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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Dublin Convention is intended to provide a clearer system of determining who was responsible for considering the claim in the first place. Then it provides a mechanism to resolve disputes in those cases, which is important. However, even the argument put by the noble Baroness is not an argument for saying that in every case where there is to be a third country removal there must be at the outset, even before one can remove somebody to a third country, a written undertaking that it will consider the claim.
Amendment No. 28 would introduce a requirement for the Home Secretary to certify that there was a written agreement between the United Kingdom and the third country in question that it would not remove the applicant until his United Kingdom appeal had been completed. The Government have repeatedly made clear that they believe that that would be an unnecessary and unrealistic requirement to impose. It is unrealistic because no third country would be prepared to accept such an obligation. We would not be prepared to do so if other countries asked us. The amendment would therefore also bring third country removals to a halt.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she understand that the point at issue is not whether the country is generally safe but whether it will admit the particular asylum seeker to its processes?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no. As I understand it, the amendments concern accepting undertakings about what another country will do in the case of that person being returned. We are saying, first, that we do not believe that that is desirable or necessary and we believe that trying to get such assurances in advance would bring to a halt that part of the asylum procedure whereby we want to remove someone to a third country. The noble Baroness continues to cite the Dublin Convention. My understanding is that failure to respond within three months makes the third country responsible, not the United Kingdom.
There are circumstances where it would be quite reasonable and proper for the third country to remove the applicant under its asylum procedures. As I said, it also has obligations under international law. If a safe third country had evidence that a fourth country was in fact responsible for considering the asylum claim, it would be entirely proper for it to remove the applicant to that fourth country. Alternatively, if it considered an asylum application substantively under its own accelerated procedures, established that the applicant was not a refugee and refused asylum, it would be perfectly proper for it to initiate removal action. The third country would have established that the applicant was not in fact a genuine refugee, so there could be no breach of the non-requirement obligations under Article 33 of the convention. In both those examples the third country would have acted lawfully and responsibly.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the refugee legal centre, which claims that 40 per cent. of third country appeals are successful. Perhaps I may say, first, that 96 per cent. of third country refusals concern people who have entered the United Kingdom from a member state of the European Union. It is absurd that applicants should be able to delay removal by arguing at appeal the inherent safety of other European Union countries as safe havens for asylum seekers. The great majority of findings by adjudicators have supported the Home Office view that countries like France and Germany are safe.
The analysis of third country appeals by the Refugee Legal Centre last year does not support the claim that 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. of such claims are successful. On the contrary, the Report shows that 61 per cent. of third country appeals are dismissed and 22 per cent. are referred back for reasons other than inherent doubts about the safety of the third country.
It confirms also our assessment that doubts about admissibility owing to the passage of time are a major factor in referrals. Indeed, our assessment is that that has now become the most common reason for referral. Only 16 per cent. of the Refugee Legal Centre's samples were referred back because of doubts about the safety of the third country.
While the Government believe that multilateral agreements can be useful and look forward to the ratification of the Dublin Convention, they are firmly of the view that in order to operate an effective third country policy it is vital that we can remove applicants without prior consultation provided that we are satisfied that the third safe country criteria in Clause 2(3) are met. I ask the House to reject the amendment.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, listening to what the Minister said, the plight of asylum seekers seems to be akin to chess pieces being pushed around a chess board. These are human beings like ourselves who have been, in many instances, caught in very unfortunate and dangerous circumstances in their own countries and who are seeking safety somewhere else in the world. The thought that they can be moved around like pieces on a chess board because that is the way in which the system works better seems to me to be at the very least insensitive to what some of these asylum claimants have gone through before they arrive in this country or somewhere else in Western Europe.
Therefore, I do not believe that it is absurd that there should be arguments and claims, because people are fearful, not of being sent from Britain to France, but of what is to happen to them ultimately. That is what the two amendments are about. It is the ultimate fate of those individuals which concerns them and which concerns us, not the fact that they may be sent to another country which is safe. The problem is that they may end up in a country that is not safe. That is the purpose of these amendments.
I shall now deal with some of the specific points. I agree that the majority of safe third country removals will, in the first instance, be to another member of the European Union. But according to the Minister's own figures, 4 per cent.--I hope I have that right--will be returned to a country outside the European Union. That is not many people but it is still a significant number. It means that there are 4 per cent. of asylum seekers who have come from a country outside the European Union who will be returned to a country which is not within the scheme of the Dublin Convention, and possibly with fewer assurances as to their safety than they would have if they were returned to a country like Belgium or France. That is one area of concern.
Secondly, reference has been made to the Dublin Convention. We do not yet have that convention. It has been awaiting ratification by the European Union for five years. The Minister said that she hopes that it will be ratified during the course of the Irish presidency. That is fine. For all its faults, I believe that the Dublin Convention will clarify matters as regards movement within European Union countries.
But it is not appropriate for us to say that this amendment is not needed because the Dublin Convention will soon be in place. We cannot sit back and leave it to the Dublin Convention because that may not happen during the Irish presidency. It has been delayed on a number of occasions before and it is not reasonable to wait.
After all, the Government have similar provisions with regard to the housing of asylum seekers in two pieces of legislation before Parliament at present--the Asylum and Immigration Bill and the Housing Bill. That has been done because the Government wish to make sure that the housing aspect in relation to asylum seekers will be dealt with by the first piece of legislation to reach the statute book. The Government are backing both Bills to achieve certain ends, which I regret, and the space between the two Bills will be only a matter of weeks. Therefore, it is not right to say that we can sit back and wait for the Dublin Convention.
The Minister gave three examples, which I think were all hypothetical--and her excellent civil servants in the Home Office must have been working overtime to provide her with some of this material, I must say. She mentioned the situation of somebody being returned to France and the French Government would allow that individual to stay in France and not consider the asylum claim. I understand that and I suppose to that extent there is a technical defect in the amendment, but the spirit of the amendment would have been met if the wording had been along the lines of,
Her second example was that the individual might be sent from France to Germany because the individual had spent some time in Germany prior to going to France and then from France to here. I think that is the essence of our concerns, because it would be from France to Germany and then from Germany to where? The danger is, as I said earlier, that the asylum seeker may find that no safe country will consider his claim so that in the end he will be shuttled back to the country from which he first came. That is the problem. Otherwise, provided that the asylum seeker is safe, we are not going to become over-concerned, although there are some anxieties which subsequent amendments will deal with. However, we shall not be over-concerned provided the person is safe. The concern is entirely that the person may not be safe. What happens when he is sent from France to Germany and then from Germany elsewhere? The last solution was that he might be shuttlecocked back to us, and then we have the miserable situation of them being moved backwards and forwards with no government being willing to take them.
I am not happy about what the Minister has said. I am sorry she could not give us any comfort at all, because from what she said earlier the Government accept the basic principle that asylum seekers should have rights under the Geneva Convention. However, the