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Iraq: Displaced Persons

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): In the event of military action and significant population movements in Iraq, we would expect the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to be the lead international agency in assistance to internally displaced people and UNHCR to lead an assistance to refugees. The Department for International Development (DfID) is holding regular discussions with these and other international

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organisations about their contingency planning. Estimates of the numbers of people who may be displaced vary according to a range of different scenarios, and plans are being developed accordingly. UNHCR's planning covers all of Iraq's neighbouring countries. DfID is a regular contributor to ICRC's annual Iraq emergency appeals, and has given it £1 million for its 2003 appeal. DfID has also supplemented its core contributions to UN agencies with an additional £3.5 million of funding to date to support UN humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq, including for UNHCR.

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council, 27–28 February

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the outcome was of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 27–28 February and what their stance was on the issues discussed. [HL2105]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Lord Filkin represented the United Kingdom at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels on 27–28 February.

The A points were approved as in document PTS A 8 (6756/03) (a copy has been placed in the Library) with the exception of point 3.

The Council discussed the draft Council decision on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. Member states remained divided on whether refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection should receive equal treatment on family unity (Article 21), access to employment (Article 24), social welfare (Article 26) and healthcare (Article 27). The Presidency reminded member states of the undertaking made at the Seville European Council to adopt the text by June.

The Council reached a general approach on the draft Council directive on the right to family reunification subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion and one parliamentary scrutiny reserve. The UK has not opted in to the adoption of this measure.

The Commission set out its ideas for strengthening of the procedures for passport control at the Schengen entry points, designed to tighten existing controls on the entry of third country nationals at Schengen borders. Two member states presented a joint paper on the future use of biometrics in visas and residence permits. Lord Filkin stressed the importance of work in this area being carried out in line with existing international standards. He also invited the Commission to examine ways of using Eurodac data to assist in identifying those who overstayed in the Schengen area.

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The Commission gave a short presentation of the forthcoming feasibility study on improving sea-borders control, proposing the creation of three maritime zones covering the western, central and eastern Mediterranean.

This was followed by an orientation debate concerning the effectiveness of financial resources available at Community level for dealing with migration issues. Lord Filkin called for appropriate budget and burden-sharing mechanisms and urged the Commission to produce its report on burden-sharing before June. One member state called for an increase in the Community budget to support JHA-related work on burden sharing, while two others argued for restructuring of the European Refugee Fund to allow money to be used for repatriation measures.

During the open debate on fighting organised crime in the western Balkans the Presidency underlined its commitment to action in the Balkans and the need for concrete follow-up to the London conference on organised crime in South East Europe. The Presidency also reiterated the view that responsibility for change rested with governments in the region. Lord Filkin focused on the need to move from rhetoric to action, to implement the commitments made at the London conference and to develop appropriate mechanisms to monitor progress. He also underlined that countries in the region must co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Other member states highlighted the importance of reinforcing the rule of law, the creation of stable institutions and of increased police co-operation in response to the trafficking of drugs and people through the Balkans.

The Council suspended negotiations with the US on the draft agreements between the EU and USA on judicial co-operation in criminal matters and on extradition which remained subject to a reservation by one member state. The Presidency undertook to prepare documents for member states' use for the purpose of consulting their national parliaments on the proposed agreements.

The Council discussed the outstanding issues on the draft framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia. There was agreement that the scope of offences in Article 1 should not include acts directed against a group of persons defined by reference to their "belief". However, a recital was proposed explaining that the use of the word "religion" could include persons "defined by reference to their religious convictions or belief".

Member states remained divided on the scope of criminal liability in Article 8. Four delegations favoured the inclusion of a provision obliging member states to derogate from dual criminality for mutual legal assistance in relation to offences of racism and xenophobia if they applied the stricter test for criminal liability. The UK and five other member states opposed. Lord Filkin reiterated the need to strike a balance between effective measures on racism and xenophobia and freedom of speech; he noted that improvements to judicial co-operation arrangements

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should be pursued through mutual recognition initiatives.

The Council discussed a list of offences for which cross-border fines would be enforced in the absence of dual criminality in the draft framework decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties. A majority of delegations, including the UK, were content to use the list adopted for the European arrest warrant, adding road traffic offences and six other types of conduct. However, one member state said that the European arrest warrant list was unsuitable for this instrument and three others had reservations on the inclusion of specific offences.

The Council reached a general approach on the draft framework decision on attacks against information systems subject to consideration of the recitals, the European Parliament's opinion and parliamentary scrutiny reserves from five member states.

Under "Any Other Business", the Commission gave a progress report on the implementation of the Afghan Return Programme. Voluntary returns were due to commence on 1 April 2003. Over lunch, the Commission reported on negotiations with Switzerland for its participation in Schengen arrangements. There was also a discussion of current counter-terrorism arrangements, including the role of Europol.

Asylum Applicants Claiming Iraqi Nationality: Language Testing

Lord Christopher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether language tests are in place to test asylum applicants claiming to be of Iraqi nationality.[HL2106]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In the light of concern that some asylum applicants from other countries are posing falsely as nationals from Iraq, we have decided to pilot language analysis testing for use in cases where appropriate when a person claiming Iraqi nationality applies for asylum. Language testing arrangements in such cases will start on 12 March 2003 and continue for an initial period of one month.

The purpose of language analysis is to provide expert evidence which helps to identify the place of origin of asylum seekers. Language analysis is used in a number of European countries, and the results have been generally successful. In the UK, language analysis has been used already in the case of asylum claims made by nationals claiming to be from Afghanistan, Somalia or Sri Lanka. It was found to be a valuable aid in the asylum consideration process, clearly identifying in many instances that the applicant was not of the nationality he or she claimed to be, or not from the area of the country from which they claimed to originate. Language anaysis also benefited genuine applicants by confirming the information they gave about their nationality.

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The extension of language testing to nationals from Iraq is being given legal effect today by an authorisation made by myself under section 190 of the Race Relations Act 1976. Where there are objective reasons for doubting the nationality of a person claiming to be from Iraq, the authorisation will enable staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to request the applicant to undertake a further interview which will be taped and sent to a language expert for analysis. Individuals may refuse to consent to this further interview (which will be conducted at the initial screening stage), but this refusal can be taken into account when determining whether the applicant has established the facts of their case. This may lead to their claim being refused.

We will review the need for this further authorisation later in the year. Independent scrutiny of the likely effect of authorisations made by Ministers and how they are operated in practice by officials is exercised by the Race Monitor, Mary Coussey, who reports to Parliament via the Secretary of State.

A copy of the additional authorisation has been placed in the Library of the House. Any additional or amended authorisations will also be placed in the Library.

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