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Refugees

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:31 pm on 18th June 2002.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 8:31 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. I trust that the Government will give us a very positive reply and not just say that managed migration and resettlement, in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, depends, first, on new legislation and, secondly, on the provision of extra funds.

If joint plans for reception can be made with the UNHCR, this country will be seen to be taking, or at least trying to take, a fair share of the world's refugees. We will also receive genuine refugees, who have been pre-assessed. That will avoid the need for elaborate and costly assessments and appeals in the United Kingdom. Such a method would save much time and expense. If it could be applied, for example, to France—let us say in Paris—and there the UNHCR could shortlist genuine refugees who have good reasons for wanting to settle in England, many attempts at illegal entry through the tunnel or in small boats, with consequential deaths and disruption to freight traffic, might be prevented.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, I mention three principles that should guide us in considering both immigration and asylum. They are knowledge of the English language, close family relationships and connection with Britain.

It goes without saying that knowledge of English is the key to employability and integration into society. In the case of fiancees and spouses wishing to join people already settled here, priority could be given to English speakers. Provided that they have enrolled on an English course, grants might be made to those who do not speak English but are nevertheless admitted. A special situation would arise for people applying to enter in order to become leaders of religious communities. They will need to understand the local contexts in which they have to work and be able to communicate with other communities and authorities. For those reasons, it should be a condition of entry that they have at least a working knowledge of spoken English. Looking now to cases of asylum and exceptional leave to remain, a knowledge of English could be the deciding factor in borderline cases, and there are bound to be such cases.

Already, for many years the great majority of non-citizens admitted from overseas have been close family relatives. That is absolutely right and proper. It strengthens family units, which is declared government policy, and accords with the European Convention on Human Rights. I should like to see family reunion written into the new Bill, perhaps on the lines of the existing Canadian legislation of 1978. The principle of family reunion will, of course, embrace both ordinary immigration and asylum issues.

The third principle, which I mentioned earlier, is in connection with this country. That concept goes much wider than family ties. Some individuals may have spent time here, thus acquiring friends, or they may have been educated here. Alternatively, they may now be able to point to the existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic community in this country that is able to give support and acceptance to the newly-arrived immigrant or asylum seeker. Community support of that kind can make an otherwise painful reorientation very much easier. We have seen that process in action with Irish, Indian, African and Kurdish communities, to name but a few.

I commend these principles to the Government. I wish the Government well in their efforts to achieve a common European definition of a refugee and a real improvement on the existing Dublin Convention. I urge them to be bold with the new domestic legislation and, above all, to present both immigration and asylum to the public in the positive light that it deserves.

In conclusion, I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Will the Government, even at this late stage, give a lead that counters the vicious prejudices that have dominated the tabloid press for so long?