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Afghanistan: Opium Poppy Crop Survey

Lord Patel of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its survey results for the 2003 opium poppy crop in Afghanistan on 29 October. The survey showed that opium poppy cultivation increased by 8 per cent from 74,000 hectares in 2002 to 80,000 hectares in 2003 while production rose by 6 per cent from 3,400 tonnes in 2002 to 3,600 tonnes in 2003. The UN survey also revealed that cultivation in traditional areas—where the Afghan Government have been able to exert control—decreased and moved into more marginal areas.

The UK use the UN survey, which is produced in partnership with the Afghan Government, as a reference point for its work as the lead nation on counter-narcotics support in Afghanistan. While the increase in opium cultivation and production is unwelcome, it is not unexpected. Experience of counter-narcotic policies in other countries, such as Pakistan and Thailand, shows that cultivation tends to increase before declining. Production also tends to move from traditional areas to more marginal and inaccessible areas to protect crops against law enforcement activity. Reductions in the traditional areas demonstrates that drug control policy has been effective where the Afghan Government have been able to exert control. Increasing security and stability in Afghanistan remains key to progress in reducing opium production.

Afghanistan's national drug control strategy, agreed earlier this year, has set the target of eliminating opium poppy by 2013. The UK is investing £70 million on sustainable measures over the next three years to support implementation of that strategy; additional staff are being deployed to Kabul to assist in the implementation. Other nations are also contributing, either directly or indirectly, to counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan, complementing the UK's efforts. I will be co-hosting, with President Karzai and the United Nations, an international conference in Kabul in February next year to boost further the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan.

Iraq: Costs of UK Involvement

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The costs are as follows: Military Costs

The Chancellor has set aside £3 billion for military operations in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence has drawn down £1 billion from this special reserve during the 2003 Spring Supplementary Estimates. From this amount, the cost of preparatory activity in the 2002–03 financial year is currently estimated to have been £700 million. Further information on the total net additional cost of the military operation during the 2002–03 financial year will be found in the Ministry of Defence's Resource Account for 2002–03, which is due to be published around the end of October.

For the current financial year, further sums have been drawn down from the special reserve. These are subject to scrutiny by HM Treasury and Parliament through the normal estimates process. Reconstruction

Her Majesty's Government plan to spend a total of £544 million on reconstruction in Iraq for the three years from April 2003, including our contribution to EC assistance and our secondment of personnel to the Coalition Provisional Authority. Other Costs

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office spent £5.62 million on additional security at posts in the Middle East during 2002–03, and expects to spend a further £1.3 million in this financial year on security costs at posts directly attributable to our action in Iraq.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates that it will have spent up to £12.1 million on the British Office in Baghdad and other bilateral representation by the end of this financial year.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office forecasts a further £1.8 million of Iraq-related costs outside Iraq during this financial year. Future Costs

Her Majesty's Government have not so far committed any other amounts in connection with the United Kingdom's involvement in Iraq.

It is too early to predict the continuing costs of military deployment, support for the Coalition Provisional Authority and development of bilateral relations with Iraq beyond the end of this financial year.

Zimbabwe: Removal of Failed Asylum Seekers

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the change in the circumstances in Zimbabwe, from the period to mid-April 2003 when the phrase used in letters to asylum seekers and their representatives was that the Secretary of State was "not satisfied, on the information currently available, that unsuccessful asylum seekers can safely be returned to Zimbabwe", to the period since then when, in the case of Dowu before the Court of Appeal on 16 April 2003, Home Office

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    representative Miss Susan Rogers said that "the suspension [of returns of failed asylum seekers] is based on political rather than legal grounds. It is not in place because it is considered unsafe for failed asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe"; and what these political grounds are[HL4798]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The suspension of removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe announced in January 2002 was in response to concerns about the serious deterioration in the situation in Zimbabwe in the build up to the presidential election held in March that year. We did not regard it as unsafe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, but in view of the rapidly changing conditions we considered that it would be appropriate not to enforce returns.

The Government's position is, as it has been since January 2002, that each asylum (and human rights) claim made by a Zimbabwean national will be considered on its individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Each application is considered against the background of the latest available country information including that obtained from and through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I accept that the letters you refer to were poorly worded and that the phrase quoted was not an accurate reflection of the situation from January 2002 onwards. We took steps to rectify the wording in June 2002. The 16 April 2003 statement was an accurate statement of the situation existing not only at the time it was made but also for the period since January 2002.

We do of course recognise that conditions in Zimbabwe are such that there are individuals who are able to demonstrate a need for international protection. Where they meet the definition of a refugee in the 1951 Convention, asylum is granted. There may also be individuals whose circumstances make them particularly vulnerable and who would engage our obligations under the ECHR. Where this is the case these individuals will be granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.

In the first six months of this year, we have granted asylum to 615 Zimbabweans and granted other forms of protection to over 20 others. These statistics show that we are giving protection to the significant number of people who are found to be in need of it.

If an applicaion is refused, there will be a right of appeal to the independent appellate authorities against that decision. Should a claim be refused and any appeal be unsuccessful that means that, for that individual, return to Zimbabwe would be safe. That is why we consider it reasonable to expect an individual in that position to leave voluntarily.

Although it would be safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, our view at present is that in the wider context of the Government's position on Zimbabwe, it would be inappropriate forcibly to return them at this time.

The policy remains under continuous review.

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Eurodac Database

Baroness Harris of Richmond asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) how many individuals the United Kingdom has entered on the Eurodac database since it became operational;

    (b) how many times the United Kingdom has consulted the database;

    (c) how many times the United Kingdom has received requests for information from other member states; and

    (d) how many positive hits on the database have resulted from these consultations.[HL4934]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The European Commission is responsible for the publication of statistical data relating to Eurodac.

    (a) Data relating to how many individuals the United Kingdom has entered on the Eurodac database since it became operational is not currently available.

    (b) The fingerprints of all UK asylum applicants over the age of 14 are sent from the UK Immigration Fingerprint Bureau in Croydon to the Eurodac Central Unit database in Luxembourg. They are then stored and checked against the records of all those who have applied for asylum on EU territory or have been encountered in the unlawful crossing of an external EU border since 15 January 2003.

    (c) Other EU member states send fingerprints to the Central Unit in the same manner and these will be checked automatically against fingerprints sent by the United Kingdom and all other member states.

    (d) The relevant data have yet to be published by the European Commission and will form part of the annual report on Eurodac to be published early in 2004.

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