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Asylum Seekers: Darfur

Volume 703: debated on Wednesday 9 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will end forced removal of Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan.

My Lords, the Government have deferred enforcing the return of non-Arab Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan pending the outcome of a country guidance case that is due to be heard by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in the near future. The case, originally listed to be heard in May, is currently waiting to be relisted and will address the safety of return to Khartoum.

My Lords, I appreciate that step by the Government very much but, following the 10 May attacks in Khartoum, why was the policy considered at all, especially for the Darfuri people? There were mass murders and arrests in Khartoum. Have the Government managed to find a mechanism to monitor and report on the fate of those asylum seekers returned forcibly to their native country?

My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the attack by the Justice and Equality Movement on 10 May, which has been condemned by our Foreign Secretary. Rather more importantly in this context, the Foreign Office has stressed to the Government of Sudan that they should exercise restraint in their response and that anyone arrested should be given due legal process. We have some concerns about reports that we have received. The issue will be part of the work of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which stemmed from the Aegis Trust report; I can go into that if anyone is interested. On monitoring once returned, I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave in my letter on 18 June subsequent to the last debate on the subject. We do not normally proactively monitor treatment of individual failed asylum seekers unless there is a precise reason for us to do so. Indeed, it can sometimes be prejudicial to their safety.

My Lords, will the Darfuri asylum seeker who was due to be returned to Khartoum on Sunday next now emphatically not be returned? I shall return to the Question. Given the factionalism and fighting between various groups including JEM, to which the Minister referred, and given that 200,000 to 300,000 people have died in Darfur, where 2.2 million people have been displaced, does he accept that it should not take a tribunal to tell us that the circumstances are not appropriate to return anyone to Sudan at present?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a couple of issues. On the first, we do not comment on individual cases, but we will not enforce removals of non-Arab Darfuris pending the outcome of the AIT country guidance case. One cannot prejudge what will be said there, but some of the goings-on in Darfur, especially in Khartoum, would lead one to believe that there would be no way in which people would be sent back. We are not at all happy with what we see going on and are pressing hard for a genuinely independent human rights commission. The UN special rapporteur on human rights is going there. We are monitoring the issue closely. I have seen the telegrams from the FCO; we are very concerned. As regards returns “ever”, situations change in countries and we always approach the matter very much on a case-by-case basis, except in exceptional circumstances such as this.

My Lords, the situation has indeed changed. The trouble is that the Country of Origin Information Service publishes its reports only every six months and the last occasion was April, so it does not take into consideration the mass arrests, torture and disappearances referred to by my noble friend, which all occurred after the JEM attack of 10 May. How will the country guidance case sufficiently reflect recent developments in Khartoum that make it extremely dangerous for any Darfuri in that environment?

My Lords, we go about getting information through not just the UKBA’s Country of Origin Information Service. We get a lot of data from our local FCO officials in the embassy, a wide range of independent organisations, the UNHCR, the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those are being revised all the time. Normally we look on issues on a case-by-case basis, but what is going on in Khartoum is extremely worrying and we are not at all happy about it. We have made our views felt, but we are clear about what is going on. I am sure that it will be taken fully into account by the AIT and reflected in the advice that it gives to us.

My Lords, Part 10 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 prevents foreign criminals liable to deportation becoming eligible for the right to remain in the UK, due to the impossibility of sending them home. How many persons are affected under that part, globally and in respect of Sudanese nationals?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give a specific answer and will have to get back to the noble Viscount in writing. All that I would say is that in the past year there has been an increase of 80 per cent in the number of criminals who we return from this country to their country of origin. We take that very seriously. I have spoken about it previously on the Floor of the House and that return rate will get even better.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of another aspect of the changing situation? New conflicts have erupted all around Darfur, not only in Abyei in May, but recently a major conflict ensued in Lietnhom in Bahr-el-Ghazal, creating some 45,000 more displaced people. Given the number of displaced people who are already there, sending asylum seekers back to a place which is devastated and has no healthcare, food or water seems totally unacceptable and is very relevant to this situation.

My Lords, I could not agree more and that is why I am delighted to say that we are not actually sending anyone back. However, it is important that we maintain the integrity of our asylum system. That means that unfounded applications have to be checked; we have a very good record on this. We have stopped 1 million lorries coming in and 18,000 immigrants. In the past five years, our airline liaison officers abroad have stopped almost a quarter of a million people who have not been entitled to come into the country; that represents about two jumbo jets-full every week. We need to take this very seriously, but we do think of people. We would never return anyone who is at risk, and we look after them on a case-by-case basis. We should be proud of that.