Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. They represent their people. They are entitled to return people themselves. Why should we tell the Germans or the French what to do?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) We are part of an international system in which we are seeking a common understanding of common terminology.

  Mr Howarth: I apologise to Mr Linton, I hi-jacked his questions.

Mr Linton

  301. I do not regard this necessarily as an imposition. Many of them in my constituency contribute enormously, through their work, to the economy, but nevertheless it is important that there should be clarity in the subject about whether the law is that they should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to or whether they can come to a country of their choice. The Home Secretary said in his speech, "There should be no right under the Convention for refugees to choose a particular destination on the other side of the world and travel to it." The question is as broad as that. Does the 1951 Convention convey a right to choose your destination or does it not?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) One of the things that the Convention does not do is regulate, for example, which state ought to provide protection. That is one of the lacunae.

  302. The word "directly" surely does?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) Directly goes some way down that path.

  303. A lot of people arrive here directly by air from destinations all over the world, more than arrive indirectly across the channel. I would have thought the common sense understanding of that was that they should have applied for asylum if that was their objective before they reached here?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) Certainly if we are looking at the European Union these are the sorts of issues which the Dublin and Schengen Conventions were intended to deal with, to in effect identify once and for all which state ought to treat an application for asylum.

  304. Could I ask Ms Hanlan for her comments on this issue, because it is very much the UNHCR's interpretation of this that is important?
  (Ms Hanlan) It is identical to Professor Goodwin-Gill's interpretation, but we would even go further. We realised that about 400 people were being imprisoned annually when we visited—because we do visit prisons and detention centres on a regular basis—and found some cases and investigated and found that approximately 400 were being annually imprisoned due to having contravened the provisions of Article 31, according to the state.

  305. In all countries?
  (Ms Hanlan) In Britain alone. We raised the issue in January and actually on 5th January we wrote a letter to the Attorney General's office and we had a response which indicated that they were not fully aware that imprisoning a person who had arrived illegally but who was claiming asylum was potentially in contradiction of Article 31. They investigated it and we are happy to say that up until November of last year we were having discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service based on their recognition that what they were doing was not correct. We are at the stage where a draft memorandum of understanding exists, but we understood it had gone to the Home Office and the immigration services for final review. It is in its third draft. We hope we will eventually get to see a final draft, but we think it will go a long way towards making officials, port officials in particular, understand the distinction between a migrant seeking to enter the country illegally and an asylum seeker seeking to enter the country, who has been forced, in many cases, to resort, maybe against his will, to using forged documentation.

  306. I realise the powers of detention is a very sensitive subject, but can I broaden this question a little bit, because one of the points that was made by the Home Secretary is that the assumption at the time of the 1951 Convention was certainly that most refugees would be protected in neighbouring countries in the same region, and that was at a time when there were many European refugees. Now we have moved to a time when there are European refugees from Kosovo and places like that, but there are also refugees from many distant parts of the world coming to Europe. The question is not only legally does the 1951 Convention give them the right to come all the way to European countries via other countries, but also whether that is in the interest of a solution of our world refugee problems on which you are obviously the key agency. In other words, one of the things the Home Secretary said was that there should be an obligation on European states to support the states that receive the major influxes and to work, as he says, on horizon dimensions through foreign aid, foreign policy and development to help those countries that naturally get the greatest number of refugees rather than try and solve the problem by having more and more refugees come to European countries. To take a simple example that I am faced with all the time, I have Somali families in my constituency who are refugees. Other members of their family are in Italy and other members of their family are in Kenya. All of them are refugees from Somalia and the family is divided into different countries. I often ask myself, is it actually helping the Somalian refugee problem by having them dispersed and would it be better if the European Government helped the Kenyan Government to deal with refugees in Kenya, or wherever the rest of them initially go, or is it better for them to be received in this country? That is the nature of the problem.
  (Ms Hanlan) I think you have to realise that the people that you are seeing in Europe, the asylum seekers and the refugees, are a tiny number compared with the vast numbers currently being housed in Kenya in vast refugee camps in KaKuma and in Dadaab. They are there for years on end. People have never known anything except a refugee camp and, therefore, it is quite unrealistic to imagine that merely by adding more money to the problem in Kenya you will ever stop people's desire to better themselves and to escape even from Kenya. Kenya is not a panacea. Many refugee women are raped in the Kenyan camps to the point where there is a Victims of Violence Women's Project which helps Somali and Sudanese refugee women to escape from the camps, because their physical safety is so much in danger. Canada, Australia and the US have such a programme in recognition of that fact, and you already, through DFID, do contribute towards these vast numbers of refugees in places like Tanzania and Kenya.

  307. You implicitly accept that they are seeking refuge from Kenya, whereas of course they accept refuge from Somalia legally?
  (Ms Hanlan) It is the human spirit, and one has to remember that refugees are also people like us. Every human being has the desire to survive, and not just to survive, but to flourish and for his family. Those refugees from Somalia who are scattered right now between Italy, Britain, Germany, wherever, have one important vision and that is a future where they can not only exist but also flourish, and I think one has to hold that in ones mind throughout this debate.

  308. Can I just move on to the issue of a common European policy on this, because in your evidence from UNHCR you supported the idea of humanitarian visas in the country of origin?
  (Ms Hanlan) Additionally, not instead of.

  309. And the Home Secretary in his speech talked about applications made outside the receiving state on an agreed quota basis. He seems to be talking about the same kind of system that you are describing. Do you see that he is trying to create a European wide system that would help more asylum claims to be dealt with before people reach this country, removing some of the need for clandestine immigration and racketeering?
  (Ms Hanlan) I think it is a concept which is embedded in the concept of burden sharing. Within that framework the UNHCR would not have a problem with such an approach, provided that the people who were doing the status determination were competent people and provided that people who did manage to get as far as the EU states would not be turned back. In principle we would not object to it. It is actually happening now in Indonesia with people seeking asylum in Australia.

  310. You accept that this would be done on the basis of European Union countries dividing up the number of applications, they will still be considered individually on their own merit by each country?
  (Ms Hanlan) I would not go as far as that, no. I think you have to look at this in the wider context of burden sharing or responsibility sharing, to use a better word. I do not think UNHCR can come to a conclusion, one would have to see how it works in practice to be quite honest. The idea merits scrutiny and great examination.

  311. The Home Secretary did say that UNHCR would be asked to give advice particularly on the issue of identifying those countries and ethnic groups that were most at risk, and that is essentially a part of another proposal you were talking about, safe countries. Do you feel that UNHCR would be happy to fulfil that role?
  (Ms Hanlan) I think UNHCR would want to know more about it. What I can say is that they would not be prepared to support an approach which automatically bars any specific nationality from being admitted into an asylum procedure.

  312. Even European Union states?
  (Ms Hanlan) Yes. We do not feel that there is any single country or individual coming from any single country that should automatically be considered not to have a well founded claim. We would rather see that you should contemplate applying very accelerated procedures and using a manifestly unfounded situation, as you have in Oakington.

  313. Professor Goodwin-Gill, may we have your opinion about the safe third countries suggestion?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) The idea of safe third countries in the sense of countries to which one can refer or return asylum seekers without looking at the substance of their case and the merits has always bothered me. It seems to me that if you wanted to have defensible decisions, why not get to grips with the claim itself and then act upon it. Safe third countries seems to be one of those decision avoidance mechanisms which tends to be even more protracted over time, to create even further problems. With regard to the related issue of reception in the region, which has been much debated recently in the European Union, I have concerns very similar to those expressed by the colleague from UNHCR. It sounds a nice idea that the refugees should be protected closer to home, but I think our experience is that such protection is frequently not available or of the most minimal kind and that refugees very often find that they have very good reasons, which may be family links or just a sense of how it is over the hill, to move on. One has to face the reality also that migration and movement onwards is a phenomenon and it is not going to be stopped by purely reactive measures. I think that seriously—and this has not been sufficiently discussed in recent years—we have to look beyond dealing with the movement and managing the movement of people to giving people a reason not to move, which means looking ahead into early warning and preventative diplomacy, it means looking into democracy and development, it means looking into ways and means by which we can manage migration. It is rather remarkable that even after all these year we do not have an efficient international management regime. That is something that I think we should be thinking about. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities recently published a very interesting report on replacement migration which raises the possibility that certain states in Europe—not actually in the United Kingdom where our fertility is quite strong—are going to face a major population decline. Estonia, for example, is liable to suffer a population loss of some 33 per cent in the next 50 years. Italy, 28 per cent. There is room for migration in Europe.

  314. That decision is for those states?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) That decision is for those states, but it is also a decision for Europe itself. I think the experience of the 58 who died at Dover should remind us that this is a European phenomenon as well as a national phenomenon.

  315. You are talking about economic migration?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) I am talking about economic migration very much. We used to talk in the past about separating the refugee out from the migrant and it is an ideal world. The fact is, of course, that the flows tend to mix one with the other and the task becomes harder. I think we do have to turn our minds seriously to how we are going to manage migration and, as a region, what place, what role, migration can play in our own economy and in other development strategies.

  316. You both seem to accept that the attempt to separate out asylum and the 1951 Convention completely from economic migration is impossible?
  (Professor Goodwin-Gill) Let me say that applying the 1951 Convention in a situation in which groups are mixed is problematic. It is not impossible to do and I think one of the ways of doing it is by bringing the decision making procedure as close as possible.

Mr Howarth

  317. Can I go back to a point that Ms Hanlan made earlier? She said that the Convention was not designed to be a migration tool, which I quite understand, but I did draw attention to the preamble of the Convention itself, which does indicate that we really have got a wholly new situation. The Home Secretary said in Lisbon that less than 15 years ago there were 4,500 applications for asylum. Last year there were 70,000. As practical politicians we have to address that issue and I wonder whether either of you think that we do need to review the Convention, bearing in mind that it was drawn up in wholly different circumstances. It was originally drawn up to deal with the problems of refugees displaced in the aftermath of the Second World War, although that was changed by the 1967 protocol. Do you think that now there is this ease of transport around the world that we should revisit the Convention itself, either of you?

  (Ms Hanlan) I am so sorry, it appears that I failed to convince you when I first tried to address this point. Under no circumstances does the UNHCR feel that the core principles of the Convention should be tampered with.

  318. Should not be tampered with?
  (Ms Hanlan) They should not be touched. They are in essence the solid foundation on which refugee protection is built. It is the only truly universal instrument that exists in the world for the protection of refugees.

  Mr Howarth: The problem we face is, as Mr Linton was saying, that originally people migrated and sought refuge in neighbouring territories because they could not jump on an aeroplane because there were not any aeroplanes that they could jump on and now there are aeroplanes that they can jump on and, as the Professor said, it has been found that our European partners are wanting, but somehow we are not so wanting. Therefore, the full burden is coming upon the United Kingdom. We are the only ones that are currently playing the game, but we do play cricket, of course, which not all the others do.

  Mr Cawsey: To an extent.

Mr Howarth

  319. And we are winning.
  (Ms Hanlan) Being a Jamaican I will refrain from commenting on the performance of the West Indies in this latest series of cricket matches. You are preaching to the converted when you recognise that migration cannot be ignored. We agree with you on that, and in describing those three concentric circles we would situate migration very firmly in the third outer circle as one of the issues that definitely requires very urgent attention. That does not mean that you must tamper with the middle circle.

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