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The growing number of asylum seekers is a legitimate cause for concern, but if we are looking for humane solutions, we should also look overseas at its root causes rather than find scapegoats among the bona fide refugees. It is time we looked again at the refugee problem in the wider context of international development and not just in relation to our own judicial process. I hope that we may find time for that later.
We also have to be patient while the IND catches up with the backlog of cases, which I am confident it will. We have got to have better decision-making and higher quality legal advice so as to identify the genuine victims of oppression who have a right to asylum here. In this House we have to continue to exercise proper scrutiny of asylum legislation and ensure that the treatment of those being examined and detained follows the standards that we would apply to our own citizens. My concern today is that we are not keeping up those standards.
Parts of the Immigration and Asylum Act affecting detained asylum seekers, in spite of our detailed discussion, are still unresolved and some may never see the light of day. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and others will remember that at various stages of the Bill I expressed a concern about the need for full written reasons for detention in the case of detainees awaiting bail hearings. The noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General and others appeared to sympathise with this in their replies, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, later confirmed in a letter dated 18th December that written reasons in the case of more vulnerable detainees,
To my mind, the least one can do for someone detained against his will, after food and water, is to give him reasons for his detention--in writing. It is a basic human right no one should be denied. Yet we still have no confirmation that the Government have published their stated intention to replace the so-called
On the question of routine bail hearings, the Minister recently responded somewhat apologetically to my Question for Written Answer, confirming that they have been delayed and that detainees will just have to wait another year. The reasons he gave are administrative and technical, such as the need for prior regulation of advisers. But what are the Government really waiting for? There is no shortage of legal advisers, thanks to the presence of several expert organisations. If they plead that they have a lot on their mind at the moment, so have the detainees. Does it take 18 months to implement a decision about something as fundamental as personal liberty? Surely it would be reasonable to apply the presumption of liberty, and the right to bail set out in Section 46, to existing bail hearings before the routine ones are introduced. I am advised that under Section 53 the Secretary of State is already empowered to do this.
Similar concerns have been expressed to the chief adjudicator in a letter dated 11th February from Bail for Immigration Detainees and the Bail Circle. Bail for Immigration Detainees was started in June 1998 specifically to help immigration detainees to make bail applications. In its first year, it made applications for 128 of them. The Bail Circle was set up a year earlier by the Churches Commission for Racial Justice and is the only organisation dedicated to providing sureties for detained asylum seekers. I should like to pay tribute to the individuals behind these two organisations for the commitment, free time and financial support which they provide to detainees who are very often completely destitute and without any friends or contacts in the UK.
One of their particular concerns, which many of us share, is that the bail summary, which is a fuller statement than the checklist and is presented to the court, is not usually disclosed until the day of the hearing. The director of the Immigration Service Enforcement Directorate has admitted that the present arrangements are "far from perfect". Apparently, ports and enforcement offices fax last-minute messages or give oral briefings to presenting officers to save the staff spending time preparing summaries. Legal representatives therefore arrive in court with imprecise knowledge of the reasons for detention and sometimes new matters are even raised in court which were previously undisclosed by the Immigration Service. To tilt the scales even further against the detainee, if bail is refused the adjudicator may decline to give reasons for refusing it.
Another concern of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is that there is no proper complaints procedure if something goes wrong before the hearing and immigration staff fail to follow the Government's guidelines. There is also concern about the size of bail and the sureties requested by adjudicators. According to BID, some 85 per cent of its clients have been detained since arrival in the UK and they often have no one to call on as sureties, let alone people who can lay their hands on substantial sums of money for bail--four-figure sums. The Bail Circle has only 142 active people on its register, while anything up to 1,000 people are detained at any one time and up to 10,000 may be turned round in one year. I know that my noble friend Lord Hylton has put down a Question for Written Answer on that subject.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, that is precisely the kind of example that is causing concern. The UNHCR guidelines also emphasise that detention itself cannot become a form of deterrent. The guidelines state:
The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, gave a maiden speech which was worthy of the great Bishop Bell, the Bishop of Chichester. The noble Lord mentioned children. In the light of previous statements that children are detained only in exceptional circumstances, will the Minister kindly repeat, specifically with regard to Oakington, the assurance (which was made many times by government during the passage of the Act) that no children will be detained except for very brief periods? Those were enumerated by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General as being, for example, overnight, and only in exceptional circumstances where no alternative exists, such as the care of the local authority or of parents or relations.
Lord Renton: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I admire his sincerity and his experience but, alas, I frequently disagree with him. I must do so on this occasion.
I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Elton. He has raised a very important matter, one, I fear, of conflict between our desire and the Government's duty to do all we can to raise the standard of living of our own people and the traditional desire, dating back to the 18th century, to grant asylum to foreigners from all over the world who have suffered, or might suffer, cruelty in their own countries.
There is a conflict, and it is only right to point out the human background. In 1950, the population of the United Kingdom was just 50 million. Admittedly, within it England was the most fully populated and in many ways had the more serious social problems in education, housing, and so on. Over the past 50 years, the population has risen to over 60 million. It is right to point out that the increase of 10 million has been caused to the extent of 3 million by people granted asylum or who have been granted the right to come here as immigrants. That is a very large increase.
Naturally, we are all human beings and we all feel sorry for people who are being oppressed abroad--and, goodness knows, that oppression is increasing all the time. But a government's first duty is to our own people. If they find that the numbers coming in, for various reasons, are so considerable and of such a kind that the social progress of our own people is held up, the government have a duty to reconsider the policy, or at any rate to apply it as strictly as possible.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, on his maiden speech--although I did not always agree with it. One admires the noble Lord as an example of what can be done for people who come here from abroad in their youth and who are trained here. Not all, alas, manage to cope as successfully as the noble Lord has done. He mentioned that once a person coming into the country is able to obtain employment, there is no longer a drain on the government. But I ask him to bear in mind that unemployment in this country is still pretty high and does not appear to be getting any lower. So we really do have to consider the number coming in and the effect that that has.
I have before me the figure for those granted asylum in the five years from 1994 and 1998. It was 33,840. That was a reasonable figure of 6,600 a year. But, in addition, large numbers were granted leave to come to this country as immigrants. Over those five years they totalled 300,830, including asylum seekers. I doubt
Perhaps I may say in passing that the Government are to be warmly congratulated on the attitude they took in dealing with the invasion of an aircraft full of people from Afghanistan. The Government were fully justified in their approach. Alas, we know from the cases decided that many asylum seekers are economic migrants. One feels sorry for them, but we have our unemployed. Many who come in to this country do not speak our language, have no money and will merely add to the unemployment and other social problems.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, in a most interesting speech and one that must be admired, stood up for the London education authorities and the efforts made to train children from abroad who do not speak English and to help them to learn the language. We know that our schools have education problems. Although it was a commendable effort to teach those foreign children, one wonders what effect it had on the education of our native children in those schools. We really must consider that aspect.
One could go on at considerable length in discussing this matter in some detail. I hope that I have said enough to justify any effort that the Government make--they have adduced some evidence that that is their desire--to limit the numbers, ensure that there is less evasion and protect the standard of living, social progress and financial position of our own people.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this debate on a subject which receives more and more attention by the day and for his trenchant speech in introducing it. This debate takes place only a week after a Question was asked in this House on a related matter by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It gives me pleasure to point out that before his arrival here the noble Lord represented a Portsmouth constituency in another place. I am grateful for his contribution this afternoon and for that of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, whose expertise in this area is considerably more than mine. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, whom I had the pleasure to meet last night, for his maiden speech with its strong personal note and application which was both edifying and moving.
I want to concentrate on the question of the detention of a small minority of the total number of asylum seekers, however that figure is calculated. That is a matter in dispute and is of significance for the reasons which follow. My principal point of contact is the detention centre at Haslar which is run by the Prison Service. Haslar is an area at the southern tip of
Two buildings were erected at Haslar in the mid-18th century: the Royal Naval Hospital, whose sad history figured in the debate in this House on Defence Medical Services three weeks ago, which was initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the hospital's barracks nearby. The Haslar barracks eventually became a centre for young offenders, and since 1989 it has been used as a detention centre. It has 160 inmates from around 30 countries who fled religious and political persecution, sometimes after beatings and torture. To all intents and purposes they live in prison conditions. The men have more freedom than prisoners; they sleep in dormitories and a number of recreational facilities are made available to them. But they live very confined lives and are cut off from any real contact with their families. Some arrive with or develop psychiatric problems which are difficult to deal with and cannot be explained on the basis of cultural differences.
I saw some of this only last Thursday on a visit in order to baptise and confirm a French-speaking Berber from Algeria. In that connection, I was able to call upon the services of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec for a bilingual order of service. It was the first confirmation that I had ever conducted where the candidate prompted the Bishop rather than vice versa. I visited Haslar only a few days after a visit to Kingston prison in Portsmouth. The two institutions seem similar. However, Kingston is for lifers, not asylum seekers. The way that the men live at Haslar is hardly humane. They need more freedom and that is being pressed for generally by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Nor is such a strategy particularly effective. The view is sometimes expressed that it acts as a deterrent, which is not exactly borne out by the statistics. In any case, I regard that as a misconceived line of argument. In economic terms, the picture is even clearer. It costs very much more to accommodate inmates in a place like Haslar than the assistance given by the Home Office to each asylum seeker who is accommodated by local councils.
In making these observations in no way do I criticise the staff at Haslar who carry out their responsibilities effectively and sensitively. I question the fundamental nature and context of those responsibilities which I believe society has slipped into asking them to fulfil without adequate forethought. I pay tribute to the chaplains to these institutions, of which there are several, including Haslar's local vicar who works with inmates and staff alike, regardless of their religious convictions. I refer back to some of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The chaplain to Haslar has pressed for adequate chaplaincy in faiths other than Christianity. I also pay tribute to the visitors' networks, usually organised by local churches, which are often the only ones to provide a lasting link between these centres and local communities.
I believe that overall there are too many groups involved in the business of organising detention. That is a dynamic which is usually a recipe for diffusing responsibility rather than facing up to it and sharing it. Some detention centres are run by the Prison Service, others are not. Different disciplines operate in different places. I am aware that the 1999 Act seeks to make sense of such variations and the much-needed organisation and speeding up of bail applications which has figured in a number of speeches this afternoon. But I believe that a different model from that of the Prison Service needs to prevail, tempting though that may appear to some if only for its familiarity. I look forward to a response on this matter from the Minister either this afternoon or later in written form because it causes a great deal of concern.
In conclusion, I should like to make a general point about the relationship between ethnicity, nationhood, culture and religion. We cannot change our ethnicity. We can change our nationhood only by moving or changing boundaries either by duress or a collective decision. We may opt in and out of some aspects of our inherited culture according to circumstances. We see more obvious signs of that in Britain today. Our long tradition and history which have shaped our collective lives include the Viking invasion with its particular cultural enterprise in the early middle ages. As far as concerns religion, that is, or should be, a matter of choice.
Those factors undergo different kinds of shifts and movements all the time. The seemingly intractable nature of the issue of asylum seekers is evidence of precisely that and brings home to us all that we live a much more fragile and insecure existence than appears to be the case. There are those in our own world who seek to dictate to others on all four of those factors. We are told that about one in every 100 people on the planet has been forced to flee his country because of violence and persecution. Asylum seeking is not an easy or straightforward matter and, like anything else, is open to abuse by either party, as it were. Above all, it needs analysis which puts under the spotlight the economic and foreign policies of countries such as our own. Perhaps more fundamentally, it needs to be pressed vigorously at the international level in the context of human rights.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, in international law, asylum is the protection granted by a state to a foreign citizen against his or her state. That person has no legal right to demand it and the host state has no legal obligation to grant it. On the other hand, a refugee is a person who is forced to flee from his or her country of origin to escape persecution because of religion, nationality, social grouping or political belief. He or she has no national protection or status and in many instances has been uprooted and is homeless. Hence, most of the large-scale population movements of this century have been of refugees, starting with the 1.25 million who fled Russia during the revolution to the 12 million in Europe at the end
It is possible that when the situation causing the refugee problem has been put right large numbers of those uprooted will go back to their country of origin. The receiving countries work very hard to ensure such an outcome. The direction of this endeavour is reflected in the ways in which refugees are treated. Often those fleeing are the most able citizens. It is important to their country that those able citizens return to help to rebuild their country.
It also seems that increasingly the distinction between asylum seeker and refugee is being blurred. That may be a reflection of the volume of applications for asylum which, in the past year, rose to a peak of over 7,300 in September. Last year, the September to November numbers for asylum seekers were 42 per cent higher than in previous years. The ever-increasing, gargantuan number of asylum seekers passed over 71,000 last year, as other noble Lords have already said.
The Government's inability to manage the processing has resulted in the numbers awaiting decisions passing over 104,000 in January this year. How will the Government solve that chaos? Will they give amnesty to huge, unprocessed numbers to solve the backlog problem as they have done in the past to potentially 30,000 asylum seekers?
In all walks of life and in many varying circumstances, one hears well-intentioned, hard-working, caring and compassionate people being adjured to, "Take care of yourself or you will be no help to anybody if you collapse from exhaustion". Perhaps it is time that the Government took steps to ensure that bona fide asylum seekers are not let down by this country because our system is simply not working.
According to the Daily Mail, it costs £400 to process each application--that amounts to more than £25 million for the past year's intake, and more than £40 million to tackle the whole of the waiting list. On top of that, it costs £1,300 a week for each resident in a detention centre.
Perhaps most applicants should be contained in government centres until they are processed as the vast majority are not recognised as refugees and granted asylum. It would deter bogus applicants and enable fairer, faster and firmer processing. The Immigration Service union has estimated that the cost of the asylum
The Government are not even expected fully to fund the cost of asylum seekers this year. It is estimated that around £90 million may have to be funded by local authorities. However, there are other hidden costs paid out by various bodies throughout the country. I believe that it costs somewhere in the region of £3 million for the NHS to supply translators in London. That situation must surely be repeated now in all the NHS trusts throughout the country with the dispersing of asylum seekers nationwide. There is the burden on our schools which we have already heard about from other noble Lords, on housing resources and on the forces of law and order.
Perhaps the most appalling problem that has been brought to my attention is the lack of traceability in the system. The system for asylum seekers assigns them to locations, sets up payment through the social security system direct to the landlord for their rent, and allows them a small cash sum every week. The local LEA takes responsibility for teaching any children involved and the local medical service puts them on its books. If they do a midnight flit, no one seems to miss them and grateful landlords continue to receive regular payments. It is amazing that this system of traceability also obtains if asylum seekers are refused leave to enter and are deported or if they return home of their own free will.
It seems clear to me that the system is wrong and that the backlog is merely an added complication. Everybody involved, with the exception of the few landlords guffawing all the way to the bank, pays a heavy cost; none more so than those poor applicants who turn up here by fair means and have to wait and wait, fret and exist on a pittance for years.
Surely the Government can be bold here. How much more effective would our money be were it to be used in the areas from which asylum seekers come to help the adjoining states to receive them. They would be in the same geographical area. They would be among members of their own race, religion, ethnic group and culture already there. If their presence attracted as little as the cost of processing their applications in this country, they would be much better off in most cases.
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