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Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The Minister makes an important point about addressing this on a case-by-case basis. He said earlier that one of the key things about the policy is that it should be reasonable. I put it to him that its whole approach has been drafted from the perspective of adults, not children. Five years is a long time for a child to be in one country. Will special account be taken of situations involving families with children? To have one's childhood torn up once is a tragedy, but to have it torn up twice is devastating.
Andy Burnham: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's point. I stress again that the review will be conducted on a case-by-case basis. The circumstances, such as country conditions, will be the trigger for a review but the factors that she mentions will be taken into account in any review of a specific case. I am sure that my hon. Friend believes as we do in the Home Office that that is the right thing to do. Reviews will be conducted on a case-by-case basis and the burden of proof will be on the IND to determine whether the individual continues to qualify for refugee status and limited leave.
The second assurance is that any decision to trigger a review on the basis of a change in country conditions will be made only following consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Andy Burnham: I was about to deal with that point, which is very fair. The third assurance is that the scope of the review, before its conclusions had been reached, would be communicated to the House through a written ministerial statement.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
The Under-Secretary will have heard last week's reports about regular criticisms of the country reports as inaccurate. The new process is welcome but it is no good if the reports that lead to the decision are inaccurate and therefore give wrong information that could prove fatal if someone is sent back to much more dangerous circumstances than the country report suggests.
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Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The quality of the country reports is obviously crucial in reaching a reasoned and fair judgment on the conditions and circumstances that exist in a country. The reports originate in the Foreign Office. The hon. Gentleman will have seen some of them. The material is drawn from many different sources; the documents are well grounded. If he considers the recent process that we went through on Zimbabwe, great effort was made and care taken to establish the conditions in that country. I can give him the assurance that he wants. We will continue to take great care in establishing facts on the ground before taking further action. We do not want to act on wrong or misleading information.
We are ensuring through the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill that refugees will have an in-country right of appeal against a decision to take away their leave and that the decision will not take effect until that appeal has been heard. I can further assure my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow that when an individual no longer qualifies for leave as a refugee, we would always consider whether a grant of leave on another basis was appropriate, for example, on European convention on human rights grounds. Although it is possible that some refugees will be allowed to remain because they have established a private and/or family life in the UK, we need to get the balance right between offering a family a permanent life in the UK and expecting them to return to their country of origin if conditions improve there.
Mr. Gerrard: The more I listen to the description of the mechanism that will operate, the more I wonder whether we want it. The Home Office has enough to doit has enough backlogs for years. Do we genuinely want to take on all the work of reviewing cases and clogging up the appeals system for the relatively small number of people who are given full refugees status? For that small number, the decisions are tremendously important. From the Home Office point of view, are the benefits of the new mechanism worth all the effort?
Andy Burnham: I shall describe some of the exact processes of the review shortly. I believe that that will give my hon. Friend some assurance about the work load for the Home Office. I stress that we are not considering a system that will continue as it has done in the past. We do not want an overloaded and sclerotic system, from which people cannot get clarity or a decision. We have enabled claims to be decided much more quickly, and we want the system to be able to function quickly and to give people clarity in a much more timely manner than we have achieved hitherto. I think that my hon. Friend would accept that one of the problems with the old way of doing things was that people were left in limbo for so long.
Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab):
My hon. Friend the Minister has gone to a great deal of trouble to explain what he intends to do, but he appears to be developing a very complex system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) says. Has the Minister made any assessment of the
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obligations and costs that these measures will place on his office, and of whether any extra resources will be provided to support this complex system of review?
Andy Burnham: Yes, we have. I think it will be of interest to my hon. Friend if I describe some of the ways in which the measures will work in practice. The ability to move cases through the system more quickly has enabled staff time and resources to be deployed in different ways, and we have obviously weighed up those considerations, but if I describe the system, it might make more sense.
A number of hon. Members have given the impression that the new policy will leave a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all refugees for up to five years. I do not believe that that will be the case. Nor do I accept that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal will be swamped with appeals flowing from decisions to curtail leave granted to refugees. Many of the countries that generate large numbers of refugees, regrettably for those who live there, are unlikely to become safe and stable within the next few years. I anticipate that declarations that country conditions have changed will be used sparingly. The Government consider, however, that it is right in principle to undertake a case-by-case review of grants of refugee status and limited leave when there is a significant and durable change in a particular country affecting some or all categories of claims. I stress again, however, that many of the countries that we are talking about are unlikely to reach the position in which there would be a trigger for review. We all know from our constituency postbags that not many countries have experienced such a change in in-country conditions as to warrant the kind of review that we are discussing.
If a refugee completes five years' leave without a review having been triggered, there will not be an in-depth review of their case as a matter of routine when they apply for settlement before the expiry of their leave. We would, however, check to ensure that the triggers for review on the basis of the cessation clauses had not previously been missed. We would also check for evidence of serious criminality or exclusion.
Some have suggested that the change of policy will have a damaging effect on refugees' entitlement to benefits and services, and undermine their integration into the UK. I am clear that this is not the case. Refugees continue to have access to key mainstream benefits, as well as to social housing and to employment. The Government are committed to ensuring that refugees are able to contribute to their communities while they are in the UK, and to participate fully in our economy and society. For that reason, they will retain access to a whole range of assistance, including personal integration plans, mentoring and integration loans. Indeed, we are currently legislating to ensure that refugees with limited leave will have access to such loans. By promoting integration, we will ensure that refugees can contribute fully to the life of the UK while they are here. If conditions improve sufficiently to allow them to return home, the skills that they have acquired here should stand them in good stead for the future.
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I do not believe that my hon. Friend is right to say that the measures will set back the good work that has been done on integration in communities up and down the country. We are currently embarking on the reform of the National Refugee Integration Forum, and considering what further steps we can take to ensure that refugee integration is improved and that we build on the successes that exist. I do not believe that that necessarily means that there should be any backward steps in that regard.
Finally, I want to touch on the position of resettled refugees and changes to humanitarian policy. We have
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decided that refugees arriving in the UK under resettlement programmes such as Gateway should continue to get immediate indefinite leave to remain. These refugees have been outside their countries of origin for many years and have no realistic prospect of returning there. Many are held in UN camps in different parts of the world. Integration in the first country to which they have fled is often not possible. Indeed, these are the refugees who have suffered the most stress and trauma before their arrival
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