Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Clause 43

International projects

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I pay tribute to the organisations that have gone to so much trouble to brief members of the Committee on various aspects of the Bill. I draw the Committee's attention to a matter raised by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which has done some valuable work on the Bill. NACAB states that clause 43 provides a power for the Home Secretary to establish a refugee resettlement programme under which a small number of persons recognised as refugees while still abroad could be accepted for resettlement in the United Kingdom. The association welcomes the establishment of such a resettlement programme—with the proviso that it should not lead to a two-tier asylum determination process whereby those who arrive at the UK's borders independently are regarded as queue-jumpers and therefore undeserving of the UK's protection,

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whatever the merits of their asylum claim. It seeks the Minister's assurance on that point.

Subsection (2) sets out financial provisions. Does the Minister have some idea of the level of budget provision these programmes will attract? From the notes on the clause we are aware that pilot projects have been undertaken. Will she explain how many have been completed and whether any further pilots are planned, or whether the Ministry is satisfied that the piloting exercise has been exhausted?

Subsections (2)(a) and (b) provide only for financial support to international organisations that arrange or participate in projects of the kind described in subsection (1). I would like an assurance that the drafting does not preclude, for example, the secondment of suitable personnel to international organisations—or does the Minister have in mind purely financial assistance with no consideration for any other type of assistance under (2)(a) and (b)?

Mr. Allan: I have a couple of points to raise about how individuals resettled from the UK may be affected in future if their resettlement breaks down. We welcome the focus on international projects. In the current circumstances in Sri Lanka, for example, individuals coming to the UK as asylum seekers may be granted refugee status, but as Sri Lanka moves to a more peaceful and stable situation, international efforts to rebuild the Sri Lankan community within Sri Lanka may be appropriate, which may affect individuals here. There is no certainty about the future, so with any resettlement programmes or international projects to assist migrants to return to another country it is important to clarify what would happen if those projects were to break down and the migrants needed to return to the UK because of unforeseen circumstances.

At what level do the Government anticipate these plans working? Is it at all levels, be it the European Union, the United Nations, or the UNHCR? How do we expect the criteria for the UK engagement in projects to be set?

In a domestic Bill dealing with asylum and immigration issues it is helpful to have a reference to international projects as a reminder of the fact that refugee crises primarily affect countries far from the United Kingdom. Whatever questions anyone raises in the UK about tens of thousands of asylum seekers, the problems are multiplied to the nth degree in poor countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, which accept many hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants.

I hope that the that the Government will follow that commitment, in the interests not just of the United Kingdom but of many other countries with a far more serious refugee crisis than us.

Angela Eagle: I hope that my answers will satisfy members of the Committee about this part of the Bill.

The resettlement programme poses two separate issues: the return of migrants to their country of origin, and resettlement, which is a formal gateway into the country of people recognised as refugees by the UNHCR. For them, the resettlement programme

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will develop as a result of the powers in the Bill: it will be a toe in the water. The purpose of the resettlement programme is to deal with a problem that many hon. Members often refer to—that people cannot enter the country legally in order to claim asylum. We are creating legal routes into the country.

Another important objective is to save refugees from the people smugglers and traffickers who profit mightily and obscenely from their trade in human misery. We are planning to develop the resettlement programme in association with the UNHCR. The resettlement programme will allow us to take into this country from abroad people who have already been classified as refugees. Initially, we are thinking in terms of about 500 people—believe it or not, making it one of the largest resettlement programmes in the European Union. The USA takes 78,000 a year, so ours will certainly not be the largest in the world, but it will be an important first step towards creating a legal gateway into the country for people classified as genuine refugees—and it will keep them out the hands of the people traffickers.

Some of the issues point the other way, to voluntary return to countries of origin. Clause 42 deals more explicitly with that, in so far as it allows us to spend money to facilitate voluntary return projects more practically than in the past. I hope that it will lead to sustainable, coherent return for failed asylum seekers or those who want to go back to their countries of origin—Afghanistan is an obvious example—when things are getting better, to rebuild their country. We hope that Sri Lanka will prove to be another positive example.

I shall now deal with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). There is no question of a two-tier process—a refugee is a refugee—but we are anxious to develop safer ways of acknowledging refugee status and legal gateways in order to crack down on the activities of people smugglers. That is what the resettlement programme is intended to halt. Creating such a gateway under the powers in the clause is an humanitarian tool.

Currently, such work is funded under the powers of the Appropriation Act, which provides a legal basis. However, it would be more flexible if we had our own powers to fund rather than having to rely on that Act, which limits project expenditure to short-term and one-off projects that do not run for longer than two years or whose individual costs do not exceed £900,000. Under the comprehensive spending review process 2002, we shall attempt to create some funding—I cannot tell the hon. Lady exactly how much—in order to develop sustainable return programmes for failed asylum seekers or those who wish to return.

I was asked whether financial support includes secondment of staff. Yes, it does. We provide a financial benefit to the relevant international organisation. We know from our work with international policing and immigration organisations and international non-governmental organisations that great mutual benefit can be gained from

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secondments and support. The hon. Lady will know that we also work closely with the International Organisation for Migration in respect of voluntary returns, among other issues. We already have some experience, but we wish to expand it. The clauses are part of an holistic approach to immigration whereby we consider the difficulties in source countries and how the Home Office can help. There is also a role for Governments throughout the European Union and the developed world who experience problems of economic migration to work together to see what they can do to help source countries to stabilise. It is in everyone's interests to do so. The clauses give us the necessary powers to continue to develop work in this area more unambiguously.

12.45 pm

Mr. Gerrard: This is a welcome and positive development, which will allow us to consider resettlement programmes. Clause 43 covers more than refugees, to which only part of the power relates. That has been missing in our policies for a long time. I am pleased that the Conservative party is rejecting the two-tier system that they set out to create in 1996. They made a simple but flawed distinction between people who applied for asylum at ports of entry and those who applied in country. Those who applied for asylum at ports of entry would receive support, but those who applied in country would be deprived of it, on the flawed assumption that those two classes of people had different justifications for asylum claims. It was only because of the court case that followed those proposals that in-country applicants were left with any support through the local authorities.

My concern about the two-tier system is not so much that different rules may be applied but that different attitudes may be generated. We all know of problematic attitudes towards asylum seekers, and we must be careful to make it clear that we will not pursue the argument that those who undertake the resettlement programme are genuine, whereas others who do not undertake it are not.

I appreciate that we are dipping our toes into the water, but I am not clear how the resettlement programmes will function or how decisions will be taken about who is eligible to come as a refugee through them. The nearest and most recent equivalent was the humanitarian evacuation programme from Kosovo. The UNHCR acted as the gatekeeper and in effect decided who was suitable to come as part of that programme. That almost implies that an agency other than the Home Office will decide whether an asylum claim is justified. What is the interface between the two? Will the Minister say whether the Home Office will be involved in another country's decision to allow someone through that gateway?

I also welcome the support that is being suggested for people who are returning, whether they are doing so voluntarily or are being removed from the country. Unquestionably, we do not treat people humanely at present. They may suddenly find themselves on a plane with their family with no financial support to start to re-establish themselves. It will be interesting to see how this part of the Bill develops. The question remains

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who will decide who gets on to the programme, and I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

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