31. Second supplementary submitted
by The Law Society
Memorandum submitted by Rt Hon Oliver
Letwin MPA Quota-Based System for Refugees
We recognise the concern which exists about
the current (historically high) rate of asylum applications although
we note that there has been a significant downturn in recent months.
We accept entirely that it is necessary to distinguish between
claims for asylum and would-be economic migrants. We support arrangements
which would enable a rapid decision to be made about claims for
asylum, based on accurate information about the applicant's circumstances.
But we do not think the proposals in Mr Letwin's
memorandum represent a practical way forward for a civilised country
which wishes to treat its human rights obligations seriously.
Taken as a whole, the Law Society is extremely concerned that
proposals contained in the memorandum threaten the global safety
net provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention. I set out below our
specific concerns in relation to the main points in the memorandum.
The Society is concerned that the use of quotas
is likely to undermine the right to claim asylum enshrined in
the Refugee Convention. It is unclear exactly how the quota figure
stated in the memorandum has been decided upon, and as such, it
appears somewhat arbitrary. It is, for obvious reasons, impossible
for the UK Government to foretell exactly when situations that
lead to asylum claims will occur in other countries and to what
extent people will need to claim. As is clear from recent history,
situations around the world can change very quickly. In view of
this, and the fact that the numbers of asylum seekers may increase
or decrease rapidly and significantly depending on world events,
we are unclear how any quota system could ever be sufficiently
flexible enough to respond appropriately to the need to claim
asylum. This may lead to people who need asylum being denied it
on the basis that the quota for a particular period is full, rather
than as a result of the merit or otherwise of their claim. The
implication of the proposal is that if the number of justified
claims for asylum exceeded the quotas for all those countries
participating in the FCO scheme, the remaining refugees would
be left in limbo in the camp. That would effectively abrogate
We have serious concerns that the processing
of claims outside of the UK and the EU will lead to the avoidance
of the UK's international human rights obligations. We are particularly
concerned that those who are in processing camps will be unable
to access competent legal advice and representation.
The memorandum states that offshore processing
centres should be in places "entirely unattractive to those
seeking economic migration". This is likely to mean that
they will be in developing parts of the world, which are poor
and likely to lack the systems and infrastructure necessary to
support such camps. We are concerned about what will happen to
those who are not accepted under the quota and the impact this
may have on the countries where the camps are situated. These
issues are not addressed in the memorandum.
We note that Mr Letwin states that he is liaising
with Australian ministers about the quota system in Australia.
The conditions in Australian processing camps have been criticised
by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
With regard to the proposal that UNHCR/IOM should be used as the
principal agents for applying the criteria in practice, UNHCR
staff in West African refugee camps have been reported to have
abused camp residents
and Amnesty International has criticised IOM in its role in running
Australian processing camps.
In relation to those who manage to bypass the
quota system and reach the UK and have a well-founded claim, the
proposal that they be entered into the quota for the next year
appears to mean that they could be in an offshore processing centre
for many months, despite having a valid claim.
The Memorandum envisages a recasting of all
relevant legislation and Britain's relationship to international
treaties and conventions, to make it lawful to remove asylum seekers
to offshore asylum processing centres. We are gravely concerned
that this proposal would lead to the complete undermining of the
international system of protection which has been in place since
Access to legal advice, representation and appeal
processes are vital safeguards for asylum seekers, wherever their
claim is processed, but these are not mentioned in the memorandum.
We are unclear how issues such as the need to obtain medical and
expert reports and the quality of the decision making process
would be dealt with in processing centres.
The Society has serious concerns about the quality
of decision making in the UK on the part of the Home Office in
relation to asylum claims. Indeed, the Refugee Council has estimated
that 51% of asylum seekers were successful either at different
appeal stages or where the Home Office overturned its own refusal
We are concerned that the problem of poor quality decision making
will not be solved by the proposal to process asylum claims offshore,
but is likely instead to exacerbate it. In view of this, it is
vital that the essential safeguard of an effective ability to
appeal against poor initial decision-making is in place.
From the above, it appears that the use of offshore
processing could lead to complicated sets of legal procedures
and appeals, and that the procedures flowing from the proposals
will be expensive and very difficult to administer.
We also have concerns about the proposal that
border security be tightened to prevent asylum seekers from entering
the country. This, together with the other proposals in the memorandum,
appears to be aimed at preventing asylum seekers from gaining
access to the UK, rather than seeking to ensure that all asylum
claims are dealt with quickly and fairly in line with the UK's
international human rights obligations.
Rather than using Australian practice as a model,
we commend to the Home Affairs Committee the Canadian model for
dealing with asylum claims. In particular, we believe that the
use of an independent document centre and the fast tracking of
straightforward cases would greatly enhance the ability of the
UK to manage asylum claims in a speedy but fair and just manner.
Head of Parliamentary Unit
13 June 2003
80 Amnesty International (Aug 2002) Australia-Pacific.
Offending Human Dignity-the "Pacific Solution". Human
Rights Watch (September 2002) "Not for Export":
Why the International Community Should Reject Australia's Refugee
UNHCR EXCOM September 2002. Back
Amnesty International (Aug 2002) Australia-Pacific. Offending
Human Dignity-the "Pacific Solution". Back
Refugee Council Statistics 2001. www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/infocentre/stats/stats004.htm Back