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Asylum Seekers: Removal to Rwanda

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2022

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 13 June.

“Our world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda is a global first and will change the way we collectively tackle illegal immigration. This is a global problem that requires international solutions.

Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Individuals will be relocated to Rwanda and have their asylum claims processed by the Rwandan authorities. The partnership is an important part of our reform of the broken asylum and migration system. I welcome the High Court’s decision on Friday on this, but, with legal proceedings ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further than to say that we comply fully with our legal and international obligations.

We aim to move forward with a policy that offers new opportunities for those relocated to Rwanda and enables us to focus our support on those most in need of our help. The British public rightly expect us to act. Indeed, inaction is not a responsible option when people are drowning and ruthless criminals are profiting from human misery. Decisive leadership is required to tackle the smuggling of people through illicit and criminal means. This evil trade must be stopped.

The principle of the plan is simple: people will no longer be able to pay evil people smugglers to go to a destination of their choice while passing through sometimes several safe countries. If someone comes from a safe country, they are picking the UK as a preferred destination.

Uncontrolled immigration reduces our capacity to help those who most need our support. It puts intolerable pressure on public services and local communities. Long-lasting change will not happen overnight; it requires a long-term plan. As I have said many times before in this House, there is no one single solution, but this Government will deliver the first comprehensive overhaul of the asylum system in decades.”

My Lords, we are told that the Prince of Wales has called the Rwanda policy “appalling”, and this morning, the Church of England—including esteemed Members of this House—said that it is an “immoral policy” which should shame the UK. Why are they and many others wrong and the Home Secretary right? There were reports that victims of torture were scheduled to be on today’s flight. Is that the case? The Government have even had to put an RAF base on standby today to facilitate a flight of fewer than seven people. What will the cost to the taxpayer be of each person? This policy is unethical, unworkable and expensive, and it flies in the face of British values. Is it not the case that we need safe and legal routes, not a shameful policy of offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda?

My Lords, before I start, I think this is an appropriate point to remember the victims of the Grenfell fire.

On morality, I do not think it is moral to allow people to stand by and allow people to drown, or to line the pockets of criminal gangs who seek to exploit people trying to cross in small boats. That is why we have safe and legal routes, which have in fact seen over 200,000 people arrive here since 2015. On the cost, I do not think we can put a price on human lives. I think we need to do all we can to deter these perilous journeys across the channel.

My Lords, given that the Court of Appeal will consider the legality of the policy very expeditiously, would it not be fair and in accordance with natural justice to postpone any further flights until such time as the Court of Appeal has come to a final decision on the legality of the policy?

The courts have now determined twice and there will be a JR process in July. That will be the extent of my comments on the legal process, because it is ongoing.

My Lords, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration says that he has seen no impact of the Rwanda policy on numbers attempting to cross the channel in small boats. One hundred crossed just yesterday. The civil servant in charge of the Home Office says that he has not seen any evidence to show that the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda will act as a deterrent. Israel tried the same policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda and it failed. When will the Government admit that their Rwanda policy is less about stopping people smugglers transporting people across the channel and has everything to do with the UK abdicating its moral responsibility to give genuine asylum seekers sanctuary in this country and its legal responsibilities under the UN refugee convention?

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, we have brought 200,000 people here since 2015. As for the Permanent Secretary’s comments, he made it clear that he considered it “regular, proper and feasible” for the Home Secretary to make a judgment to proceed with this policy

“in the light of the illegal migration challenge the country is facing.”

It is the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary as principal accounting officer to ensure that the department’s use of its resources is appropriate and consistent with the requirements set out in Managing Public Money. The reasons for writing are set out clearly in the published letter.

My Lords, following the Minister’s opening words, I presided at a midnight mass to commemorate the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire at All Saints West Dulwich, which went on until the early hours of this morning, so I was grateful for the tribute she paid.

Bearing in mind the force of today’s letter in the Times signed by all the serving Lords spiritual, will the Minister acknowledge, contrary to what some of her colleagues have said, that the Bishops and others have offered alternatives—in particular, safe and legal routes which are unavailable to those who wish to apply from countries such as Iran, Iraq and Eritrea? Secondly, will she inform the House how removals may go ahead if the monitoring committee, set out in the memorandum of understanding to scrutinise processing, reception, accommodation and post-asylum treatment, does not exist? Finally, on the use of language, does the Minister agree that there is no such thing in law as an “illegal asylum seeker”, only an asylum seeker?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his points. As I have outlined, our safe and legal routes have been extremely generous to those who most need our protection—those from Afghanistan, now those from Ukraine and previously those from Syria. Our routes have been very generous. Sometimes, in suggesting expansion of safe and legal routes, we are opening up the country to something that might be quite unmanageable. However, we stand by our duty and our wish to provide refuge to those who need it most. I cannot go into any detail on processing because, as I said, a legal process is ongoing, but details of the process are available online.

Would my noble friend be kind enough to tell the House whether the Home Secretary has yet had time to write to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop to apologise for the way she received his moral judgment? Has she been able to write to the Cardinal Archbishop to explain why she disagrees with his moral judgment? Or are we now to believe that moral judgments will be laid down by the Home Office and this Government rather than those who have traditionally being able to uphold them?

My Lords, I have given my view on morality and I expect that God will be the judge of my morality or otherwise. As to whether my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has written to the most reverend Primate or the Cardinal, I do not know; that is a matter for her.

My Lords, clearly, this is a matter on which people have strongly held views. Does my noble friend agree that the millions of people in this country who voted for stronger control of our borders are compassionate citizens? Would she further agree that a failure by the Government to do all that they can to prevent and deter illegal channel crossings would undermine our democratic process?

My noble friend is of course absolutely right. We have to strike that balance between being compassionate to those who need our refuge and asylum in this country and stopping some of the criminality associated with it. That is what the very generous British public voted for.

My Lords, I think the Minister would agree that these are controversial matters. She rightly said in response to the noble Viscount that a substantive judicial review of the policy will be considered in July. Would it not have been open to the Home Office to hold off removals until then, or is this a confected culture war so that other Ministers—never the noble Baroness, I might add—make these remarks about lefty lawyers thwarting the will of the people, and these poor seven or so souls are collateral damage in that culture war?

The noble Baroness is right that a legal process is ongoing. Nevertheless, the Home Office has a duty to uphold the law. There have already been two court proceedings and we await the outcome of the JR next month with interest.

My Lords, may I have an answer to the question I asked earlier this week? Are there any circumstances in which refugees from conflict zones will be sent to Rwanda?

We have been very clear that each case will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. No one will be sent anywhere where they might be persecuted or where their human rights might be undermined.

Will my noble friend commit the Government to providing substantive evidence to the inquiry launched by the International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member, and in doing so, will the Government explain on what basis they chose not to lay this agreement before Parliament? The Ponsonby rule suggests that any such agreement of significant public importance should be laid before Parliament.

We had a debate about this. A memorandum of understanding was reached with Rwanda, as opposed to a treaty, which would of course have been laid before Parliament.