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Asylum Seekers

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the moratorium preventing the forced return of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, Darfur and Iran will continue.

My Lords, we are not enforcing the return of unsuccessful non-Arab Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan, nor are we enforcing returns to Zimbabwe. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal is considering the situation in these countries and we have no plans to resume enforced returns before the tribunal has reached its conclusion. We continue to enforce returns to Iran for those found not to be in need of international protection.

My Lords, I am so grateful to the Minister for that Answer, which meets the crying need of the moment. I say thank you. Can we have a sort of permanent moratorium, without any tribunals to issue their decrees on returns to these desperate nations of Zimbabwe and Sudan, at least until they are settled? When we resume the return of failed asylum seekers, although I hope that will not happen, will he accompany me on the repatriation of the first batch—especially the unaccompanied children—to either of those places?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I felt warmed up by the fact that he was thanking me, but I knew that the sting would be in the tail. I am in a particularly good mood, because 203 years ago today, at this time, sadly, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded, but we were about to win a great victory. It is a marvellous day for me in that sense, as well.

As the noble Lord knows, we consider each and every case individually, and each is dealt with by an individual case officer. We do not accept that we should make a presumption that every asylum seeker from a country, regardless of the individual circumstances, should not be sent back. That is why I would not want to make the blanket moratorium run into the future, and it is appropriate that the AIT looks at the situation in this way, to make sure that it is still safe. I cannot really promise to visit with the noble Lord. If I were able to, and there was time, I would love to do such a thing.

My Lords, given that this is a de facto policy of the Government, can the Minister assure the House that letters will no longer be sent out to asylum seekers threatening repatriation and causing them extra distress?

My Lords, I was not aware of how the letters were sent out, but I am sure people must be informed that these proceedings are going ahead. I may look at that because I do not like the thought that they are threatening. I shall look at exactly what is said in the letters.

My Lords, does the Minister now believe that it is safe for Iraqi asylum seekers to be returned to all parts of Iraq and, if so, have all the 1,400 who were rejected for asylum in March this year been repatriated?

My Lords, a case officer deals with each person as an individual. Therefore, I am sure that some can be returned safely. I do not know whether every part of Iraq is seen as safe, nor do I know specifically about the 1,400, so I shall write to the noble Baroness on those points.

My Lords, given that many asylum seekers arrive in this country because of religious persecution, what diplomatic efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making regarding the passing of the law on apostasy by the Iranian majlis, which makes the death penalty mandatory for apostasy and which will undoubtedly cause many more people to flee that country?

My Lords, I do not know what exactly is going on about approaching Iran on that point. We are not particularly happy about a number of things in Iran. Again, I go back to the point that we deal with each person as an individual. Each one is looked at by their case officer and there is often no reason why someone cannot go back even though they have said they are a Christian. Indeed, quite often we have found that initially they may claim to be homosexual, then a Christian and then something else. They need to be looked at individually. The case officer needs to talk to them; we need to reassure ourselves with the COI that they are safe and, if they are, I think we should try to return them.

My Lords, in 2007, the applications for asylum were 2,210. We granted asylum to 210; 1,665 had asylum refused and of those 605 were removed voluntarily; the rest have cases ongoing.

My Lords, the judge in the case of NO said that conditions for Darfuris returned to Khartoum were grim, and that was before the 10 May JEM attack on Khartoum, which has led to materially worsened conditions for the Darfuris in the camps. Considering that, will the noble Lord and the Government take advice from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the current situation for Darfuris in Khartoum and lay that information before the AIT when it reconsiders the country-guidance case of HGMO?

My Lords, the HGMO Sudan UKIAT on this issue said that those Darfuris returned to Sudan would not necessarily have to return to IDPs—the internal camps—which is an area one was very worried about, or a squatter area. However, if such a person ended up in camps, it was felt that conditions were not unduly harsh, so the decision was that it was not as bad as some people might have been presenting.

My Lords, will the noble Lord look again at the question of children who become settled in this country when they are received here as unaccompanied minors yet, when they are 18, whose cases are reviewed and some are considered for sending back in very unsatisfactory circumstances?

My Lords, will the noble Lord rise to the boldness of his great predecessor, Lord Nelson—to whom he has rightly paid tribute—and suggest that the Government take a bold step: namely, to permit Zimbabwean refugees in this country to work until they return, not least because, in doing so, they will gain some of the professional experience and knowledge that a newly democratic Zimbabwe will desperately need, and to which the United Kingdom Government could contribute in the way that his predecessor contributed to the great battle at Trafalgar?

My Lords, I would not for a moment dream of stepping into those shoes. I have found that whenever I do anything bold, I get rather a slapping, so I have to be a little careful about being overbold.

As the noble Baroness well knows, it is not generally our policy to let people work because it gets people linked and looped into the country and we have to have a proper policy of returning people. That policy really has worked. We have fewer people applying, we have been successful in getting people back, and there are benefits from that. As for Zimbabweans, people who have done 12 months where it is not their responsibility are allowed to work. We are looking to see whether there is anything else that we can do for them but, generally, we should not let people work because the aim must be that, if they are not here properly, they should go back to their country of origin.