Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:03 am on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 11:03 am, 16th March 2018

If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention from the back of the class, he would have heard me say repeatedly that I support genuine refugees being sent to other countries to be looked after by Britain and our allies in the world. The trouble is that this system can be abused. That is why article 8 of the European convention on human rights provides a qualified right to respect family and private life. While this can be interfered with for the purposes of maintaining effective immigration controls, the interference must be proportionate. As refugees cannot easily return to their families, Home Office officials must already take respect for family life into account.

To continue my history lesson, which the hon. Gentleman is so much enjoying, a final EU agreement of note is the Dublin regulation, which prioritises respect for family reunion above certain other considerations, such as the state in which the refugee has initially entered the EU. The Government have supported this, announcing a £10 million fund to support the Dublin provision and seconding Home Office officials to France, Italy and Greece to improve the handling of Dublin transfer cases. However, it is again important to note that no automatic right of family reunion is conferred. These rules only determine which country a person can stay in while they await an asylum decision.

Here is the big problem that the Bill does not seek to resolve: the United Kingdom respects its obligations under international law—I have outlined them—but it is vital that other countries do so too, because at present they do not. Described as the “electronic centrepiece” of the Dublin regulations, Eurodac is the central system of fingerprints designed to document where all refugees have arrived. However, the police authorities in Germany have said that they could not keep up, and there has been a similar situation in Greece—in 2015, Greece estimated that more than a third of all the people arriving were not fingerprinted—and in Italy.

Greece and Italy have the highest number of people recorded under category 2—someone irregularly crossing the border, rather than an asylum seeker. After 18 months, category 2 data are erased, subverting the Dublin regulations and enabling people to apply asylum in another EU member state, even if they should not be entitled to do so. This is wrong, because Italy and Greece are safe countries. Any Opposition Member wishing to disagree with me about Italy and Greece being safe countries should take that up with the ambassadors from those countries. There is no reason for a genuine refugee fleeing horrific violence and persecution not to feel a flood of relief and a sense of safety on arrival in either country.

Obviously, for the avoidance of doubt, it is right for the United Kingdom to play our part, and we do. Perhaps the reason why so many of the arrivals are not registering their fingerprints and applying for asylum is that they are not refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria or elsewhere in the middle east, but economic migrants from countries further afield, perhaps in sub-Saharan Africa.