Asylum Seekers

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Caroline Flint: An honest answer is that I cannot comment on the Australian situation at this point. I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman with details on where other countries' systems were taken into consideration and confer with the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration on that.

As I tried to outline, when the issue was raised and discussed, and when it was dealt with in subsequent papers, we considered how the process was being managed, where we would get countries to sign up to it and whether it would work in practice. It was felt that we needed to address the issue, but in a different way, by not using transit processing centres. For the reasons I outlined, we think a better sustainable solution is the work we are doing on migration partnerships and with the UN on specific projects, although we are mindful of the practices we need to have throughout the EU to manage routes into Europe and the UK.

It is important to recognise as a sustainable solution that we have to deal with issues in those countries to ensure that they have the necessary procedures and protection for refugees so that we can help to dampen the actions of those people who want to make capital out of individuals through illegal smuggling and trafficking and prevent the establishment of secondary routes into the EU.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister made interesting observations on migration partnerships. What countries do the Government have in mind for migration partnerships? Have negotiations

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commenced? She spoke about the repatriation of people from those territories. Will she give us some idea of how she wishes to do that and on what scale?

Caroline Flint: We are at a very early stage in that aspect of policy development. The one country with which we have had some discussions is Tanzania and we are working with it to help to identify failed asylum seekers. When it comes to removals once someone's claim has failed, the right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that one of the issues that needs to be resolved is identity and country of origin. We are working with Tanzania to look at both Tanzanians and Tanzanians posing as other nationals with a view to effecting their return to that country. We have talked about how we might assist Tanzania with the processing and protection of its caseload of refugees. That is where we are at the moment, but as I said, we are at an early stage. I think that I am right in saying that Tanzania is the only country with which we have had that extent of discussion at present.

Mr. Malins: I thank the Minister for what she said about the general concept of offshore processing, something which my party suggested and which follows the lines of the Australian model. She is right to focus on some of those things.

Regional protection areas are very important. The Government must have done a lot of work on them to get to this stage. Will the Minister answer a few questions about them? Who would establish them and where would they be in relation to each of the 10 main countries from which asylum seekers originate? Have the host countries concerned been approached and has anything been agreed? If none of that has happened, when can she give some firm answers?

Caroline Flint: We have moved away from the concept of regional zones of protection and transit processing centres. The migration partnerships are very much about developing partnerships with individual countries. The nature of the refugee problem means that we may be talking about countries next door to each other and we could end up with partnerships involving a number of countries that, at the end of the day, could define a zone.

We are considering migration partnerships with individual countries. As I said to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), we are at the discussion stage. Tanzania is the only country with which we have moved forward. We are involved in projects with the United Nations which also involve the Netherlands and other countries. Those projects involve working on problems in relation to Tanzania, Kenya and two other countries, and there is another project on issues relating to Somalia. I stress that transit processing centres are off the agenda and we have moved away from regional zones of protection.

Mr. Malins: The Government set out a series of problems and came up with two solutions: the transit processing centre and the regional protection area. Has the Minister abandoned not only the transit processing centre, but the regional protection area as

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well? If so, why? What is the difference between a regional protection area and a migration partnership?

Caroline Flint: As I said, the ideas we proposed in spring last year were a basis for discussion. As I tried to outline in my opening statement, they did not represent a blueprint. The discussion has moved on; we have listened to other member states and discussed things with the United Nations. We are looking at what is achievable and manageable. We are entering into migration partnerships and want to pursue that route because we believe that working with individual countries on a country-by-country basis is the best way forward. We believe that in the short term we can make more progress than we could were we to go for a wider region.

Having said that, we are in discussion with the United Nations about the particular problems that certain regions face in relation to refugee overloading. We are working on that. It is important to recognise that there are individual countries in the regions, with different problems. We need to develop partnerships with those countries. It is important to win their support and trust so that they know that what we are trying to do is not only in the UK interest, but in their interest too.

Mr. Llwyd: What ethical considerations apply to return schemes and readmission clauses in agreements with third countries? In fairness to the Minister, I appreciate that she made the point that a lot of work needs to be done and that much has been done, so my question may be premature. However, I think that it is important and should figure early on in any negotiation.

Caroline Flint: There are issues that apply to any returns policy when it comes to deciding that a country is safe to return to. We are bound by our obligation to the Geneva convention, and by article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Those will apply in the same way as they do now, both to safe countries and to third countries that people may be returned to as part of the asylum and immigration system. With some countries, part of our work involves considering their caseload rather than anything to do with returns because, in the short term, the number of returns may be relatively small.

The other side of the equation is the question of what pulls people to the UK and the European Union in light of how they will be treated as refugees. Part of our job is to work with countries that wish to enter into partnerships and support them in their protection of refugees, to stop secondary movements and to protect people who are vulnerable to traffickers who want to make capital out of their misfortune.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Is there not a world of difference between the process that the Minister has outlined—identifying areas of large demand and, where there are difficulties in trying to develop a partnership, trying to work in partnership with neighbouring countries—and the alternative approach of identifying a mythical island a long way from here and, presumably, a long way from the countries that people are fleeing? The latter approach would not only be completely impractical but hugely

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expensive. Is it not the case that the Government have rightly ruled that out?

Caroline Flint: My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we explore different options. If we think that they will not work and meet our needs, it is correct to decide that they are not the right course to take, and that is the decision we have reached.

There are huge issues about the processing of applications overseas. Some of those, such as how protected entry procedures might work, have been part of the discussion in the European Union. There are implications for ensuring that the necessary personnel are available so that people are processed in line with our commitments to the Geneva convention and the European convention on human rights. While we strive to address issues on a global basis, it is important to make sure that we complement our national system and the processing of asylum issues. It will be important to the United Nations that we are not seen to offload the problem elsewhere. The measures are complementary and have a role to play in helping to manage our asylum and migration systems. That is important.

Mr. Lilley: It is disappointing that the Government are going into reverse gear on their proposal to tackle people smuggling by establishing transit processing centres. Is that because we were unable to persuade our partners in Europe that it was a good idea or because they succeeded in persuading us that it was a bad idea? If the latter, why is it a bad idea?

Caroline Flint: The recommendations were a basis for discussion. They were not policies set in tablets of stone. A number of states clearly had reservations. After we listened to those, we had some sympathy for them, particularly with regard to the concept of transit processing centres and the idea that we send people to a place where their application is processed.

We must tackle organised crime in human trafficking, which ends up as slavery for many people. I know from recent reports about the vice situation in this country that women, including very young women, are abused in that system. There are many different ways in which we can challenge it. As I said, one way is by ensuring that what might seem an attractive offer—moving to Europe from a country that is nearer to the country of origin—is actually not attractive. We do that by working with the United Nations and supporting the country where those people are in order to make the situation better for them. We also do that by working with other countries to crack down on the gangs and their operations.

Through legislation and discussions with other European countries about organised crime and human trafficking, the Government have done a great deal to improve the situation. We shall continue to use other measures as well to tackle the abuse and exploitation of people who find themselves in a shadowland because of their status, whether the exploitation is from trafficking, from the work they do when they arrive in a country or from something else.

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