Asylum Seekers

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 12:00 am, 30th March 1998

If he will make a statement on procedures for dealing with political refugees. [35172]

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Applications for asylum are considered in accordance with the criteria set out in the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

Is it really the case that third world refugees who apply for asylum and have been sent to Britain from Belgium and France are not permitted to be sent back to Belgium or France if we find them unsuitable? Is not that a scandal? Where does that rule come from? Can the Government do something about it? I do not want to make a political point, as I appreciate that these Euro rules come up no matter who is in power, but can the Minister at least say how this can be sorted out? Does not it cost the Government a great deal of money, and is it not nonsense?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: it is a shambles and a disgrace—and one which we inherited. It is partly due to the Dublin convention of 1991, which was signed up to by the previous Government and was clearly inadequately negotiated. That convention has caused enormous problems in sending some people back to claim asylum in the European countries where they should be claiming it. The convention came into force in September last year and has caused us many difficulties and made the way in which refugees are dealt with a lot more hazardous. If he wants to blame someone, they are all sitting over there, on the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

Does my hon. Friend agree that the present situation with regard to asylum seekers is ludicrous? Genuine asylum seekers face huge delays, as do those whose claim may not succeed under the convention. Perhaps he will comment on the case of my constituent, Mr. Din, who applied for asylum in 1991, but was not even interviewed until 1996. His application was refused in 1997, but, because of delays, he is still awaiting an appeal. In the meantime, having lived here for so long, he has married a disabled woman who is dependent on him for support. Will my hon. Friend ensure, as part of the review, that claims to remain on some other basis are examined rather than there being continuing delays in the asylum process?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Individual cases will be considered on their merits, but my hon. Friend is quite right to point out that her constituent and 9,999 or so others have been in the backlog since before 1993. We inherited that backlog. Our aim is to protect the integrity of the asylum system to ensure that we protect genuine refugees and tackle the problems caused by abusive asylum seekers.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

If he will make a statement on the detention of asylum seekers. [35173]

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

No one is detained merely because he has sought asylum. The Government's position is that detention should be used very sparingly and normally only where there is a reasonable belief that the individual will fail to keep the terms of temporary admission or release.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

Does the Minister accept that our practice of detention, including that at Campsfield house in my constituency, has been criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, among others? Will he accept also that the chief inspector of prisons inspected Campsfield house in mid-October, submitted a draft report to the Home Office in mid-November and that a final report was sent on 19 January, which has not been heard of since? Will the Minister explain why that report has not been published? Will he write to the chief inspector of prisons today, giving him permission to publish this long-awaited report so that my constituents may have some relief from some of the bad practices in our detention centres?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I regret that the hon. Gentleman has not approached the Campsfield house report very sensibly. My officials received the final report of Her Majesty's inspector of prisons on the Campsfield detention centre on 16 March. I read the report over this weekend. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has not seen it yet. We shall publish the report after Easter due to Sir David Ramsbotham's, and my, holiday commitments. The inspection was carried out at my request and I intend to get the report into the public arena as soon as is reasonable and practicable.