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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps he was not here on Friday and has not had the opportunity to read Hansard. When my noble friend the Chief Whip moved the Business Statement on Friday, he apologised on behalf of the Leader of the House for the fact that the Leader had inadvertently misled the House. Perhaps I may say that he misled the House because I misled him. I had thought that the letters had been placed in the Library. They were supposed to have been but, regrettably, they were not. My secretary made every endeavour to get them over immediately he heard that my instruction had not been carried out.
Lord Avebury: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. I am sorry that I was not in the House on Friday to listen to what was said then. I was not here on Friday because I spend a great deal of my time outside this Chamber listening to people from other parts of the world explaining the kinds of situations which give rise to refugees. Among other things on Friday, I had a meeting with Aliza Marcus, who is a former Reuters correspondent in Ankara. She was arrested and thrown in prison and tried under Article 8 of the anti-terror law there before finally, as a result of international pressure, being allowed to leave the
Later on I met Mr. Jawhar-al-Souchi, whose father and 29 other immediate members of his family were murdered in the village of Kilken in Northern Iraq by forces loyal to Mustafa Barzani the leader of the KDP. I am all the time listening to situations which give rise to the flow of refugees. It is completely ridiculous for the noble Lord to say at the Dispatch Box at the beginning of this debate that the world has not become more dangerous but we have become more attractive and that that is the reason for the increase in the number of people applying for asylum in the past 10 years. I do not know where he gets that impression. I suggest that he reads, for example, the works of the Carnegie Foundation which list 132 internal conflicts taking place throughout the world; the works of the distinguished American lawyer, Karen Parker, who summarises the internal conflicts which are occurring all over the world; and the works of Professor Hurst Hannum on self-determination. There is much information available in the public domain which the noble Lord could look at, showing that these internal conflicts which give rise to the flow of refugees are a great deal worse than they were 10 years ago.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord is the first to address the question that I asked. Would he like to speculate for a moment as to why we alone are seeing this huge increase in the number of refugees when all our European friends are not?
Lord Avebury: I would not speculate on that because we are addressing a piece of United Kingdom legislation, not legislation that applies in Holland or Germany. If I were to trespass into those areas I might become even less popular with the Committee than I am already.
The noble Lord also invited those who follow him to express an opinion on what alternative the Government should follow. I am attracted by the ideas expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. If we refuse to entertain a claim for asylum after a reasonable interval has elapsed from the date of arrival, that would be a very reasonable way of looking at the situation. As has been said, if a person enters this country as a visitor, remains here for six months and then applies for an extension so that he or she completes the whole year--which is the limit, and not 18 months, incidentally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said--
Lord Avebury: It may have been the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. In any event, the limit is 12 months beyond which a visitor would not be allowed to stay here. If at the end of that period a person lodges an application for asylum, then on the face of it it is likely not to be genuine, although there are always
The Government could have provided that for someone who after six months or 12 months here as a visitor or in some other capacity then lodged an application for asylum, prima face it would be rejected unless he or she could show that a material change had taken place in the country of origin in the time that they had been here. But they have not chosen that way. They have cut everyone off from benefit who has failed to lodge an application at the port of entry. As has been said frequently in the past, there may have been very good reasons for that and sometimes those reasons may be acceptable.
I do not wish to detain the Committee for long, but perhaps I may mention one case out of many about which I have been in correspondence with the Minister who deals with immigration, Mr. Timothy Kirkhope. A gentleman was a refugee in France. Originally he came from Iraq. As part of a sweep, the French police arrested him and others, and he was deported back to Iraq in February 1986. It was accepted that he had been detained and tortured there. When he was taken to Orly Airport he protested, "Shoot me now rather than send me to Baghdad. I would rather spend 20 years in a French prison than return to Iraq". Nevertheless, he was seized by four police officers, given an intramuscular injection and thus rapidly found himself unable to move. Immobilised by drugs, he was escorted onto an Iraqi airlines plane surrounded by French police, who accompanied him to Baghdad and handed him over to the Iraqi police.
When he finally escaped from Iraq and returned to Europe, it seemed hardly surprising that he was not keen on accepting French hospitality and applied for a transfer of asylum to the United Kingdom. But in their wisdom the appellate authorities found against him and he fell back on the mercy of the Secretary of State, who after considerable representations had been made and being aware of the fact that the refugee was under immense psychological and financial stress, made worse by the cuts in his benefit, graciously agreed that he would reconsider the matter. In the meanwhile this gentleman, who without doubt had suffered intolerable hardship and persecution in Iraq and who did not wish to remain as a refugee in France, therefore, came to this country looking for asylum. But he has been destitute since February, having no benefits at all.
I am glad as a result of the amendments that have been tabled by the Government that benefit will be restored, but how are we to know that such cases will not arise in future? I am certain that we have gone much too far in denying benefits to perfectly genuine asylum seekers such as the person I mentioned. I think that we should take the provisions away and look at the
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: Not long ago I had the opportunity to visit Rectory Road United Reformed Church in Stoke Newington, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln has already referred. I met there a Nigerian involved in the recent Ogoni environmental protests. He was arrested, tortured and pressurised to give evidence against his family and friends in return for his freedom. Having been set free, he fled without giving evidence. We also heard from a young French-speaking woman from the Congo who spoke no English and who was seven months pregnant. Her fiance was murdered for his political activities and she fled the country out of fear for her safety and that of her unborn child.
As we know, under the Government's legislation only those who apply for asylum at the port of entry qualify for benefits, but the two to whom I have referred are just two among many who did not apply at the port of entry but who, in the judgment of fair-minded people, are genuine seekers of asylum. This is a modest amendment which we should support. It allows only three days after arrival at the port of entry in which to make a claim.
The United Reformed Church minister (who has dealt with a good number of refugees and asylum seekers in his Church who are in a state of destitution) says that he has doubts about the claims of only one or two of the people with whom he has dealt. One of those was a mentally ill woman from Poland who was in any case vulnerable and at risk.
Under the Government's new concession, benefits can be backdated for those who are later shown to be genuine asylum seekers. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, referred to that and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, pointed out that all genuine seekers of asylum in this country will be treated fairly. But how are such people to live in the meanwhile? The efforts of voluntary bodies and the churches--heroic though they are--cannot possibly provide the basic minimum conditions of living at which we should be aiming; nor does it seem either appropriate or fair for voluntary bodies to have to judge who is genuine and who is not. They are not trained to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent claims; nor do they have the resources to examine the evidence in the thorough-going way that is needed.
A better way must be found of identifying bogus asylum seekers. A number of ways have been suggested this afternoon. We must find a way which does not cause the hardship that is now being inflicted on a good number of genuine seekers of asylum who have already suffered enough in their own countries without having further indignities heaped on them here.
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