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Baroness Blatch: First, I hope that the noble Baroness will not patronise me by saying that I am just being loyal to my department. I am not just being loyal to my department. I am speaking very much as a believer in this piece of legislation. I care very much about genuine asylum seekers being treated fairly. I care passionately about making sure that they do the right thing. I am concerned also about the numbers of people who do, quite intentionally, deceive at the ports of entry to this country. It is partly for that reason that we are trying to eliminate the need for that.
Those people are considered quite separately. If I am coming through as a ordinary tourist and my passport is not in order or I do not have a visa, I should be treated, quite rightly, as though I am deceiving with intent. If somebody is genuinely fleeing persecution as in the case described by the right reverend Prelate--and that was a very serious case--there are two factors to take into consideration. It would actually be better to give an explanation at the port of entry. I just wonder about the person who has to deceive his way through the port of entry. Where does he go then? At some point he has to say: "I wish to have asylum." At some point he has to go to authorities to do that.
Secondly, it is very important to have advice. But that person's case will be considered substantively in any event, irrespective of how he passed through the airport, whether it was by using deceit. We are saying that for the purposes of the new procedures which are to be put in place, it is better that he should say at the point of entry that he is seeking asylum; that his documentation is not in order or does not exist at all; and give reasons for that.
We know that there are people who exploit the system. They remove passports quite deliberately on aeroplanes or boats. We know that people put them down toilets on aircraft because it is then more difficult to find out where they come from and who they are. We are trying to say that people should have an explanation why they either have no documentation or documentation which is not in order. We are simply asking people to tell the truth in their own interests.
As I said, we accept in principle that there will be circumstances in which genuine refugees will need to use false papers in order to flee a country in which they had a genuine fear of persecution. In this Bill, no adverse consequences arise for asylum seekers merely because they present an invalid or forged passport, provided that the applicant declares the forgery to the immigration officer. What is not acceptable is to pass off false documents as genuine. It is the inherent dishonesty which is the problem.
Those presenting false papers to our immigration officers are not doing so out of necessity. By definition, they have already fled the country in which they claim to fear persecution and such deception cannot be condoned. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which
Earl Russell: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness once again, but she said that she found it difficult to imagine a reason. Many people facing something more important than any court case in this country prefer to have an adviser to help to present their case. Is it or is it not a proper reason for preferring to make the application in the country rather than at the port?
Baroness Blatch: In the new procedures, we are saying that it is preferable not to continue to lie through immigration control, which those people must do if they are not going to admit that they have no documentation or forged or improper documentation. But even if they do not do that, as was the case of the lady mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, their case is still considered and they still have an opportunity to give the reasons why they did not do that. We are simply saying that in the new procedures, it is preferable for them to make that declaration at the port of entry. It seems extraordinary, as I say, that you need more courage to be deceitful than you do to be honest.
Subsection (3) will not prejudice the consideration of the asylum claim on its merits. If the claim is valid, asylum or exceptional leave will be granted, regardless of document abuse or deception used on arrival. As I have said, it will not penalise the genuine asylum seeker who has to travel with false papers provided that he is honest and declares the false papers on arrival.
Lord Avebury: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may correct her on a mis-statement that she made about the case of Professor al-Masari. She said that he was and is an illegal entrant. She is obviously unaware that her right honourable friend the Home Secretary has recently granted Professor al-Masari four years' exceptional leave to remain in this country. Therefore, he is not an illegal entrant. He is a person with leave to remain that has been granted in the most exceptional circumstances by the Secretary of State.
Baroness Blatch: If I may finish the point. What is also interesting is that having come through by deception--which is how he arrived at the port of entry--his case was considered and he was given exceptional leave to remain. He did not have substantive consideration, as the noble Lord knows, but nevertheless
Lord Avebury: Hansard will show tomorrow that the noble Baroness said that Professor al-Masari is, and was, an illegal entrant. She has now had to admit that he is not because since the Home Secretary gave him exceptional leave to remain he is here lawfully.
Baroness Blatch: He is, and was, an illegal entrant. That is how he entered this country. He came into the country illegally. I stand by the description that he came into this country illegally. "Entrant" is the word I used; he entered the country illegally. That cannot be changed just as we cannot change how we were born. He entered the country by deception.
Lord Dubs: I have listened hard to what the Minister has said. I am trying to disentangle the many elements in her arguments. Of course, no one is happy that people tell lies as a general proposition about human nature, but we live in a world where people are seeking safety and fleeing from distant countries. They have perhaps little or no knowledge of English. They are not graduates of a British or American university. They are not fluent at understanding what goes on in this country, yet we expect those people to understand the subtleties and nuances of our system of immigration control. I contend that that is unrealistic.
After all, the Minister said that people may, with their forged visas or forged passports, have crossed a number of frontiers. If people are to be expected to admit that their documentation is not proper, in the sense that it may have been forged to help them escape, the first point at which they would have to declare that is when leaving the country from which they are escaping. If they happen to get a flight out of the country to escape persecution, they ought, I suppose--by the Minister's own strictures--to say to the airline, "This is my passport and it is forged".
Of course, the Minister is not suggesting that. However, the fact is that people who are escaping from those countries are--because that is the nature of their dilemma--having to use forged documents, and are occasionally having to tell lies in order to get out of the country from which they are escaping. Such people have had to tell lies on a number of occasions, possibly even to officials at a British Embassy, to try to obtain a visa, but suddenly they arrive in Britain and instantly, as soon as they leave the 'plane and reach our immigration control at Heathrow Airport, they are supposed to change and start to tell the truth.
If such people have had to use deception all the way along the line to get out of their country, I contend that, much as I wish all human beings could always be honest, in that situation it is not surprising that they may not know that that is a point when they ought to be honest because it will help them with British immigration control. The normal human reaction would be to say, "Look, I have got this far with this document; let me get into Britain and then let me consider how to apply for asylum". That is the way most people would work. I suggest that if the Minister were in that position,
Baroness Blatch: I simply make the point that they have clearly travelled great distances, having used great ingenuity, both to escape in the first place and to come round the world. England is where they want to come. They have obviously chosen it as a haven. Having arrived here, we do not expect them to understand immigration law, but we do expect them to tell the truth. When they are asked why their documentation is not in order, it is actually more difficult--especially if there is a language problem, or if they are nervous or traumatised--to be deceitful about that than it is to be honest. They have arrived at the country they want to come to. That does not prevent them from receiving advice. They can of course take advice, but it is important that they are honest with the officials whom they have to meet at the airport or the port of entry.
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