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Immigration: Detention

Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the case of Mr Isa Muazu, they will clarify their policy in relation to the detention of immigration detainees who are seriously ill and refuse food and fluids.

My Lords, a refusal to eat or drink will not automatically mean that a person should be released from immigration detention. This position has been upheld by the courts. On 19 November, Mr Justice Ouseley said that he did not accept the suggestion that the Secretary of State had adopted a hardline policy of saying that there would be no release for this claimant who was refusing food and fluid. He went on to say that the decision to start, maintain and continue the refusal of food and fluids to the end was for the claimant to make, adding that,

“his detention does not become unlawful simply because he is determined on that outcome”.

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that last week I received an assurance from the Home Secretary that landing arrangements had been made in Nigeria. Something went seriously wrong. Why did the Government attempt to remove a dying man at such human and financial cost, and will the Minister give us an assurance today that Mr Muazu will not be deported in his present condition? Will he also instigate an immediate review into immigration detention and end such routine and inhumane treatment, always remembering that asylum seekers—even failed asylum seekers—are human beings just like us and deserve deep respect?

My Lords, it may help the House if I update noble Lords on the current situation concerning Mr Muazu. The welfare of detainees is our highest priority. While refusing food and fluids, Mr Muazu was continually offered medical treatment, including patient care at hospital, which, until recently, he continually refused. Mr Muazu is regularly monitored. The latest assessment—I had a report this morning—shows that he is eating and drinking well and is mobile, and that he continues to be fit to fly.

My Lords, given that Mr Muazu was sent back on a plane and that the Government had failed to alert the Nigerian authorities about the arrival of that plane, what did the Government think was going to happen to Mr Muazu if he landed there? Were any arrangements made to look after him, given that at that point his health was very precarious?

My Lords, Mr Muazu’s flight to Nigeria on Friday returned to the UK for operational reasons which were not connected to his health or conduct. I assure noble Lords that a member of the Nigerian high commission was on that flight.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that it was a sensible use of resources to charter an aircraft to remove a single individual from this country, as in the case of Mr Muazu?

The operational practices are not a matter that I want to discuss particularly but this case has great public interest. It is not the first time that an aircraft has been chartered for this purpose. It might help noble Lords to know that the number of enforced removals in 2008 was 17,200-odd and last year it was 14,600-odd. However, voluntary removals went up from 18,000 to 29,663 last year.

My Lords, are not all so-called detainees free to leave the so-called detention centre at any time, but only through the door marked “home” and not through the door marked “United Kingdom”? Should our noble friend Lord Roberts not make his complaint to the Nigerian authorities, which refused to accept one of their own citizens back home?

I will not comment on the latter point but, obviously, the Government’s policy is that when people are here and they have no permission to remain they should depart voluntarily.

Does my noble friend agree that someone being deported should at least be physically able to sustain their health during the flight? Does he further agree that there should be some contact with the Government of the country to which a person is returning to ensure that a man who is seriously ill will be met at the airport and taken to suitable accommodation to enable him to survive?

I think that my noble friend’s allegations about the condition of Mr Muazu at the time he was flying back to Nigeria are inaccurate. As I have said, he is currently fit to fly. He is eating and drinking, and is mobile.

Does the Minister accept that the Government’s policy of trying to reduce the net immigration figure from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands is in tatters? Does he not share my regret that Mr Cameron had to go to China to slip it out in an answer there?

I am sorry that the noble Lord takes that view. I am normally a consensual politician but I have to say that the record of the current Opposition when they were in Government was that net immigration rose by more than 2 million. That was out of control. The current situation is that this Government are taking steps to ensure that there are proper controls on immigration to this country, which I hope are supported by this House and, indeed, by noble Lords opposite. They can be difficult. The responsibility in a case such as this is not easy. Many noble Lords on both sides of this House have been faced with that responsibility. We should not shirk from that situation.