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Asylum: Channel Crossings

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many people since January have (1) crossed the Channel irregularly by boat, and (2) claimed asylum having done so; and how many of these asylum claims are awaiting a decision.

An overall total of 11,279 people have arrived in the United Kingdom by small boat since January of this year to today’s date. From 1 March to 31 March, 3,362 asylum claims were raised from small boat arrivals, of which 3,306 are awaiting initial decision. The number of asylum claims made from arrivals from 1 April 2023 will be detailed in the next quarterly publication of statistics.

Can the Minister tell us how many of these people in the various categories were unaccompanied children? Is there any reason why unaccompanied children are barely mentioned in the impact assessment?

I will need to write to the noble Lord regarding the precise number of unaccompanied children in those statistics. We will be discussing the impact assessment in due course—to coin a phrase.

My Lords, some time ago, the Government pledged to eliminate the backlog of asylum claims by the end of this year. How is that going, and how confident is the Minister of that target being met?

On 31 December, the Prime Minister pledged to clear the backlog of 92,601 initial asylum claims; that relates to asylum claims made before 28 June 2022. One way this will be achieved is via the streamlined asylum process, which is centred around accelerating the processing of manifestly well-founded asylum claims. From 23 February, legacy claims from nationals of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen will normally be considered through the streamlined asylum process. That means that a positive decision can be taken on the information available, and the claimant will not be substantively interviewed. I reassure the noble Lord that this work has progressed in terms of the recruitment of further caseworkers, and we hope to have 2,500 further case- workers in place by September.

My Lords, of the numbers crossing the channel, how many are women and how many are pregnant women? I asked this question in writing during the debates on the Illegal Migration Bill; I got a response, but no clarity on numbers. Could they be shared today?

Clearly, I can provide a breakdown of those numbers, probably during tomorrow’s debate. As far as I am aware, there were no pregnant women.

My Lords, further to the question about children from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, does my noble friend have any evidence that human rights lawyers are telling people who come here illegally on boats across the channel to say that they are children, when they are clearly not?

My noble friend is right that intelligence exists suggesting that people smugglers give information to those they smuggle. I am aware that allegations have been made against lawyers, but I would not like to say any more at this stage.

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for facilitating my visit to RAF Manston and to Western Jet Foil a few weeks ago. During that trip, I was made aware of a cohort of youths who initially identify as adults because they want to work. Indeed, they may have been working in their home country since they were 13 or 14. Does the Home Office keep any record of whether this group is more likely to go missing or abscond, so that they can perhaps be identified earlier in the process, before they go missing?

I thank the noble Lord for that question, which is clearly important and I will find out the answer. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has a Question about missing asylum-seeking children in the next fortnight, so I will report back to the House then and will of course write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, refugees escaping the horrors of war and arriving in the UK in small boats last year constituted less than 5% of the annual number of immigrants. Can the Minister explain why, despite Christian teachings—with which we begin proceedings in this House—requiring that they be treated with care and compassion, the Government are making their harassment and deportation, at £170,000 a head, a national priority?

The noble Lord will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with him. The purpose of the Illegal Migration Bill is to deter dangerous crossings of the channel and other methods of illegal entry. This is an entirely responsible and appropriate policy step.

My Lords, following the question from my noble friend Lord Dubs, can the Minister explain why we still do not have a child rights impact assessment, so that we can assess the Government’s argument that the Bill is in the best interests of children? All organisations, including children’s commissioner, believe that it is not.

I am afraid that I cannot provide the noble Baroness with an update on the child rights impact assessment, but I am sure that it will be provided.

My Lords, I cannot understand why the Government are dead set on spending huge amounts of money on sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. In fact, we would be much better off if we let them work here, as most of them want to do. Have the Government thought about that at all—about making them taxpayers?

As I have said many times in this House while the noble Baroness has been present, the reason why asylum seekers are not initially allowed to work is in order to prevent a very large pull factor encouraging illegal migration.

Can the Minister please give us the total figure of the number of asylum claims that have not been concluded? He gave a figure of 92,500, which, presumably, is the number of cases that have not been started. However, there may be many that have been started—a file has been opened—and which are excluded from that 92,500. Can the Minister give us the total number of asylum claims that have not been finished or started?

Of course, I do not have those statistics to hand but they are available on the GOV.UK website. The latest statistics release, covering 1 January 2023 to 31 March 2023, shows that during that period 3,793 people arrived in the UK having crossed the channel by small boat. The next quarter of statistics is due to be published on 24 August 2023. As the noble Lord is aware, the Home Office needs to ensure that information intended for publication meets the standards and requirements set for departmental publications.

Can the Minister explain how this wretched illegal trade is allowed to be conducted in broad daylight from the shores of northern France? What would the situation be if the boats were going in the opposite direction? Would we allow the south coast to be used as a trading post for this illegal trade?

I thank the noble Lord. The answer is clearly that we would not, and I agree with the sentiment of his question.

I thank the Minister for the letter he has put in the Library of the House recording that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has adopted a formal report saying that the Bill before the House, which we will discuss tomorrow, requires amendment if we are not to breach our international obligations. Will he bring us the good tidings that we are going to do something about that?

Tempting though it is to take up the noble Lord’s invitation to predict what might happen tomorrow, I will not go down that avenue. If I may, I will answer the earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Some 12% of arrivals claim to be unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—of course, those are claims and are not confirmed—and 13% of arrivals are female, whereas 87% are male.

My Lords, the Minister has been unable to answer several questions raised today in this exchange. We have a debate tomorrow. Can he guarantee that he will look this evening at the questions he has been unable to answer and give perhaps a better account of what is going on? He has his officials in the box—many of us have been in that box before—and I hope he will look at what he has been unable to answer and be able to give a full account in the debate tomorrow.

The noble Baroness will have noticed that I actually provided answers in response to those questions a moment ago. I am afraid I resent the tone of her question. I will of course have at my fingertips relevant information for tomorrow’s debate.