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Asylum Seekers: Verification of Claims

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they propose to revise their process of verifying asylum claims in light of the case of Darfuri refugee Shoman Ahmed Mohammed so as to prevent individuals with valid claims being returned to their homelands under threat of torture or death.

My Lords, I cannot comment on the individual case, which is under consideration by the courts. The Government are committed to meeting their obligations under the refugee convention and have a long history of offering protection to those in genuine need. Accurate, well considered decisions are a key to a robust, fair and firm asylum policy. That is why we are committed to raising the quality of asylum decisions.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Answer, but surely the recent case of Shoman Ahmed Mohammed highlighted the dangers and deficiencies in the current system for assessing asylum claims. He was already at the airport being expelled from Britain and returned to the Sudan when, happily and at the last minute, his lawyers obtained an injunction to prevent his expulsion. Had he been returned to the Sudan, he would have been at grave risk of torture and death. Is it not vital that Her Majesty’s Government immediately re-examine the asylum application system to take into account a much broader range of evidence, including especially that from family members and others close to the asylum seeker who might be at risk of murder? Please will my noble friend ensure that the current defective and ineffective system is re-examined without delay?

My Lords, I remind my noble friend that I cannot comment on that case because it is subject to an appeal; therefore, it would be improper for me so to do. However, I hope that I will be able to reassure him that the new asylum process that we have put in place does in fact do all that he would wish. It heightens and improves the quality, it has enhanced the training, and it ensures that one case worker looks at a case from beginning to end; we believe that the sort of review that my noble friend described has been undertaken and are developing a system that now has far higher quality.

My Lords, I would be delighted if what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said were true. In fact, for future reference, my birthday is on 19 August.

My Lords, regarding the case of AH and others, in which the period of appeal has now expired, I assume, have the Government decided to accept the appeal verdict and are they now refraining from the option of internal relocation to Khartoum, so that no Darfurian is sent back to that city? Will the noble Baroness accordingly give instructions to have the country report on Sudan amended to take that judgment into consideration and instruct immigration officers who have to consider applications by people from Darfur that those officers should not consider internal relocation to Khartoum as an option?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is referring to the recent case of Re AH and others in relation to Sudan. The court found that the Darfuri would not be at risk of persecution or other ill treatment in Khartoum, but, in its interpretation of a legal test on refugee law, the court found that it would be “unduly harsh” to expect a non-Arab Darfuri to relocate to Khartoum, because they were ill-equipped for city living and the conditions which they would be likely to face in Khartoum. That issue is subject to appeal. We do not believe that it is right that someone should be considered to be a refugee simply because, although they could safely relocate within their own country to a place where they would not be at risk of persecution, they would, by doing so, face a drop in living standards to a level experienced by many of their compatriots. That is the issue of law that is subject to appeal.

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly said that the rules of the House prevented her answering the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Janner. Do not the same rules apply to the speech made by the noble Lord in his supplementary question?

My Lords, I have tried to differentiate between the active case and the point of law. The point of law is subject to open debate, but I have tried to explain that I cannot talk about the facts of the case and I hope that all noble Lords will adhere to that procedure, because that is what we are all bound to do in this House.

My Lords, in light of the fact that people who are about to be deported quite often have significant medical problems, are the Government willing to review the current principles under which they offer guidance on who should or should not be deported in those circumstances?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate will know that individuals, at any stage during their application, are able to bring forward fresh information on which determination can be made. If there is such fresh information, consideration can be given to it, but we do not believe that our current policy is either unfair or in any way unjust. It enables people who have valid claims to make them and allows those claims to be properly interrogated.

My Lords, I noted the assurance given by the Minister, for whom I have great respect, about the new asylum model, but is she aware of the particular concern that we have about, for example, Zimbabwean refugees? I refer to the many cases where there is clear evidence that people have literally been taken away at the airport and then either tortured or subjected to profound pressure of various kinds. Those people are still being returned and, in some cases, appeals are being made by the Home Office against the decisions of the courts. Will the Minister therefore please take up the suggestion of her noble friend Lord Janner and have another look at the way that the system is currently operating so that Britain maintains its high reputation for not having any part in the possibility of torture against those who are disliked by wretched and rogue Governments?

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that the information that we get on in-country positions is as robust as possible. We are deferring enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe until the ongoing litigation is finally resolved, so returns are not occurring at the moment. I certainly assure the noble Baroness that we take very seriously the need to preserve our high reputation in relation to asylum seekers, giving them appropriate succour and ensuring that our system is as robust and fair as we can possibly make it.