Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120. - 128)



  120. To clarify in my own mind, you are saying that the 51 Convention is now used as a claim for asylum. It is, in fact, a cover for economic migration, yet we have had Bosnia, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, what proportion are you saying are using this as a cloak or what proportion do you think is true?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I have to be careful on the use of economic migration. I am talking about people who judge they can have a more satisfactory life in the developed west than the country they come from. The evidence of that is the figures for those who claim asylum and in those who are given it and in those who are not given it. Roughly speaking, after the appeal process we are talking about thirty per cent who will be allowed to stay in some way of other, with full refugee status or not. The other seventy per cent are given a negative answer. One can add to that, anecdotes associated with the opening of a new reception at Oakington outside Cambridgeshire. We have had people who previously made their claim at the port and have been told to disappear and come back for an interview later, expecting a long, slow process before decisions. We have told them now they have to go to Oakington and if they appeal they can expect the result of the appeal in three weeks. They say, "No thank you, we are going away". This is anecdotal rather than statistical. That is a small piece of evidence to back up the points I was making.

  121. It was obvious to most of us when we went to Calais that one of the solutions to this was to handle this issue on a European-wide basis. Do you think that because of our position on Schengen that the EU States are not willing to co-operate on that basis?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Not on asylum issues. We have our protocol in the Amsterdam Treaty. Our European partners understand that position and respect it, they may wish it was otherwise. The Government has indicated, because of that, that there are a number of immigration related matters on which it cannot enter into partnership with other EU countries. At the same time it is made clear, and ministers announced this the best part of a year ago, it does wish to develop co-operation on asylum issues. We are doing that in the EU fora. There is no indication, at all, that other EU states do not want to co-operate on asylum because of our frontier position.

  122. How close do you think we are to a common system of dealing with asylum seekers in the system? How close are we?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Discussions are going on about reception arrangements for asylum seekers, voluntarily over a significant number of years, and the UK is determined to be in there with others on these discussions.

  123. Once asylum seekers claim asylum they are allowed to work in the UK.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) After 6 months.

  124. Are they allowed to work in France? This is one of the issues that may be impelling people towards the United Kingdom.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) It may be that is one reason why, the availability of work after 6 months, in the event of a decision not being taken. We are looking at that policy. I should just add, of course, that the target, which I am confident we will reach, for an average of two months for decision and four months for an appeal, by April of next year, even if the policies were not changed, most cases will have been settled before they are entitled lawfully to work.

  125. Has the Dublin Convention proved to be a bit of a flop?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) It has not fulfilled the ambitions that were held at the time it was inaugurated, that is, undoubtedly, the case. We do benefit from the Dublin Convention. We are major exporters under the terms of the Dublin Convention. It is a rather slow business in individual cases and we wish it were quicker and slicker. Now discussions are in hand and one of the outcomes from Tampere was to review all that and have all new arrangements in place by 2004. Discussions have only just started to see how we can do that. The Commission has launched an initial paper and there will be a questionnaire with a shared agenda and we want to look for a rather slicker arrangement. Parallel arrangements will come in for the sharing of finger print information, which will be one way for those countries that have suitable systems of ensuring the identification of those who claim asylum in another country, which is one of the criteria of the Dublin Convention, it can be quick and can put identity beyond any doubt. In conjunction with that we are inaugurating our own computerised fingerprint system here in the United Kingdom, which will be a lot quicker.

  126. Is that going to happen or is that wishful thinking?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) My job is on the line if it does not happen. I believe that it will. I should say, that this target is not dealing with all asylum seekers. There will be difficult ones which will take longer. We will deal with the majority of those in the two months, plus the four months. I think we will achieve that and we are already achieving that for a relatively small number now going to Oakington. We are achieving it in ample measure, for example, in the case of over seventy per cent of family cases that are dealt with within two months. Of course, the figure, a target, will apply to new cases rather than those still in the backlog.

  127. Are these targets going to be achieved, and convince me otherwise, at the extent of back-sliding with the backlog?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I do not think so. We are fast expanding separately. From the figures of additional staffing I referred to earlier on, the whole of the IND is expanding significantly and in the current year we will go up by over 2,000 in total. Most of that effort is going into the caseworking operation, so the plan is to take over 100,000 asylum decisions during the course of the present financial year. In the last few months, in March it was a long working month, in terms of working weeks, we took over 11,000 decisions. We took nearly 10,000 in April, then virtually 10,000 again in May, not withstanding all of the bank holidays. We are well on target to take over 100,000 decisions. Assuming the intake is, as I say, about 5,000 to 6,000 a month, it will not be at the expense of the backlog. You will see the backlog reducing fast, as it is already reducing fast. I have forgotten the figures we had in our evidence. It is now down to 88,000. That is a huge figure, a huge challenge for me but it is fast falling.

  128. Are you in control of the situation?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I believe we are.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Boys Smith, and your colleagues, you have been very helpful. It gives me the opportunity to thank you for the helpful assistance by many of your staff, some of whose faces I see here this morning, and, of course, your colleagues in the other services. We have been, all of us, very impressed with what we have seen at port level, not least the commitment and the determination of the staff to get on with it. They want to do the job. They know the job and they want to do it. The impression they gave to me was they welcomed resources and they are going to deliver on that. Thank you very much, indeed.

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