Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


158.  Our conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

1.The Government should examine the 'pull' factors (set out in paragraph 10 above) to see which ones they can legitimately influence. (paragraph 19).
2.We welcome the wider debate about immigration policy as a timely reminder that there is a broader context, including employment policy, in which border controls should be seen. There should be a known and clear policy on which immigrants, if any, the country wants to encourage to meet labour shortages and demographic changes (paragraph 24).
3.We conclude that measures to counter trafficking in illegal immigrants require similar tactics to those used against drug smuggling - international cooperation, tackling the problem close to the source and aiming to disrupt the business. Border agencies should have the necessary gateways to operate joint intelligence cells and allow closer operational arrangements to counter the displacement element of more effective controls (paragraph 31).
4.We recommend that the border agencies engage closely with airport operators to ensure that new terminals are designed in a way which enhances the operation of effective border controls (paragraph 39).
5.We welcome the new emphasis being placed on advanced controls at the point of departure to the UK and recommend that the Government should take immediate steps to establish such controls abroad. (paragraph 51).
6.We welcome the increased cooperation between the UK government and the French authorities on measures to combat clandestine entrants but further measures will need to be taken to make this more effective. (paragraph 52).
7.We welcome this significant increase in resources for the Immigration Service. We recognise, however, that the sharp increase in asylum applicants makes that increased funding essential and we believe that it must be sustained. (paragraph 57).
8.The new powers for the Immigration Service - to work more flexibly, to be intelligence-led and to concentrate their resources on the arrivals who pose the highest risk - are welcome, but it is too early to judge their efficiency in the use of resources or its effectiveness in detecting and deterring illegal entry (paragraph 59).
9.We conclude that the Home Office has been dilatory in enforcing the removal of people whose asylum claims have been refused and others who have gained illegal entry to the UK. This in itself has attracted more people to the UK. The additional resources being committed to enforcement are welcome. The target of 30,000 removals in 2001-02 - a ten-fold increase over the 1999 figure - seems a very ambitious goal. (paragraph 69).
10.It remains to be seen what effect the civil penalty will have in the medium term in encouraging lorry owners and drivers to take more care to prevent illegal entry on their vehicles. We welcome the steps taken by P&O Stena Line at Calais and Zeebrugge to detect and deter illegal entrants before they board ferries. It is too early to judge whether those who traffick in human beings have been deterred or merely displaced to other methods and routes. We believe the independence of the appeal system for carriers' liability should be reviewed (paragraph 73).
11.While we have seen some examples of joint working and heard of improvements in co-operation between the different border agencies, we are convinced that considerably more should be done to improve joined-up working between the different government agencies operating at UK ports. Immediate steps should be taken to increase the number of cross-postings or secondments between staff of the different border agencies and sharing of office accommodation and computer systems to supplement at day-to-day level what is being done at the level of national management. The Immigration Service could benefit from a joint national database with Customs and police to check information within seconds. (paragraph 106).
12.We recommend that the continuing barriers to effective data collection and sharing between the border agencies should be urgently reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers. The Border Control Working Group should agree a joint information requirement to avoid duplication of demands for commercial information from carrying companies (paragraph 107).
13.We recommend that the differing powers of immigration officers, customs officers and police officers should be reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers, with the aim of providing a common power of examination and achieving inter-operability between officials working at borders (paragraph 108).
14.We recommend that existing border control agencies should be combined into a single frontier force on the basis of secondment and direct employment, but with clear lines of communication back to the parent agencies. Pending the creation of a single frontier force, strategic co-direction of better joint working should be provided by a ministerial group to which the official Border Agencies Directors Group should report at least four times a year (paragraph 109).
15.The Immigration Service cannot do its job without modern equipment, both for detection and for identification. There should be a more active approach both to researching potentially useful technologies and applying the experience of other countries. (paragraph 116).
16.We recommend that the Government should explore the possibility of a joint budget for advanced technology projects for border agencies in the same way as a joint reserve fund has been arranged for the three departments involved in the criminal justice system. The border agencies should identify technology they would like to use, produce specifications for future needs and encourage companies to develop the necessary equipment for use in the UK and elsewhere. (paragraph 117).
17.The lack of sufficient information and communications technology in the Immigration Service should be addressed urgently. The under-investment in such technology has undoubtedly caused difficulties in maintaining effective border controls (paragraph 123).
18.We recommend that, as progressively a higher proportion of UK passports are in the new (post 1998) format, the Passport Application Support System should be made available at ports to allow the Immigration Service to call up the original photograph submitted with a UK passport as a protection against passport forgery. (paragraph 124).
19.The United Kingdom should continue its long and honourable tradition of giving asylum to those genuinely escaping persecution. This responsibility should be shared, as now, with other democracies (paragraph 154).
20.Most important of all, there should be international action led by EU countries to support countries near areas of conflict in accommodating refugees. (paragraph 155).
21.Improving the speed and quality of the asylum decision-making process should ease some of the problems associated with the operation of the 1951 Convention. Rather than changing the 1951 Convention, action within the European Union presents the most immediate international prospect of the UK meeting its obligations to those seeking asylum in a more efficient way. The Dublin Convention should be revised as soon as possible. The basic principle should be that asylum applications should be made in the first EU country reached. Any subsequent EU country to which the applicant travels should have the right to insist that the application for asylum be made in the previous country, except in those cases where the applicant has valid grounds, such as a visa or immediate family already settled, for making the application in the subsequent country. There should be no need for the Red Cross centre at Sangatte to house hundreds of people near Calais as a base for making repeated attempts to enter the UK (paragraph 156).
22.The 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees should be updated to reflect changes over the past fifty years. We recognise that this cannot be done in the short-term but, given the unrelenting pressure, we do think that the way the 1951 Convention is interpreted in modern circumstances needs to be clarified urgently. In particular we ask whether people fleeing persecution in their own country should be found refuge in nearby safe countries rather than in countries far away. The most immediate task is to improve the procedures for handling refugees, in line with the Home Secretary's Lisbon proposals, in terms of swift identification of genuine refugees, treatment of refugee and asylum issues in the regions where they occur, examining the factors which cause migration and the EU categorising other countries according to the level of persecution or safety (paragraph 157).

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