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EU-UK Joint Political Declaration on Asylum and Returns

Volume 809: debated on Thursday 28 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to implement the United Kingdom-European Union Joint Political Declaration on Asylum and Returns.

My Lords, the joint political declaration notes the importance of effectively managing migratory flows between the UK and the EU. The UK will continue to engage bilaterally and multilaterally with member states with which we have a mutual interest on returns or family reunions of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This reaffirms the important commitments already made in Parliament. This work is ongoing.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, yesterday at a Holocaust Memorial Day event, her Cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick made a very positive statement about refugees. May I ask her specifically about the discussions that are taking place about child refugees with EU countries? Have these discussions started? If not, when will they start and with which countries will they take place?

I know I will disappoint the noble Lord when I say that I will not be giving a running commentary on discussions but, yes, they have started and will be ongoing.

My Lords, these events have occurred against a background of reports of disturbing reforms in the British asylum system, including having asylum seekers in places where it is impossible for them to gain access to complete their asylum forms and to get medical attention. What will the world think of Britain’s reputation when we are not being very helpful to future generations and those who have families here in the UK? Will the Minister follow through from her answer to my noble friend and say when we are really going to start being serious about assisting these families and individuals?

My Lords, I completely reject the notion that our asylum accommodation is not fit for purpose. The barracks that we used last year and continue to use are of a standard that we would expect in terms of access to medical and legal assistance. The accommodation is fully equipped to deal with anybody’s needs in terms of medical attention and legal requirements.

Does the Minister accept that some countries in Europe, such as Greece, Italy and France, are particularly important in bilateral negotiations? Will she confirm that a priority list of whom to engage with has been done and is being worked to?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to say that there are some countries where there will be more returns and relationships in terms of asylum seekers. I can confirm that those talks are ongoing; what I cannot do is give an ongoing commentary on them.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, following the end of the transition period, the Government published an overview of family reunion routes under the Immigration Rules, as promised during the passage of the immigration Bill? I would be grateful for an update on when, and whether, they also published clear guidance on the savings provisions, under which the UK processes all Dublin regulations requests received before the end of December.

I can confirm to my noble friend that new guidance, providing an overview of family reunion routes under, and outside of, the Immigration Rules, has been published on GOV.UK. Those Immigration Rules are unaffected by the end of the transition period. We have also taken steps to ensure that Dublin family reunion cases which entered the system before the end of the transition period continue to be processed after 31 December 2020, and we have published guidance on the savings provisions.

My Lords, the agreement between the European Union and ourselves says that the UK’s intention is

“to engage in bilateral discussion”

with the member states most concerned. That is the promise. To what extent have such discussions started and with which states, and has any agreement been reached?

Does the Minister appreciate the growing evidence that some bogus asylum seekers are claiming to be the victims of trafficking and/or modern slavery in order to bolster their claims, whether they arrive from the EU or elsewhere? What measures does she propose to deal with this?

I am very glad that my noble friend has asked that question, because the Home Secretary has outlined very clearly that we want safe and legal routes. She mentions trafficking and traffickers. Of course, at the heart of some of the small-boats activity are some of the worst types of criminality, committed by those who really do not have any care for the human lives that might be lost.

My Lords, Dublin III has been one of the many serious casualties of Brexit, as the Minister well knows. Can she confirm that the joint declaration will soon lead to a new agreement in the best interests of the child—at least in France? She must be as impatient as any of us to reach that agreement. Can she reassure me that the joint Calais reception arrangements, which came in time, are now working efficiently?

I can categorically state that we are no longer part of Dublin, and we do not intend to open up that agreement again. As of not last year but the year before, we are not a member of the European Union. In the course of the immigration Bill, I outlined how routes would be open to people who needed our asylum and to unaccompanied children.

The Government said during the immigration Bill proceedings that they would carry out a review of safe and legal asylum routes. They promised a Statement on the terms of the review within three months of the Act passing, which will be reached on 11 February. Can the Minister give an update on progress on the Statement on the terms of the review and say whether it will be forthcoming by no later than 11 February? Also, how long is it expected to take to complete the review?

That is something that I checked on before I left the department this morning, so I can absolutely confirm that we will lay a Statement before Parliament providing those further details by 10, not 11, February 2021.

My Lords, can the Minister update the House on current government policy towards asylum seekers whom the Government would have returned to their point of entry into the EU under the Dublin regulations prior to the trade and co-operation agreement coming into force?

As I said to noble Lords who asked this previously, routes are available to people who wish to seek our asylum. Those routes have always existed. We were never going to be involved in Dublin beyond our exit from the European Union. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will, in due course, lay out those safe and legal routes. We will also continue to give people who need our protection refuge in this country.

My Lords, I have consistently argued for a more Christian approach to those seeking asylum after losing loved ones, homes and livelihoods as a result of proxy conflict between the great powers seeking to extend their influence in areas such as the Middle East, with bombs, rockets and drone strikes. Does the Minister agree that countries that behave in that way have a basic moral obligation to look to the well-being of those seeking refuge?

Countries that behave in the way that the noble Lord has outlined clearly do not have regard for the well-being or humanity of their people. I think he will be satisfied by the fact that we will take a whole-of-world approach to resettlement and that asylum will be based on people’s need for our protection, as opposed to where they have come from.