Asylum Seekers — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 11th October 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell Baroness Bakewell Labour 2:46 pm, 11th October 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the number of asylum decisions overturned on appeal, in particular among female asylum seekers, what steps they are taking to ensure that women fleeing gender-based persecution receive fair asylum decisions.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government recognise that women can face particular forms of persecution that are quite often different from those faced by men, and are committed to ensuring that women's claims for asylum are dealt with as fairly and sensitively as possible. The UK Border Agency is working closely with a range of key corporate partners in developing improvements to the asylum system. This will increase gender awareness throughout the asylum process.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell Baroness Bakewell Labour

I thank the Minister for his reply, and for implying that there is still space for improvement. Perhaps he knows the case of the playwright Lydia Besong, who sought asylum here in 2006 having been imprisoned and raped in Cameroon for being a member of the Southern Cameroons National Council. She has been refused asylum and is under threat of removal. Does the Minister agree that women such as Lydia-and there are several-who suffer gender-related persecution should be protected rather than sent back to face further risk, and that early access to legal representation for appeal would reduce the costs of the asylum process?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, Miss Besong is a failed asylum seeker, having had her appeal and further submissions dismissed by the courts, not by UKBA. She became appeal rights exhausted this year and therefore subject to enforced removal action if she refuses to leave the UK voluntarily. On the noble Baroness's second point, about leaving it to appeal, it is open to legal and other advisers to introduce new evidence to the UKBA at any point between the original decision and the appeal hearing. Asylum could then be granted before the appeal is heard. It is not clear to me why this does not happen more often.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

Does the noble Lord accept that at the asylum stakeholders' meeting on 4 August the UKBA said that it had not released any victim of gender-based violence from the detained fast-track and did not consider it a reason for releasing a person? Is this not a breach of the undertaking that was given to the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe that:

"Particularly vulnerable applicants including ... victims of trafficking or sexual violence ... are not dealt with within the DFT process as a matter of policy"?

Does my noble friend accept that as the success rate of appeals by women against refusal of asylum is running at 50 per cent, it is clear that the improvements in procedures for dealing with gender-based violence in the criminal justice system have not read across to the UKBA?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think I have already explained why there can be very good reasons for the overturn rate at appeal. As regards the noble Lord's question about detained fast-track, I am confident that legal protections for the detainee must be in place, but I shall write to the noble Lord on that point.

Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench

My Lords, there were more asylum seekers in my previous constituency of Glasgow North East than in any other part of Scotland, with 90 per cent of the cases at my surgery being asylum seekers. They were made most welcome by some of the poorest communities in the United Kingdom, but should there not always be monitoring in these communities to ensure that enough resources are going in to help where there is strain on local health services, schools and housing departments?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about the need for care. One reason why you see concentrations of certain nationalities in certain places is that communities tend to become established, and it is natural for asylum seekers to go and join their own community in the UK.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the issue of gender. The running rate of 50 per cent of women succeeding in appeals, which is almost double that of men, is suggestive that there is poor decision-making and a culture of disbelief at the first instance in relation to women. Is that therefore not a signal, first, that there is poor training and, secondly, that there should be legal representation when the women are first interrogated and questioned because they are having to deal with sensitive matters such as sexual violence?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I largely agree with the noble Baroness. The problem is that the matters that the applicant has to explain to the UKBA officers are extremely sensitive and the applicant has not yet acquired confidence in the machinery of our state because the machinery of their home state has totally failed.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

Should there not be lawyers present?

Noble Lords:

Order!

Photo of Baroness King of Bow Baroness King of Bow Labour

My Lords, following on from the noble Baroness's point, is the Minister aware of Asylum Aid research which stated that there was a "striking failure" of understanding what was happening to these women on the part of those making the decisions? Would the Minister be prepared to meet me and other interested Peers to discuss how the UKBA training could be improved? Women deserve better than they are currently getting.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I entirely agree that women deserve better, and we are working at improving our performance. We are not saying that we are perfect but often new evidence is introduced at a later stage when the applicant becomes more confident or has better legal advice. I shall of course be delighted to have a meeting with all noble Lords who are interested in this matter and I shall take steps to make sure that that happens.