My Lords, failed asylum seekers are returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo only when we and the courts are satisfied that it is safe to do so. The Court of Appeal in December 2008 upheld the finding of the immigration and asylum Upper Tribunal that failed asylum seekers returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo were not at risk of persecution merely because of their involuntary return. Furthermore, inquiries made by the Foreign Office in Kinshasa have found no evidence that the returnees removed from the UK to the DRC have been mistreated. Nevertheless, each case will be considered on its individual merits.
My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group and welcome the Minister to her new responsibilities. This is the third time I have asked this question. Each time I have had the same ostrich-like unsatisfactory answer from two different Governments and three different Ministers. It is a real puzzle to me that the noble Baroness can give me these assurances if the Government and the border agency undertake no follow-up and rely for their information on those with whom those who return will not talk in the face of the information that they give to those with whom they have talked. Is the noble Baroness really up to speed with the number and consistency of reports of ill-treatment that constantly come back to this country and tally with the material about abuse and other things in the very country-of-information material of the Home Office itself?
My Lords, I am concerned to hear what the right reverend Prelate has said about his previous attempts to shine some light on this problem. Certainly, if through him or any organisation he puts the Home Office in contact with, there is evidence that needs to be examined or even re-examined, he has my personal assurance that that will be done.
Is there a policy of refusing DRC asylum seekers on the grounds that, although they might be at risk in certain areas of the country, they should internally migrate to somewhere else where they would be free of persecution? Can the noble Baroness remind us what the courts have had to say about this policy of internal migration?
My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend a factual account today of what the courts have said about internal migration because I have focused on what happens to returnees, and it was in that context that I responded to the right reverend Prelate. However, I give the noble Lord this opportunity, if he would like to take it. If he has evidence of a matter that we should be looking at as a Government, I will have it examined. I should add that I have had briefings that show that third parties, NGOs and others have brought cases to our attention but there has been no follow through yet in asking for specific evidence that we can investigate.
I can assure my noble friend that in respect of the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have no recent reports, from NGOs, the UNHCR or other such bodies, that remain to be investigated. Yet again, if there are internal reports that we should be made aware of, I would be interested to receive them because my understanding is that there is very thorough communication within the Democratic Republic of Congo and through our advice received in this country, and as yet I have seen no evidence of individual cases or trends that need to be looked at. I should add that a new report is coming forward this summer. It will be a year since we saw the last consolidated report, and it would be very helpful if that information was available to incorporate into the new report.
My Lords, this is Christian Aid week, and up and down the country large numbers of people are raising funds to alleviate poverty in the most needy parts of the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Is it not unfortunate in this of all weeks that any Minister should suggest a weakening of the commitment in the coalition agreement to enshrine spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas development aid? Is the Minister in a position to affirm that that commitment remains intact?
I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who I am very pleased to say I was able to work with on occasion in another place. I am able to give that guarantee on behalf of the coalition Government. That is the Government's stated position, and that is the policy we shall pursue.
My Lords, we take very seriously the question of children. It is a matter that, coming new to this brief, I particularly wish to focus on. We will do all we can because we realise that the wider family, and children in particular, are particularly affected, and it is very important that while we carry out the procedures that are necessary to assess asylum seekers' status, we take a humanitarian approach to the younger children.