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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clear and able way in which she introduced the Bill and I thank her also for the announcement of further resources that are to be put into the asylum determination process. I recently heard a briefing from the chief adjudicator of the immigration appellate authority in which he spoke of the way in which these resources were in part to be used. I wish also to congratulate the noble Baroness on avoiding the use of the word "bogus" in relation to refugees, although she used it in other references. Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out, the word "abusive" is not much better.
I should like to take as my starting point the whole perspective that we may have on the Bill because I believe that that determines the way in which we think about it. Broadly, there are two views about those who seek asylum in this country. One group of people, among whom I number myself, believes that large numbers of people seek asylum in this country because in their own countries there is violence, oppression and torture and they are fleeing for reasons of genuine fear. There is another view that many people from overseas want to share the good life of our country and they are driven by greed to come and use the asylum procedures in order to attain that aim.
The use of the word "bogus" in reference to refugees is one we need to examine very carefully. Although the noble Baroness avoided the use of the word, her department continues to use it. I have a news release dated 7th March 1996 which refers to the requirement to impose visa regulations on Kenyan nationals. The press release says:
When I read the news release it occurred to me that there were perhaps other reasons for an increasing number of Kenyans to be coming to this country, so I went to find out something about the situation in Kenya. I discovered a document from Human Rights Watch which referred to the way in which in the early part of 1995 the human rights situation notably deteriorated in Kenya as the government launched a crackdown against human rights activists, opposition politicians and internally displaced persons. I then went to a document from the United States Department of State where I found a sentence saying:
This is obviously part of a much larger argument about the reasons for people applying for asylum in this country. It would seem to me that probably we need some research on what motivates people to come to this country. An initial look at the evidence once again makes it seem probable that they come because they are driven by fear. Of the UK applications in 1995, more than half came from countries with the most serious human rights records, such as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria and Nigeria. A further 20 per cent. came from countries that have high scores in the index of rights' abuse. That does not mean that all these applicants are necessarily genuine but it suggests that many of them have experienced persecution or harassment, and it is out of a fear of that that they have fled from their own countries.
Furthermore, the evidence from the presentation of asylum cases indicates that economic motives do not necessarily stand high for a majority of asylum seekers. Home Office presenting officers, when they submit cases, frequently submit that an appellant had an economic motive, but it is very rare for a special adjudicator to make a finding that a failed asylum seeker had economic motives. If special adjudicators saw clear evidence of an economic motive, it is likely that they would record that. In fact, on rare occasions they do so. But on the majority of occasions they do not.
Moreover, Home Office research shows that a large proportion of refugees were highly qualified and from professional occupations in their home countries. That makes sense because those are the people most likely to be protesting against regimes in their own countries. They are the ones most likely to be articulate and to be involved in the political process. So it seems that the initial evidence indicates that people flee and then seek asylum not from greed but from fear.
I do not want to go through the Bill in detail. I believe that it will make accurate, clear, fair and just determination of asylum seekers' cases more problematic. I wish also to make the point that the Government's claim that so many asylum seekers are bogus overlooks the fact that many of those whose claims are not recognised in this country may well have good reasons for wanting to flee their own country.
I was recently in Colombo at the time when the bombs were going off. I was sitting in the study of a young Tamil priest. He was telling me about having to go to the local police station as all young Tamil men in
I do not want to make detailed comments on the clauses, but I should like to refer particularly to Clause 1. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol will be referring to Clause 8. I should like to make two points on Clause 1. The first relates to the list of white countries. I notice that the Minister included Pakistan. What matters to those who seek asylum in this country is not what other people think about their country; it is how secure they feel there. It is perfectly possible for somebody to come here from, say, Pakistan, and find that people say, "Isn't Pakistan a perfectly safe and reasonable country?" The reply may be, "Yes, of course it is--for most of the people who live there, but it is not safe for me". The asylum seeker will then say why that is the case. It may be that he is an Ahmadi, a group who are under particular threat. That person has the right to have his case determined.
The task of the asylum procedure is to determine the degree of risk for an individual in relation to his or her circumstances and in relation to the country from which he or she comes. An asylum seeker has the right to have that determination made in respect of his or her own circumstances. To put people into a group and to say that those from a particular country are unlikely to have a genuine case is to ignore their right to individual determination.
I should like to make one other point in relation to Clause 1. I should be grateful for some help from the Minister on this. I understand that one of the effects of Clause 1 is to remove the right of special adjudicators to refer a case back to the Secretary of State. It was under that power that the chief adjudicator, Judge David Pearl, referred the case of Dr. Mohammed Al-Mass'ari back to the Home Secretary. I do not hold any brief for the politics or movement represented by Dr. Al-Mass'ari, but I do believe that he has the right to have his case determined. I was interviewed on the nine o'clock News on the matter and made precisely that point. I was therefore glad to read the determination of the chief adjudicator, who stated:
Can the Minister confirm that under Clause 1 that right would be removed and that in that particular case the adjudicator would either have had to make a determination that that person could not be removed to
I have detailed criticisms of other aspects of the Bill, but I finish by making a general point which has already been made by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Lester of Herne Hill. What is needed is a speeding up of the determination process. A long period of determination is not helpful to asylum seekers. They want a quick determination of their case. It is helpful to those--and there may be some--who are abusing the system and who want to be allowed to remain in this country. It is in everybody's interest that the determination procedure should be as short as possible. I believe that that is the way forward, not this Bill.
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