Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:48 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee 3:48 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, the tragedy was predictable and predicted. I really hope that nothing is off the table, but at the centre of it should be a commitment to and delivery of safe routes, including resettlements, with a good big target for that; expansion of the family reunion rules; humanitarian visas to enable people needing protection to travel safely; recognising, as does the refugee convention, that many asylum seekers have no option other than an irregular journey; and efficient decision-making, not blaming the asylum seekers for clogging up the system.

It distresses me how easily language is adopted. People are not “illegal” and neither is seeking asylum. The narrative is that the channel is full of people who should have known better, should have produced documents—leaving aside whether they are likely to have them—and should have booked a ticket on a regular flight. Are there flights from Iran, Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan? The narrative is also that they should have gone through one of the UNHCR or IOM schemes, which are good but inevitably too small.

We are told by the Home Secretary that 70% of those in the boats are young men who are economic migrants. My understanding is that these young men are often at particular risk or seeking to join family members, or they have travelled because they are more able than others in their family to cope with the appalling conditions in the miles and months on the way. They are not hulking young men. By the time they reach France they are often very skinny—or so I gather from the charities who want donations of small- size jeans.

I also understand that the number crossing the channel by all means in aggregate is broadly as it was. It is not a good number, but there we are. To quote directly from Home Office figures published today:

“In the year ending June 2021, Germany received the highest number of asylum applicants (113,625) in the EU+”— which is the EU plus the EEA and Switzerland—

“followed by France … When compared with the EU+”— as the Home Office calls it—

“for the year ending June 2021, the UK received the 4th largest number of applicants … This equates to 8% of the total asylum applicants across the EU+ and UK combined over that period, or the 17th largest intake when measured per head of population.”

We are 17th because so many stay in the countries they travel through or reach on the way, which are closer to their country of origin. Of course, this is not a matter only for the Home Office. There are also issues of climate change and unresolved conflicts, and upstream investment is essential.

I am not sure what the legal basis is for turning back small boats. We are told there is one, and my big question today is to ask the Minister to explain—if I say this is not an exam question, she will understand the reference to yesterday’s debate—the legal basis for turning back small boats.

Those who are so desperate as to pay smugglers are not accessories to the crime, although by being called criminals that is what they are badged as. How about advocating at home the benefits that refugees bring? They bring skills and diversity to our gene pool, which is good, like diversity in most things. Internationally, with France and globally—because we are global Britain, after all—we should be seeking co-operative, constructive partnerships in responding to refugees. I acknowledge that the EU was not notably successful at this when we were a member, but let us look to the future.

What are we doing with policy? The new plan for immigration has drawn such criticism from the UNHCR, to which the Government look to identify the refugees we will take.

I hope that the table will hold everything—everything according to the Prime Minister—and that it will turn into a new drawing board.