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Asylum Seekers: Removal

Volume 794: debated on Monday 17 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to halt the removal of failed asylum seekers to countries to which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel for British citizens; and if not, why not.

My Lords, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice to British nationals is not the correct legal test to determine whether a person qualifies for international protection or whether to remove a foreign national with no right to remain in the UK.

I am delighted to wish the Minister a happy Christmas. I only ask her: when will I be able to do that to those who have indefinite detention in the UK under the present immigration law? That is my first question. My second question is: when are we going to end deportation to Congo, Afghanistan and Somalia of those who have come from there? Our people are not encouraged to go there at all; they are advised not to go there, and yet we keep on deporting people. We have deported 700 to Afghanistan, nearly 100 to Somalia and many more to Congo in the last couple of years. Is it not time the Minister stopped trying to defend our humanitarian policies, when all they are doing is sending people into war zones where many face the death penalty?

My Lords, that is a gross exaggeration of the fact. The noble Lord conflates two things, which are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice to people travelling for holidays and other reasons and our obligations under the 1951 convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. He asks about indefinite detention. There is no indefinite detention. Most cases are sorted out within four months. As for people being deported, the FCO does not advise against travel to the whole of the countries the noble Lord mentions—Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. It only advises against travel to parts of those countries. Also, when we send people back who have no legal right to be here, we do so with the humanitarian considerations that I have outlined in mind.

My Lords, perhaps I may press the noble Baroness further on her comment about humanitarian considerations. How is an assessment of individual safety undertaken if someone is being removed to another country? I refer in particular to their political activities, their gender or their sexual orientation. When someone is returned to another country, what follow-up is undertaken to ensure that they are indeed safe?

As I said to the noble Lord, the UK bases its decisions on two conventions, the 1951 convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. If, for example, an LGBT person was to be sent back to a country or to an area in a country where they would be persecuted for their sexuality, we would not send them back.

My Lords, how does the Minister define the word “indefinite”? In my dictionary, it means that there is no fixed time limit. We are unusual in this country in having no fixed time limit for detention. It does not mean that people are held in detention for ever, as she seemed to imply in her response to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts.

People are not held in detention for ever. As I said to the noble Lord, the vast majority of cases are determined within four months of someone being held in detention. I do not know of anyone who has been detained indefinitely.

My Lords, do not these questions highlight the extremely sensitive judgments that caseworkers in her department have to make? Would she consider arranging for Members of your Lordships’ House to visit caseworkers to hear from them about their experience, how well they are supported and how much time they are given to make these very important and delicate decisions?

I totally agree with the noble Earl that these decisions are incredibly sensitive, in particular when it comes to the things mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, such as political activities, sexuality and even religion, which has been mentioned many times in this House. I will be happy to meet the noble Earl. I do not know if I will be able to arrange for him to visit caseworkers, but I will be happy to outline for him the framework in which we make decisions.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the Home Office’s country policy and information notes are always accurate and reliable? I understand that information is taken from a number of sources and that that can include newspapers from the country of origin. However, they may be countries where the regime interferes with press freedom.

I can assure the noble Baroness that we are mindful of our human rights obligations. Our caseworking decisions go through three lines of scrutiny, and over the past few months we have indeed improved the scrutiny and decision-making processes. I am confident that the system we now have in place is far better and more humane than perhaps is the case with some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Home Office in the past. The Windrush episode has reminded us carefully about how we should treat people who come to this country.

My Lords, I apologise for coming back to the noble Baroness, but this is a point for clarification. I do not have a dictionary to hand, but I think that she has confused the word “indefinite” with “for ever”. All the word “indefinite” means is that there is no time limit. Does that mean that she is now willing to set a time limit so that detention would not be indefinite?

It is not defined by time. What I would say is that we endeavour to determine applications as quickly as possible and we would certainly not want anyone to be detained indefinitely on our estate.