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Lord Avebury: I shall remind the noble Baroness of the circumstances of his case. When he left Saudi Arabia he went to the Yemen and obtained a Yemeni passport there. He came to the United Kingdom from the Yemen, presumably as a visitor but then applied for asylum after arriving here. The point I want to make to the noble Baroness is that ever since then her colleague in the Home Office, Miss Widdecombe, has referred to Dr. al-Masari as an illegal entrant, and she did so, as I understand it, on the basis that he possessed a Yemeni travel document and had obtained presumably an entry certificate in San'a as a visitor to come to the United Kingdom when in fact he had the intention of seeking asylum as soon as he arrived here.
I think this case illustrates very well the Catch 22 situation referred to by my noble friend. Dr. al-Masari obviously could not leave Saudi Arabia with a Saudi Arabian passport, having been in detention there, suffering persecution by the Saudi regime. The only way he could get out of the country was by leaving clandestinely over the nearest available frontier, which happened to be the Yemen, and obtaining the travel documents of that country with which to come to Britain.
Again, I should like to ask the noble Baroness what she wants people to do. If they are genuinely fleeing persecution, should they throw themselves on the mercy of their persecutors and say, "We wish to have a travel document to leave your country because you have been persecuting us"? In those circumstances, how many people does the Minister think will be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, Uganda or any other country? Or is it perfectly proper and valid, as the UNHCR maintains, for them to go into a neighbouring country, obtain a passport there by whatever means are available to them and seek entry to the United Kingdom for a purpose other than that which is declared?
Also, does not the noble Baroness think that it would be for everybody's convenience if it were made clear at ports of entry to anybody seeking asylum that, if they possess an invalid travel document and fail to declare it on the spot, they will lose the opportunity from then onwards to do so? And if, after having submitted themselves to the initial examination of the immigration officer, they apply to someone else for asylum a couple of hours later, they will have forfeited the opportunity of being treated as a bona fide asylum applicant.
Would it not be best for notices to be displayed at the ports of entry to the United Kingdom informing people of the penalties, if they intend to apply for asylum, of failing to declare that they entered with false documentation? The Minister smiles. She obviously believes that it would not be right to inform people of the consequences of internal United Kingdom legislation of which, clearly, they must be unaware. As someone said to me the other day, if I went to Brazil and were seeking asylum there, I would obviously not
Baroness Williams of Crosby: It may be for the convenience of the Committee and the noble Baroness if I speak briefly to Amendment No. 12 so that the Minister can respond to Amendments Nos. 10 through 13 together. It is directly relevant to the arguments already adduced and I can be brief.
Amendment No. 12 seeks to remove from the Bill the section dealing with invalid travel documents. The fundamental problem is one referred to by both the Minister and my noble friend; that is, that just as those who are seeking to enter this country without legitimate grounds would probably appear without valid travel documents, it is also the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed out, that the people who have the strongest possible arguments for seeking asylum will also appear without valid travel documents. If one seeks to depart from places like Kinshasa or Nigeria, it is unlikely that one will get away if one carries legitimate travel documents. One would not be allowed out of the door.
Therefore, the dilemma for the Minister and her department--and indeed for all of us--is that both the very best and worst cases fall into that category. Those of us who want to protect the very best cases want to make sure that people who carry either no passport or a passport which is false will not, on those grounds alone, be dismissed. They may well be the people who have the strongest possible case for seeking asylum and face the greatest possible danger of persecution if returned to the country from which they came.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: Perhaps I may intervene to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The Minister will remember that last week there was an exchange between the Home Secretary and myself in which he expressed his feelings that anybody coming to this country ought to trust immigration officers, and indeed the whole process, sufficiently not to have to resort to any kind of deceit at the point of entry. That is the question at issue here and noble Lords opposite have talked in general terms about the reasons why people do not produce documents at that moment.
Let me share with the Committee one particular case which illustrates the difficulty in which so many people find themselves. I am a little reluctant to tell the story because, as the Minister said earlier this evening, there are matters of confidentiality. If I tell the story in general terms it will make the point. It concerns a
The case is still before the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I know that some noble Lords have been in touch with the Home Office about this particular case, but the point I am making is that, as I understand it, an appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal is not possible under the abbreviated procedure. Had that woman gone on to the fast-track procedure the appeal which is at present under consideration would not have been possible for her. That is one of the points at issue.
Baroness Blatch: As I understand it, in the case that the right reverend Prelate has referred to--if that lady were actually fleeing--first of all, she was not fleeing from a designated country, or one that it is not planned to designate. If she were fleeing from persecution and arrived in this country with a false passport, and explained why she had a false passport at the point of entry, there would be absolutely no threat to that lady at all. She would be decidedly helped from the moment of arrival if she claimed asylum and explained why it was that she had a false passport.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. In this particular case, because she had been advised not to say anything to immigration authorities she came into the country on the false passport and did not declare it at that moment. That is why she is now in such difficulties with her application.
Baroness Blatch: I have always thought it is more difficult to be deceitful than to be honest at immigration control. You have to have some courage to look people in the eye and lie to them. I regard that as being much more difficult when somebody is asking them questions.
As to the amendments, I have shown a degree of frustration about the organisation of these amendments. When I saw them this morning I found it almost inexplicable that we had separated out the amendments. We have an amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh, and Lord Dubs, who say remove paragraphs (a) and (b). We have another amendment which says just remove paragraph (a), and we have a third amendment which says just remove paragraph (b). They are exactly the same amendments; there is nothing different about them at all. I tried to have them discussed jointly and I was told that it was not
Article 31 of the 1951 convention says that we must not penalise refugees who enter unlawfully provided that they present themselves without delay. Clause 1 does not in fact penalise them. There is a crucial distinction between using false papers to flee the country of origin and using them to gain entry into this country. Sub-paragraph (3) is aimed at those who seek to frustrate our asylum procedures--not somebody else's--by withholding passports or passing off false documents.
It is that deception which is aimed at the United Kingdom, and not at their own country when they are away from the danger that they are fleeing. Asylum seekers who present themselves properly as required by Article 3 and who are honest with our immigration officials will not be adversely affected.
Reference has been made to Dr. al-Masari and to my colleague in another place, Ann Widdecombe. I can say that Ann Widdecombe is absolutely right in that Dr. al-Masari is, and was, an illegal entrant. He gained his passport and travelling documents by deception in the Yemen. He managed to come through immigration controls in this country with what looked like documents which were in order, but which turned out not to be in order. What we know of Dr. al-Masari is that he is not a shy, coy, retiring or traumatised gentleman; he is someone who could quite easily, at the point of entry, have sought asylum because he believed that he had a case for doing so. He could have admitted why it was that he had to acquire his documentation in that particular way, but he chose not only to deceive the Yemen, but also the authorities in this country.
Lord Avebury: The point I was making to the Minister was that he was perfectly entitled to obtain the documents as a means of escaping from Saudi Arabia. What I understand she is now criticising is the fact that he did not declare at once, at the port of entry, that the documents had been obtained in the manner she described. Does it really make any difference whether he said, at the instant of seeing the immigration officer, that that was how the documents had been acquired or that he said so 24 or 48 hours later, when obviously he intended to apply for asylum at the time he left the Yemen?
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