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Baroness Blatch: I make no criticism of how he acquired the documents, but I do make a criticism of how he deceived the immigration officials in this country in order to gain entry. I also say that he is, and was, at the time, an illegal entrant. He arrived here and gained entry by deception and that is the point I am making. The reason I make that point is that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, criticised my honourable friend in another place for describing him as an illegal entrant. I join with my honourable friend in another place and make the same comment.
Baroness Blatch: I have made the point that Dr. al-Masari was not within the letter or the spirit of that article. He did not present himself without delay and he did enter by deception. Therefore, he did not give good reason as to why it was that he had documents which were not in order as he came through immigration at the port of entry. I have made the point that Article 31 does oblige us not to penalise somebody if they present themselves without delay and if they give good reason for having false documents, but he did neither.
Baroness Blatch: We are talking about the Bill. The amendments are about the new proposals that will be in place and that is the whole point of this debate. We have added two conditions for people to present themselves at the point of entry because we believe that is the fairest thing. It qualifies them to receive benefit and their cases will be considered substantively anyway. We believe that it is easier for them to be honest at the point of entry, having fled from danger in their own country, if that is what they have done. If they come here without documentation there should be some reason for it. That reason should be given at the point of entry. If they come with documentation that is not in order that should also be admitted at the point of entry and reasons given; otherwise, they have to resort to deception. In those circumstances, there is no way that they can pass through immigration unless they resort to deception. We are simply saying that they should not resort to deception.
Sub-paragraph (3) addresses a growing form of deception carried out by those who abuse our asylum procedures. In 1994 nearly 3,800 undocumented passengers applied for asylum on arrival at Gatwick, Heathrow and Dover. In 1995 this figure rose to over 4,800. But it is perfectly clear, from our close liaison with carriers and check-in procedures abroad, that the vast majority of passengers who arrive without a travel document would have been in possession of one when they embarked, either forged or genuine. They have therefore already successfully fled from their country, in which they claim to fear persecution. In concealing, destroying or disposing of their passport before presenting themselves to the immigration officer they are withholding crucial evidence from the United Kingdom authorities. Indeed, that is usually their
We have consistently made clear that we expect asylum seekers to be completely honest and frank with our immigration authorities on arrival in this country. Dishonesty and concealment damages credibility. Above all, it damages their credibility. Parliament has endorsed that principle, since it is already present in the immigration rules. Paragraph 341 makes clear that destroying, damaging or disposing of a passport, other document or ticket relevant to an asylum claim may damage credibility if no reasonable explanation is given. We accept in principle that there will be circumstances where a genuine refugee needs to use false papers in order to flee a country in which he has a genuine fear of persecution. Under the Bill no adverse consequences arise for the asylum seeker merely because he presents an invalid or forged passport, provided that the applicant declares the forgery to the immigration officer. But what is unacceptable, and casts doubt on credibility, is an attempt to pass off a fake identity or forged passport as genuine. It is the dishonesty inherent in such an attempt which triggers the accelerated appeal procedure. That is why we are unable to accept Amendment No. 13 that inserts a reasonable explanation caveat into subparagraph (3)(b).
Baroness Seear: There is insistence on honesty. At the point at which the immigrant steps off whatever he steps off will there be a notice in a language that he knows telling him that he has to be honest? I find it quite extraordinary that, having escaped from persecution and undertaken an appalling journey to get here, the first matter that people must think about is to be honest. Will people be told that?
Baroness Blatch: It is quite incredible to believe that there should be notices telling people not to lie as they pass that point. If somebody arrives at immigration or passport control he or she will be asked questions. The person either has documentation or does not have it. If not, it is important that the person gives the reason for not having it. If the person has false documentation and that fact is picked up at the point of entry it is important that the person should say so. We hope that as immigration officials ask these questions they will remind people that it is better to answer them honestly rather than that there should be notices that they should tell the truth as they pass through the gates. But people look immigration officials in the eye and pass themselves off in this way either by telling lies or by having false documentation that goes undetected. In many cases that is the intention, as I have just said.
Baroness Seear: I do not want to labour this point, but I find it quite incredible. One has escaped under very difficult circumstances; one has escaped from a country which is trying to persecute one; one is probably in a state of terror, this is one's last chance of surviving, and one is expected to arrive like a good schoolgirl and speak the truth like a good girl guide the moment that one comes into the country. I find it incomprehensible that anybody can believe this.
Baroness Blatch: The millions of people who come through our ports of entry every year are asked, as they pass through customs or through immigration, to give information. The most difficult part of the whole project for people fleeing persecution is to flee the country and to find a way to obtain some kind of document to get out of that country. They have managed to flee that country. They have travelled, very often, through a number of countries to come to this country. When they come to the port of entry the immigration officials will of course tell them that it is better to tell the truth. In relation to the millions of people who come through our major airports, to suspect that each one of them may be having a last chance of survival is quite extraordinary for all the people who have to deal with them. When the immigration officials are questioning somebody who has documentation that is not correct, just as in the case of the customs officer, when he looks us in the eye and asks: "Have you anything to declare?", it is actually better that you tell the truth rather than be dishonest with them. You do not have notices up simply saying: "Tell the truth when you are asked the question."
It is an extraordinary thing, but immigration officials will clearly remind people that when they are being asked a question it is better for them, particularly if they are seeking asylum, to tell the truth at the point of entry. That is better than having notices up in the many different languages which would be needed at Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport or Stansted Airport. I do not know how many languages are spoken by people coming through those airports, but I suspect that if it is not many hundreds, it is certainly many tens of languages. It is very difficult. There is an expectation that people should be honest as they come through the ports of entry.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may make one final appeal to the Minister on this issue. I do appreciate that she is very loyally arguing the case for her department. The kind of example given by the right reverend Prelate and one with which some of us--I am sure, also, the Minister--are familiar is where somebody is in a state of desperation. He may have lost members of his family; he may have lost all his family. He may have been tortured, beaten and detained by police. He may know very little about the United Kingdom.
Such people come here and they are faced with men and women in uniforms who look very much like the people who have beaten them up, tortured them or raped them. We know that they are not like that, of course, because we live in this country, but the asylum seekers do not know that they are not like that. To them, they are just another set of officials. They are terrified. They want to survive. They have had a very tough experience.
I know that the Minister is a lady of compassion and I ask her to consider whether it is really fair to apply to such a person the tests that would be applied to, for example, a tourist coming here from a safe country to enjoy a couple of weeks looking at our heritage.
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