Asylum Seekers: Women — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 28th January 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 3:15 pm, 28th January 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to consult Asylum Aid about ways to improve protection and fairness for women asylum applicants and support provided for those who have suffered gender-based harm.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the UK has a proud history of offering protection to those who need it, male or female. Home Office officials regularly meet with Asylum Aid and recently discussed Asylum Aid’s Protection Gap campaign and other practical steps that can be taken to further improve the management of asylum claims from women.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the positive points in the noble Lord’s brief reply. Will the Government extend childcare to all women’s interviews, especially in London and Liverpool, where it is not available? Will they provide training on gender violence to interviewers and interpreters, as is already done for the police? Finally, will they explain to women applicants why choosing a woman interviewer or counsellor can be of benefit to them?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question and respect his long interest in this area and his work with female refugees. On his first point, we are very much open to reasonable suggestions as to how childcare could be improved. There are some practical difficulties on some of the sites, particularly in central London. As for having female interviewers, that is a very good step and we want to make progress on that. There is some practical difficulty over interpreters. I will get back to the noble Lord on his other points, if I may.

Photo of Lord Morris of Handsworth Lord Morris of Handsworth Labour

My Lords, what steps are being taken to ensure that the children of detained asylum seekers have access to a rounded education, including attending the local schools?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

There was a change in policy as a result of legislation that went through your Lordships’ House, which said that children cannot be detained in immigration centres. Where they are in centres because their parents are there, they are more likely to be put into places such as the Cedars, which is a family-based centre where education is available on-site.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Women for Refugee Women’s recent report highlighted how women held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre were continually humiliated by male staff while they were dressing, showering and using the toilet. Given the ongoing reports of unacceptable treatment of women for some years in this establishment, is it not time to put a stop to women in these circumstances—female asylum seekers who have been raped, trafficked, tortured and subjected to FGM—being held in detention centres?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are very clear that all female asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and respect. It is also true that when the Chief Inspector of Prisons visited Yarl’s Wood and produced his report, he found that it was a safe and respectful place. We have seen the report that was prepared. It contained some very disturbing accusations and we have asked its authors to share the sources of that information with us so that it can be properly investigated.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the noble Lord has tried to be positive in his response but these allegations are extremely serious. As the noble Baroness said, they often concern women who are fleeing sexual violence. The Government’s response to the allegations was to expect contractors, in this case Serco, to maintain the highest standards. Will the Minister accept that saying it does not make it happen? When the UN investigators are not permitted to go into Yarl’s Wood to see for themselves, that is something of a disgrace. Will the Government commit to a thorough, fully independent investigation into the circumstances at Yarl’s Wood as a matter of the utmost urgency?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Certainly, as we have said, if the information is supplied to us, it will be investigated very thoroughly indeed. The circumstances there have been subject to regular investigations by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. In relation to the UN rapporteur who asked to visit, that was very last-minute request. We had set up a very detailed programme, including meetings with the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Home Secretary, and had offered other meetings. We are open to further approaches in due course in the future.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

My Lords, is it not the case that in a number of instances the women who made these very serious complaints have been deported before they can speak properly to the investigators? Surely, that is not something that the Government condone.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, it is not, and that is why we want the information to be brought to our attention as soon as possible. We cannot act if it is not shared with us.