Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


ASSISTANCE IN CASES OF TRANSIT FOR EXPULSION (10386/02)

Letter from the Chairman to The Lord Filkin, CBE, Under-Secretary of State, Home Office

  Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) considered this proposal at its meeting on 23 October.

  The Committee noted the Government's concerns about the implications of the measure for the United Kingdom as a major airport hub, but we did not find the reasons given in the Explanatory Memorandum entirely persuasive. The Committee agrees that, wherever possible, a direct non-stop flight should be used for expulsions—and the Government may wish to seek to write such a provision into the Directive—but this is likely to be the preferred option for all Member States anyway. They would choose to use a flight involving transiting another Member State only where a direct flight was not available. Secondly, the Government is concerned about the risk of further asylum claims or absconding en route. This is clearly a risk, but it is presumably the objective of the proposal to minimise it by introducing formal escorting procedures. The Committee accepts that there are likely to be resource implications (although existing procedures involving transit presumably give rise to some costs) but in the absence of any estimate of what they might amount to the Committee does not see this as a reason for rejecting the proposal.

  The Committee understands that the Government has not yet decided whether to opt in to the measure and will therefore hold it under scrutiny in the meantime and we would be grateful to be informed of any further developments.

28 October 2002

Letter from Lord Filkin to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 28 October. You have made several observations further to the Explanatory Memorandum dated 24 September, to which I would like to respond.

  Before addressing your specific observations, I thought it would be helpful to provide some information on the question of the UK's decision whether to opt into the initiative. The timetable for UK opt-in has been complicated by the fact that Germany had not formally presented this initiative before discussion of the document commenced within the Council. We are therefore not yet required to make a decision on the UK opt-in, and indeed it will not be possible to make such a decision until we see the shape of the formal proposal itself.

  As you are aware, the Government's policy approach to First Pillar, Title IV measures was announced to Parliament in March 1999. The UK looks to adopt a positive approach to participation in Title IV measures, provided that the measure in question is consistent with our policy of retaining frontier controls and discretion as to the persons admitted to our territory.

  We fully support the objective of increasing operational co-operation with EU partners on returns and would hope to be able to co-operate further on transit. However, as the Explanatory Memorandum explains, we do have some serious concerns with the current text of this transit initiative and the implications for the UK as a major airport hub. These concerns are legal, logistical and related to resources. Other Member States which host major airport hubs will be similarly affected.

  I note that the Committee concurs with the Government's view that, wherever possible, a direct non-stop flight should be used for expulsions. You further note that this is likely to be the preferred option for all member states. The Government is concerned, however, that as currently drafted, the existence of a direct route is not a reason to refuse transit. Transit may be preferred to a direct flight, if for example, the direct flights are infrequent, or if there are no seats available on a direct flight.

  You note that the Government is concerned about the risk of further asylum claims or absconding en route, that this is a risk, but that the objective of the proposal would be to minimise it by introducing formal escorting procedures. I agree that, whilst formal escorting may prevent absconding, it cannot prevent claims for asylum in the transit Member State. In addition, article 5(8) of the German proposal makes provision for unescorted transit operations.

  The Committee has acknowledged that there are likely to be resource implications arising from this proposal. The assistance expected of transiting Member States, set out in article 4, includes staff resources, medical care, food for returnee and escorts and the possibly detention facilities. In addition, as currently drafted, almost all of these costs are to be borne by the transiting Member State.

  We would hope to be able to co-operate with EU partners on transit, though we need to bear in mind the impact of such an initiative on the UK's capacity to implement its own removals. The final decision on whether the UK opts in will depend on the details of the proposal presented. We will keep you informed of further developments concerning this initiative.

15 November 2002


 
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