Examination of Witnesses (Questions (100-119)|
WEDNESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2002
100. That comes back to my earlier question.
We do not measure those voluntary returns that are not included
in the official figures?
(Beverley Hughes) No.
(Mr Blunkett) We measured the 6,000 that were returned
to France last year voluntarily, but we do not count those as
voluntary removals because we have not got to the final stage
of removal, if you take my point. So you are right in saying that
we do not have accurate figures on everybody who goes, but we
have estimates, which I will ensure are supplied, in terms of
those we know actually have gone but have not reached the point
of removal and therefore are not described as formal voluntary
(Beverley Hughes) The other point to make, if I may
put this in the pot, is that you are onlyI understand why,
and it is very importanttalking about people within the
asylum system. There are, of course, about 50,000 people, in the
last year for which we have complete figures, removed, if you
look at non-asylum cases as well.
101. Where I am going towards is if you take
a figure of 97,000, or if you shave it a bit for those who have
had their appeals rejected who then leaveif you take that
figurethat is a large number of people, and it would imply
that aiming for something like 30,000 would still leave a large
amount every year still here who should not be here. So are you
not lacking now in ambition by saying, "We can't have a 2,500
a month target, we can't have a 30,000 target"? Does it not
show the system is collapsing?
(Mr Blunkett) On that same Queen's Speech daybecause
I did try to lay a few parameters on that day a year last JuneI
did actually indicate that any effort whatsoever to step up removals
would end up with tears, that people would demand that we removed
more and at the same time demand that we do not remove specific
families or individuals in which either they have an interest
in their constituency or there has been a major campaign around.
We are really in all this together. I am telling you that Parliament
as a whole has to decide what it wants to do and how it intends
to do it, which is why I am prioritising getting the system right,
rather than ending up all the time with the agonies of removal.
(Beverley Hughes) Also, if I can add to that, I think
it underpins the point that the Home Secretary was making earlier
about the real focus, because of the difficulties of removal.
We need to do better, but there are some general difficultiesthe
report of the Committee identified some of themaround travel
documentation, lack of routes, willingness of countries to accept
that people are their nationals sometimes, as well as some of
the difficulties we get in this country through the courts, through
many people, not least colleagues as MPs of all parties who want
removals increased, but actually when it is somebody that they
have met in their advice surgery, it is a family they know, are
willing to support campaigns to keep people here. So there are
all those difficulties around removals. That is why the focus
has to be as well on reducing intake, because removals are always
going to be difficult. The priority has to be on reducing the
number of people who get in and try to use the asylum system to
stay here for economic reasons.
102. That brings us rather nicely to the last
issue relating to asylum that I want to address. That is, that
we must never lose sight of the fact, must we, in all this talk
about targets and, I was going to say, "bogus" asylum
seekers, that we are dealing with human beings, and that many
of these cases are personal tragedies? Can I just check with the
Home Secretary that he can agree about that?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I do, which is why I have opened
negotiations with the UNHCR to provide gateways for those who
are facing death and persecution to be able to get agreement for
their asylum claim to be dealt with without them having to become
clandestines and get into the country illegally.
103. Not only that, but where people do have
to be removed, especially in cases involving children, children
who in some cases may have been here all their conscious lives,
develop friendships and set down roots, who are suddenly plucked
from school and transferred to another country that they, though
not their parents, know nothing of, we have to be a bit sensitive
to this, have we not?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, which is why speed of delivery
of the system is crucial. The longer that people are in the systemand
it has to be said that this is a two-way process, we have to speed
it upthere is some responsibility for those who, knowing
that their claims have been rejected by the appeals process, do
have some responsibility to those working with them not to prolong
the agony still further. Between those two lies a solution in
getting a system that is workable, where youngsters do not find
themselves, in your description, taken out of the roots that they
have developed, and I have every sympathy with that.
104. Also in cases where clearly the refugees
are economic migrants, but are being sent back, we are talking
about people who have burned a lot of bridges, are we not, who
may have run up a lot of debt at home, who may have not a penny
to their name any longer, and we are sometimes going to put them
down at an airport in a country they left some years previously,
and leave them to get on with it?
(Mr Blunkett) You and I have had, I think, friendly
exchanges in the Chamber about this, because I do not disagree
with you. Firstly, we have to appreciate that many of the people
who have come here clandestinely have done so because of the outrageous
organised criminal gangs who charge either themselves or their
family very large sums of money, and who presumably will seek
some form of retribution on those families if people do not pay.
One way of looking at this is to ensure that people who are in
a situation of removal, but want to come and work herethey
must go back, I must stress thatcan have some opportunity
to apply for their country of origin, which is why I was saying
earlier, we reject the view that all economic migration is bad
and that we should close our borders.
105. Yes, where we are sending people back,
economic migrants, should we put a few pounds in their pocket
to make sure that when they land at this airport on the other
side of the world they have the means to get home and perhaps
to keep themselves for a week or two?
(Mr Blunkett) For those who go voluntarily I think
the scheme we have with Afghanistan is important. It is a very
important signal for those who have refused to go who are here
illegally. We cannot pay people for breaking our laws. We can
only encourage and incentivise where people are prepared to play
ball with us. Other European countries, including the new French
Government, are looking urgently at replicating the current pilot
that we are engaged in in terms of Afghanistan.
106. May I say that I think the pilot that you
have launched is an extremely heartening way forward and a very
sensible one. That relates, as you say, to Afghanistan. What I
am looking for is a way of humanising what is, let us face it,
a very brutal process at the end of the day, which is distressing
not only for those on the receiving end, but those who have to
carry out the removals. I am looking for a few more ways of humanising
(Mr Blunkett) One way very strongly must be to get
return agreements with the country of origin and try to work out
with the country, either at the community or regional level, a
way of facilitating and helping.
(Beverley Hughes) I was just going to add that the
voluntary assisted return programme which has been going since
February 1999, of which the Afghanistan programme is a variant,
does actually provide assistance to peoplenot cash assistance,
but assistance in kindby the International Organization
for Migration that, in a sense, conducts this whole programme
on our behalf and provides assistance in kind to people when they
land to help them with housing, with training particularly. I
do think there is an issue about giving people cash routinely,
outside of the Afghanistan programme, because of the perceived
incentive that could provide for people to try to get here in
the first place. I wanted to assure you that there is assistance,
there are resources in that programme to provide people with assistance
in kind to help them resettle.
(Mr Blunkett) I ought to add, just because other people
have a different take on this, that if people are prepared to
go, it is a damned sight cheaper than their remaining here. I
ought to make that point, because I have read one or two very
interesting comments. There are those who write on one thing one
day, and by the end of the week they are writing the exact opposite,
purely to make a point against you.
107. Yes. I am not one of those, Home Secretary!
(Mr Blunkett) No, you are not. I am very glad you
are not a journalist, because I fear you much more than I do those
108. I want to press a point that Mrs Hughes
made a moment ago. What would be wrong in putting £100 in
the pocket of everybody who was deported or removed from here,
so that when they get out at Kinshasa or whatever, they have the
means to get home and to buy a meal or two there? There is no
way everybody is going to come back in the hope of getting £100,
when it costs over £1,000 to get here in the first place.
(Mr Blunkett) I think you would have to weigh the
politics of giving people pocket money on their way out. We have
enough problems persuading the British people to accept that we
are robust but fair already. In other words, you keep a system
in balance that does not allow the immigration and asylum issue
to become a very dangerous political football.
109. With respect, Home Secretary, the politics
are not very complicated. People want to see these people removed
as decently and as swiftly as possible, and so no one is going
to resent this, apart from a few recalcitrants who could easily
be dealt with, I would have said. It does not require much political
courage to do what I have just suggested.
(Mr Blunkett) Let me say that I paid you a compliment
just a moment ago about your journalistic skills from the past.
Let me be robust with you. £100 is not going to make the
difference between whether they do or they do not go back or whether
they pay the traffickers. What it would do would be a humanitarian
gesture, and it is that that I am talking about, because it would
be in addition to the costs we are already incurring in processing
110. It would, but it is a rather modest cost,
and it is far less than keeping them in detention or indeed maintaining
them here not in detention?
(Mr Blunkett) Indeed, but it is not an alternative
to that. It is a straight humanitarian gesture. It would not make
a difference to their willingness to come or go.
111. No, so why not pay it?
(Mr Blunkett) £1,500 or £2,000 would, but
the cost is substantial. Even on our current removals, what you
are asking is substantial.
112. Yes, but what is wrong with the humanitarian
(Mr Blunkett) Nothing. There is nothing
wrong with humanitarian gestures. I remember the Interior Minister
of Germany telling me that the Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein
had said to him that he thought his asylum policy was far too
tough, and he said to him, "Fine, we'll direct all our asylum
seekers to Schleswig-Holstein and you can pay for them out of
the state budget."
113. Never mind the Schleswig-Holstein question.
(Mr Blunkett) I put that one in the air specially
114. I do not want to push you into ruling all
this out. May I leave that with you?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, let us leave it, like the Schleswig-Holstein
question, hanging in the air!
115. I am very serious about this point that
we do need to humanise what at the end of the day is a very brutal
process, and it is especially brutal where children are involved.
Those of us who have seen it with our own eyes know that. It depends
sometimes which country you are sending them back to. There is
quite a bit of difference between putting people down at Prague
airport or putting them down in Kinshasa, is there not?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I agree with that. There is a difference,
and there is a humanitarian issue, particularly with children.
116. So may I urge you to think about that.
May I put it to you finally that Hong Kong, with the Vietnamese
boat people, operated one of the world's most ruthless repatriation
processes, and also with the refugees from mainland China, but
they still put a few dollars in their pockets so that when they
got outthey delivered them, bound hand and feet, onto the
planes at Hong Kong, but when they got outat Hanoi they
had the means to get home and to live for a week or two.
(Mr Blunkett) I am very interested in that. They obviously
traded a few dollars for the European Convention on Human Rights,
and I would never dream of advocating that, Chairman.
117. No, but my only point is
(Mr Blunkett) Sorry, I was being ironic.
118. You were indeed, but I am being absolutely
straight with you. My only point is that if a system of repatriation
as ruthless as the one Hong Kong ran could manage to do that,
surely we could?
(Mr Blunkett) I have agreed not to dismiss it out
119. I am most grateful. I shall be coming back
to that subject in due course.
(Mr Blunkett) I thought you would!
Chairman: Home Secretary, we have finished
two minutes ahead of target, you will be pleased to know, so I
am a man who delivers on what I promise. Please bear that in mind
for the future. Can I thank Mrs Hughes and the Home Secretary
for coming. The session is closed.