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Baroness Blatch: I am in difficulty now, since neither the noble Baroness nor the noble Earl actually addressed the amendment on the paper before us. They talked about Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 on a similar subject. It would have been better to have had all these amendments grouped so that we could talk about returning people either to countries of origin, or indeed to third countries, and the arrangements being made for that. I shall therefore deal with the amendment before the Committee.

This amendment would make the certification procedure in designated country cases unworkable. In such cases, it would require us to consult with the authorities in the applicant's country of origin and obtain from it an undertaking that it would take the applicant back. That would have to take place before we could issue a designated country certificate. Third countries are a matter for another part of the Bill.

That is undesirable for a number of reasons. First, we have always taken the view that a country is responsible for its own nationals. The effectiveness of our control would be damaged if that principle were undermined. If we have considered a Ghanaian's asylum application and found that he is not a refugee, and that assessment has subsequently been confirmed by an adjudicator, removal would not put the failed applicant at risk. There

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is no reason why the process should involve a requirement to obtain the agreement of the Ghanaian authorities before removing a Ghanaian to his own country. There is also the whole issue of confidentiality in relation to that.

Secondly, designation involves a general assessment about whether there is a serious risk of persecution in a particular country. In designated country cases we shall still consider the substance of the asylum claim, and if the applicant is found to be a refugee then the issue of a certificate will not arise. But if the applicant has not demonstrated that the individual circumstances of his case merit the granting of asylum, then it will be appropriate to consider certifying his claim and applying the accelerated appeal procedure. The question of whether the authorities of the applicant's country of origin would give a written undertaking to take the applicant in question back is an entirely separate issue, distinct from both the merits of the asylum claim and the safety of the country.

Thirdly, the amendment removes one of the key benefits of certification. In cases where a designated country certificate is issued, an accelerated appeal procedure will apply. It simply does not make sense to introduce a requirement which would delay refusal of the asylum claim and the issue of the certificate. There is no reason why a case would be prevented from entering the accelerated procedure in the absence of such an undertaking.

Earl Russell: The noble Baroness is attempting to argue that the procedure would be unworkable if we had to get the agreement of another country before returning anyone to them. I thought I put forward evidence to suggest that it was unworkable if we did not get such agreement. If we are both right, the conclusion is obvious: the procedure is unworkable.

Baroness Blatch: We are talking about two different parts of the Bill. We are talking about somebody who comes from a country, applies for asylum, has a substantive claim considered and, at the end of the day, is both refused at the substantive stage and fails on appeal, and returns to the country of origin. First, there is the point of confidentiality. To contact the country and say, "one of your population has applied for asylum and we are now returning them" would breach a confidentiality. Secondly, they come from that country; they have the documentation for that country, and therefore returning to their own country is not the issue that has been both spoken to by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, who talked, and gave examples of, people moving through one country to another and being returned to a third country. That is dealt with in another part of the Bill. This part of the Bill deals with country of origin and a failed application.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I apologise to the noble Baroness if the drafting of the amendment is poor. As I tried to indicate to her, the purpose was not to concern oneself with the return to the country of origin of a person seeking asylum. I was concerned about the possibility that we might miss a situation in which

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somebody from a country on a designated list was returned to a third friendly country because they had travelled through such a country without ascertaining that they could stay and enter the process, as my noble friend said, in that country. With respect, I found it very difficult to put down an amendment under Clause 2 or Clause 3 which would actually reach the case of people who came from a designated list country. Hence I apologise to her, especially at this late moment, if I have got the drafting wrong. I perceive that she anticipated my amendment was directed towards a somewhat different purpose. I hope she will accept that the amendment was directed towards an important principle. I apologise if it is in another part of the Bill; but I could not see how to capture, if I may say so, people who came from a designated list through a third country or were returned to a third country except under Clause 1 of the Bill. If the drafting is wrong, I hope at least she will accept the purpose of the probing amendment and will at some stage give us some assurances on the matter, though I appreciate what she said about the drafting being wrong. I shall withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees: I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 10 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 11 to 13 inclusive.

Lord Dubs moved, as amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 10:


Leave out lines 17 to 23.

The noble Lord said: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

If anyone is living in a country where there is a gross abuse of human rights, it is extremely difficult for that individual to apply to the government who is persecuting him or her in order to get a passport to leave. Therefore, people in such circumstances do what any of your Lordships would do, they get hold of a forged passport in order to leave the country. Similarly, if the individual happens to have a passport already, and requires a visa to move to a country of safety, then because it is extremely difficult to wait for the period of time it takes a country to issue a visa, the normal and sensible thing to do--which anyone would do--is to obtain a forged visa in the passport. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the 1951 convention recognise that asylum seekers may have difficulty in obtaining the appropriate documentation and visas. Article 31 of the Geneva Convention specifically provides that asylum seekers who enter a country illegally should not be penalised.

But there is a further difficulty facing asylum seekers. It is not in fact possible through the normal processes, even if one could hang about waiting for a visa, to apply for a visa in order to become a refugee. There are some exceptions, such as the British Government's scheme which took a number of Bosnians from Serb detention camps. They were given entry clearance in Zagreb and came here properly documented, not as refugees but certainly with limited leave to remain. Other people who arrive with the proper permits as refugees are the

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Vietnamese who come under the special scheme from Hong Kong--the Vietnamese boat people. They arrive as refugees.

For the rest, I contend that it is virtually impossible to obtain a visa as a refugee for any country in the world. So what do people do? If they are able to go through the process of applying for a visa, they need a visa to visit Britain or another country as either students or visitors. Visas are granted for those purposes. That might be the only way in which a non-forged visa can be obtained by someone seeking to escape from a country where he is suffering persecution and reach a country of safety.

It is a Catch 22 situation. If those people apply for a visa, they apply on the basis that they will be students or visitors--or perhaps they come for business reasons. Clearly, that does not represent the purpose of their visit so they are caught in that way. British immigration or the immigration authorities of other western countries can say that deception has been practised in the process of obtaining a visa. So such individuals are in genuine difficulties. They may have to obtain forged documents or forged visas; or, if they apply for visas, they cannot apply for the reasons for which they want to apply, namely, to seek safety in a western country. That is very difficult.

Therefore, it is almost inevitable that in that process an asylum seeker may have to tell lies in order to get the documentation. The lies are either because the documents are forged or because untruths have to be told in order to obtain the visa to get from their country into a western country such as Britain. So the path to becoming an asylum seeker in a western country is an extremely difficult one. Indeed, there is no proper process through which it can happen.

It is not surprising that when asylum seekers happen to arrive at a point of entry to this country, say, at an airport or perhaps Dover, they may well be fearful about admitting what they have had to do to get here. They may be traumatised by their experiences in the country in which they were being persecuted. They may feel very uncomfortable about their documents and fearful that the British authorities at the point of entry might treat them badly and send them back immediately.

So people do what in the same circumstances I believe that we would all do. They seek to enter the country and find out from other people--perhaps people who have escaped from the same country from which they have escaped--how the situation is in this country and how best they can put in their claim as asylum seekers. So that is the way it happens in most cases.

The purpose of these amendments is to give people who come here in the circumstances that I have described at least the opportunity of not being fast-tracked in the procedures under the Bill or under the 1993 Act. I do that because I am afraid I still believe, despite the Minister's protestations this afternoon, that being fast-tracked puts the asylum applicant at a disadvantage compared with people who are not fast-tracked. There has to be some reason for fast-tracking people; it cannot be that the situation is different but the same. I believe that there are

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disadvantages in terms of the way in which the individual who is fast-tracked has his or her asylum claim considered. I have to believe that because I cannot understand why the Government are going through the problems of having parts of this Bill, with all the arguments that are taking place, unless there is something at the end of it that the Government want to achieve.

I contend, therefore, that these amendments would lessen the disadvantage facing asylum seekers who happened to come with documents which were not genuine, or who had made a false claim in the process of getting their visas. I suggest a very simple provision. It is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and it is provided for in the 1951 convention. I would argue that the two amendments simply make the situation a little less difficult for those asylum seekers who have had to use such devices to find safety in this country in their escape from danger. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Earl Russell: It may save the time of the Committee if I speak now to Amendment No. 11. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Williams can speak to her Amendment No. 12 also. That would save us having several replies.

What the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has said about deception is extremely important, and I agree with every word of it. It is part of the culture of being a refugee. It is recognised as such in the UN convention under Article 31. It was, I believe, recognised by the noble Baroness in her helpful general reply on Second Reading. I am unable to lay my hands on that at the moment, but if my recollection agrees with that of the noble Baroness, I hope that we may take what has been said as correct.

The provisions will affect people who enter the country with forged passports, people who have lost their passports, or people who tell a story about their passport which is reasonable but which is nevertheless, not believed. That can happen. I do not want people to be at risk of telling a story that appears to them to be reasonable not to be believed. It is also a matter of concern to me whether the Home Office wishes them to come with passports or without because they can be penalised either way. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, they instinctively assume that being fast-tracked is being penalised, but if they come without a passport, they get caught for that also. A refusal letter says things like:


    "The Secretary of State also notes that in spite of your claim that you were being harassed by the Ugandan authorities and you left that country in fear of persecution, you were able to leave Uganda through normal channels, using a passport issued in your own name.---The use of your passport further undermines your claim to have fled Uganda in the circumstances you allege."

The Government can have one of those arguments or the other, but they cannot have both of them. Which one are they going to give up?

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