, to start a degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Kebedes came to the UK with their older brother and father in 2004. Their asylum application was refused but they were granted discretionary leave to stay in the UK until November 2014.

Shortly after their arrival, they were abandoned by the older family members. They were placed in council care in Newcastle and attended a local comprehensive, where they attained GCSEs and A-levels.

By law, local authorities have a duty to help meet training costs of those with no parents so that they can enter the workplace.

Usually, these costs are living expenses for apprenticeships and college courses — not the enormous sums associated with a degree or professional qualification.

But the brothers’ lawyers argued that the council should pick up the bill as their immigration status barred them from applying for a student loan.

Labour-controlled Newcastle city council fought the claim in the Administrative Court and the Court of Appeal, but lost, in a ruling likely to set a precedent for other claims.

It now faces providing loans of up to £20,000 per year to each brother, with the amount to be repaid once they start work.

The brothers plan to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK but there is no guarantee it will be granted. They may be able to transfer to a normal student loan arrangement if their application is successful — which could see them repaying some of the cost of their education.

Mr Kebede is taking the lessons at Flight Training London at Elstree Aerodrome, Hertfordshire, and hopes to then apply for a degree in aviation.

The training for a private pilot’s licence involves a minimum of 45 flying hours and seven theoretical exams as well as a flight test.

The flying school charges £165 per hour-long training session, while a flight test costs £185.

Yesterday Greg Stone, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said: ‘I can see why the council should support them going to a local college and so on but this seems over and above what people would expect. The public would be surprised that the council is obliged to pay for flying lessons.

‘We haven’t budgeted for this. Is this a blank cheque to give them whatever they ask for?’

If Yonas Kebede seeks to pursue a degree after his flying lessons, the council fears it will have to foot the bill for that too — up to £30,000 in fees and a similar amount in living costs.

Robert Oxley, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘This judgment is absolutely farcical and deeply unfair on the taxpayers footing the bill.

‘Lots of parents scrimp and save to provide their children opportunities for further education, yet now they’re also paying for this young man’s flying lessons. The brothers were granted leave to remain, not a free ride.’

Tory North East MEP Martin Callanan added: ‘I find this totally bizarre. The council are in a difficult position if the Court of Appeal has ordered it but most taxpayers will be appalled that they are funding flying lessons for a refugee, however well intentioned he is. It is absolutely incredible.’

The brothers both applied for courses beginning last autumn, but when they discovered the funding was not available they deferred their places. They then instructed lawyers to pursue a claim with Newcastle Council to provide the funding.

Paul Heron, of Public Interest Lawyers, said: ‘We are thrilled that the Court of Appeal found in favour of our clients. They will now be able to go on to higher education, where they plan to complete their studies, secure a career here in the UK and repay their student loans in full to Newcastle city council.’

The case came about after the Government changed the rules in 2011 as to who could apply for a student loan. The new rules stated those with discretionary leave to remain were no longer eligible for a loan.