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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She carefully did not mention Switzerland. It has been found by her officials on occasion that Switzerland is not a safe third country.
Together with the European Union states, these states account at present for the majority of cases in which an asylum claim is made by someone arriving here from a third country where his claim could properly have been made and which is safe.
I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will not press his Motion. If he does so, I must urge your Lordships to reject it. The order before your Lordships is made pursuant to a power which Parliament enacted in July of this year. It will be for your Lordships to say later today whether the order should receive approval.
But the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in effect invites the House to invalidate the very power in law which your Lordships so recently passed. I do not believe that that is what your Lordships would wish to do. I am sure that, instead, your Lordships would wish to reaffirm your support for the power of designation. It is a sensible power which recognises the need to make progress in dealing with the large number of unfounded
I hope that the House will forgive me if I turn now to the order and do not treat it as a second debate. The order is constituted in two parts. First, it lists the countries of destination to be designated further to paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, as substituted by the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. Secondly, it specifies the countries to be designated as safe third countries further to Section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.
I have already explained today why we have proposed for designation Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Poland and Romania as countries of destination. I shall therefore confine myself now to introducing the second part of this order in respect of the designation of safe third countries.
The 1996 Act provided that in cases where the safe third country concerned is a member state of the European Union, applicants may exercise their right of appeal only after they have left the United Kingdom. It was necessary to make this change because delays caused by the appeal process were substantially impairing our ability to make removals in cases where we were satisfied of the safety of the third country.
Section 2(3) of the 1996 Act provides for the Secretary of State to extend this provision to non-European Union states. We indicated during the passage of the Act through Parliament that we were considering using this power to designate the United States of America, Canada and Switzerland. The order includes these countries and adds Norway. Together, these states provide at present the majority of cases in which an applicant for asylum here may more appropriately pursue that claim in a third country.
I should like now to turn to some of the individual points because they were very important. First, the point was made initially by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, by others and finally by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that somehow or other this was in breach of our international conventions. It is true that most refugees who are recognised will have been refugees from their applications. But the vast majority are not recognised and their appeals fail. So we do not accept that all applicants have to be treated as refugees from the outset. Nor do we accept that the order breaches Article 3 of the convention. I am afraid on that point we will have to agree to differ.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the position of children in Bulgaria. As the country brief on Bulgaria makes clear, the Bulgarian government appear to be committed to protecting children's welfare and the vast majority of children are free from abuse in society. We have no evidence that children in Bulgaria are at general risk of persecution. In this respect I thought that my noble friend Lady Rawlings made a powerful speech from her knowledge and experience of that country.
Our country briefs are based on information from a wide range of sources, again referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, including the UNHCR and Amnesty International, in addition to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which also give us information. The country brief on Bulgaria draws particularly on the United States departmental research, because it is clear from our consideration of the range of sources that this research is soundly based and provides an accurate picture of the conditions in Bulgaria.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon asked how we can designate countries and referred in particular to the Ahmadis. That simply goes to demonstrate that the principle of designation, which is the fundamental point of the debate, is that there should be no general risk of persecution, not that the country is universally safe or that no individual is ever persecuted.
Reference was made also to Karachi. I was asked about the communal violence and extra-judicial killings in the Karachi area. The security situation there continues to be kept under constant review but the violence appears to be confined to Karachi. It does not signify a general risk of persecution. Although most of Pakistan is relatively peaceful, over the past 18 months there has been serious violence in Karachi and elsewhere, as the right reverend Prelate said. The main reason for the violence is the confrontation between the MQM and the government but ethnic and sectarian violence is also a feature. On 20th September, Murtaza Bhutto, the estranged brother of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, died outside his Karachi home, caught in the cross-fire of police bullets. A period of unrest followed in which the supporters of the splinter faction of the PPP, which he formed, protested to government. Therefore, again, an individual coming from that country with a well-founded fear of persecution would be given full consideration for refugee status.
As regards the Ahmadis, at the initial stage of consideration of a case, all applications, including those from Ahmadis, are treated equally. If a well-founded fear of persecution under the United Nations convention terms is established, refugee status can be awarded. Should the case not be made out but it is felt that a certificate should not be issued, the adjudicator has the power to set aside the certificate and allow the case to go on for a tribunal hearing. If it is unfounded at the first stage and at the end of that stage the adjudicator has no difficulty in issuing a certificate, then the appeal judge, the adjudicator, can uphold that and that would be the end of the process.
Applications from Pakistan prove to be unfounded in a very high proportion of cases. In 1994, some 99 per cent of applications were judged to be unfounded and 98 per cent. in 1995. That high refusal rate continues. In general, there is no serious risk of persecution in Pakistan but while it is accepted that there is some discrimination and, indeed, harassment of Ahmadis and Christians, the two main religious minorities, it is not systematic or government-led or government-condoned.
My noble friend Lord Bethell asked a question about Cyprus. The designation of Cyprus means that applications from anywhere on the island, including that part controlled by the Turkish authorities, is included. We are aware of recent events in Cyprus. Again, that does not detract from it being generally safe. But an applicant coming from Cyprus who proves that he has a well-founded fear of persecution will be given very serious consideration for refugee status.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to appeals. We are entirely satisfied that the 10-day period for the determination of an appeal in a certified case is sufficient. Not all cases will be certified. As I have just said, it is open to an adjudicator not to agree with the certificate if he considers that it was wrong to have issued the certificate in the first place. He may also grant further time if he believes that it is needed and the applicant makes a good case for it. Again, each case will be looked at on its merits.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to a lack of information in the Indian country brief. The brief runs to 14 pages and deals in great detail with the institutions of India and with conditions in that country. We shall keep fluctuating situations under review.
The noble Earl referred also to the medical foundation's report on torture. It is recognised that there were severe disturbances in the Punjab in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But since then the situation has largely returned to normal. Therefore, it is unlikely that applicants now being considered for asylum would be able to demonstrate that they were still of interest to the authorities. However, in any event, under the 1996 Act certification would not be appropriate under the safeguards for applicants who have been tortured. That would be an overriding factor. The fact that an applicant had been tortured would override all those provisions whether or not he came from a designated country. Designation will not alter the way in which those cases are considered.
Reference was made to President Rawlings. President Rawlings received 58 per cent. of the vote in the November 1992 presidential election which was assessed as being largely free and fair by international observers. Parliamentary elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties with the result that the present government were elected almost without opposition.
Extra-parliamentary opposition from the parties which excluded themselves from the electoral process has been successful in challenging perceived unconstitutional actions and policies of the government through the courts. However, as regards the elections which are to be held in December of this year, the National Electoral Commission is eager to avoid the
The NEC has invited independent observers who will include representatives of the United Nations electoral assistance division, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, the ODA, which will send 10 observers, and the United States. Therefore, I believe that there is a real intention to ensure that democracy rules in that country.
The Amnesty International report of 1995 identifies possible prisoners of conscience but six of those mentioned--the Accra five and Karim Salifu Adam--have been charged with treason and committed for trial. All six have access to legal representation and their cases have attracted considerable attention in the free Ghanaian press. There is no evidence that the defendants in either case will be treated unfairly, illegally or extra-judicially or that, if found guilty, any punishment would be disproportionately severe.
I know that the altercation was friendly between my noble friend Lord Renton, because I know him too well, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, for whom I personally have the highest regard. Determination procedures are not weakened by these measures. Any person who has a well-founded fear of persecution from any country, including the designated countries, will be given full and substantive consideration. It is only following that substantive consideration that a certificate would be awarded and, as I have already said, there is power for the adjudicator to set aside the certificate if there is any doubt about the issuing of it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, referred to a possible extradition treaty with Pakistan. I assure the noble Viscount that any evidence of terrorist or violent activity by any person claiming asylum here is taken fully into account before any decision is taken. The noble Viscount will understand that I cannot comment on the details of a particular case which may still be under consideration.
On the particular matter of extradition, I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive my caution. I should like to talk to my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I shall of course write to him with a full answer to his question.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in a slightly taunting way mentioned Switzerland as did the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I believe that Switzerland is a safe country. It is possible for a country to be in general safe but for a particular individual to be a dangerous place. The point of these procedures is that if an individual has a well founded fear of persecution, even from a country that is regarded as being generally safe, that person must be given full consideration. I do not know of the particular case that has been mentioned, but it is possible that for that person Switzerland was considered not to be a safe place.
In referring to Pakistan, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, alleged conflict with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as regards Ahmadis. I believe I touched on that point but the noble Earl referred particularly to an article in the Independent newspaper of 14th October. There is no conflict between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this issue. We have always accepted that Ahmadis are subject to discriminatory legislation. But that legislation is not widely or systematically enforced. That was acknowledged in the Home Office assessment of Pakistan, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House. The numbers involved are relatively small. The human rights commission of Pakistan has confirmed that 144 cases are outstanding against Ahmadis under the blasphemy laws and 516 under other sections of the Pakistani penal code. All applications for asylum from Ahmadis are given careful scrutiny. Applications from nationals of designated countries will continue to be considered substantively and on their merits. If an Ahmadi met the convention definition of a refugee, asylum would be granted.
Noble Lords may be relieved to hear that I shall not go into any further detail about the countries concerned. We have made available to Parliament appraisals for each country. These explain why we are satisfied that the states meet the key criteria for designation; namely, that returned asylum seekers would be treated in accordance with the United Nations convention. The appraisals include a description of the countries' asylum laws and procedures. These are all states with long established and respected human rights records. I commend the order to your Lordships.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I begin by echoing the thanks expressed by my noble friend Lord Russell to the Minister for the patience with which she has listened to all the speeches made in this debate. She also had to deal with two Statements which came in the middle of the debate. I pay tribute to her stamina and patience and I thank her for the careful attention she has paid to all the remarks made. I thank also all those who have taken part in the debate. Their contributions have, I believe, vindicated the decision to place this Motion on the Order Paper, notwithstanding the rather synthetic amazement expressed by the Minister and by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. After all, if there is an
The Minister clarified certain points although she skated over others. She agreed that refugees will have been refugees from the outset if they are successful but she said that that did not mean that we should treat as refugees those who are still in the queue and whose cases have not yet been determined. I disagree with that because one does not know at the outset whether a particular individual will be successful in his appeal. Even if one says that 95 per cent. of those who come from a certain country have been refused in the past and those refusals have been upheld on appeal, I defy the Minister to say in advance which of the 5 per cent. will be successful. Therefore in order to comply with Article 3 of the convention, which has been discussed in detail today, one has to treat an applicant as if he were a refugee ab initio. If one does not do that, one risks violating the convention. If the noble Baroness has not taken that point on board as a result of this debate, she will be in difficulty and the matter will have to be referred to other authorities and in particular to those in the UNHCR who have the task of enforcing the convention.
The noble Baroness may have missed some of the points that were made. I hope that she will deal with them in correspondence. A point of great importance is the nature of the Home Office briefs. It emerged from the remarks that the noble Baroness has just made that the immigration and nationality department will take into account the fact that a country has been designated and will treat Home Office assessments as gospel as regards the conditions in the countries of origin when it evaluates individual claims. We have heard in this debate of serious defects in Home Office assessments. In one particular case--
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