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Migrants: Channel Crossings

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of France about ensuring that migrants crossing the English Channel are dealt with in a humane way.

My Lords, the United Kingdom ensures that all migrants crossing the English Channel are dealt with in a humane way. We have deployed two additional Border Force cutters to the UK to help protect those being placed in life-threatening positions, as well as to further secure our border. The Home Secretary spoke to Interior Minister Castaner last week and has invited him to London for further discussions.

Is the Minister concerned that, on 29 March, we will depart from the European Union and, when we do, we will also go out of the Dublin III agreement? That means that no country will be obliged to rehome those for whom this is the first country in Europe that they come to. In the United Kingdom, whether we have transitional arrangements or some sort of other deal, we alone will have to look after those who reach our shores, with no other recourse. Do we have any plan at all for what we will do on 30 March, which is 79 days away?

My Lords, I am not concerned that, when we leave the European Union on 29 March, we will in any way resile from our obligations to give refuge in this country to people who need it.

I am coming to the noble Lord’s point about Dublin. We have resettlement schemes for people in the MENA region but, if we have a deal, Dublin III will apply during the transition period. If we leave without a deal, we will not be bound at all by the Dublin regulation. Nevertheless, this Government are committed to continuing the long history of giving asylum in this country to people who need it.

Will the Minister confirm that, in our discussion with the French authorities, we will set a high stake on the right of migrants who have reached Britain to claim asylum in this country, and those who have reached France to claim asylum in that country? That is a fundamental right under the Geneva convention, and it seems to be being weakened by some of the statements of the Home Secretary.

My Lords, there has been a long-established acceptance that people seeking asylum should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. The noble Lord is shaking his head slightly but, if a migrant or asylum seeker arrives in France or Italy, they should seek asylum in that country. If they do not, and decide as some have to take the treacherous journey across the channel, they not only put their lives in danger but are going against the Dublin convention.

My Lords, does not the “first safe country” principle rather let this island nation on the west of Europe off the hook from its responsibilities to asylum seekers globally? Given this, and given the Government’s proper concern with safety, should they not do much more to open up safe and legal routes for asylum seekers, as called for by the British Red Cross and others?

My Lords, when noble Lords make this point, I am never quite sure whether they feel that asylum seekers should claim in the first safe country or that they should then go on to other countries. However, claiming in the first safe country is the swiftest way for those fleeing torture and persecution to get protection.

My Lords, children granted refugee status in the UK have no rights to family reunion. This sets the UK apart from all other European countries. What are the Government doing to ensure legal protection and mental health support for these children? Will they consider granting rights to family reunion?

My Lords, the last thing that the Government want is for children to be sent across in order to bring their families across. We do not want children to act as a pull factor for people to make these unsafe journeys. We do not intend to change that principle.

My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister’s answers and she seemed to imply that the Dublin regulation appeared to be the responsibility of those claiming asylum and refugees. Does she not understand that it is in fact burden-sharing between countries, which have an obligation—we have an obligation—to protect those who seek asylum? The House would find it helpful if she could give a more adequate answer than she has so far.

In the Minister’s Statement yesterday, when my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark raised this point with her, she spoke about the various agencies that were working together and co-ordinating, such as Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, the coastguard and the National Crime Agency. How many people smugglers, who bring people into the country and put them in danger, have been prevented from doing so? How many of those criminals have been detained, and how many have been prosecuted?

On the last question first, I will try to give the noble Baroness details. I am not sure that I will be able to obtain the figures, but I will certainly try. She made a point about the Dublin regulation being an obligation or burden on the person claiming asylum. In fact, as she knows, it is an EU-wide agreement that asylum seekers will claim in the first safe country they reach. To suggest that they should do it any other way is dangerous to the lives of those people.