Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 4:07 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, in following the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Lilley, I want to question one of many points from each of them. The noble Lord, Lord Green, contrasted the people coming across the channel with what he called genuine refugees. Can the Minister confirm the government figures that I have seen that say that the majority of people coming across the channel are granted refugee status? So the noble Lord’s comparison should not be made. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, quoted the number of applications for US visas from a significant number of countries. None was on the list of the main countries from which the people crossing the channel have come. His figures are therefore entirely irrelevant to this debate.

I want to make three points in the brief time available to me. The first is about practicality. A lot of our discussion in this debate focuses on what we can do to stop the boats. Of course we do not want anyone crossing the world’s busiest shipping channel in inadequate, flimsy vehicles. However, I go back to a bleak January day in 2016 when I went to the memorial service for a 15 year-old Afghan boy called Masud who died in the back of a lorry while trying to get across the channel to join his sister here in the UK.

In the year to that death, about a dozen refugees died trying to cross the channel in the back of boats, on trains and through other vehicles. At that time— five years ago—there were almost no crossings. Those routes, through a combination of Covid and government action, have essentially been closed off, so people have taken to the boats. If the Government could somehow just snap their fingers and stop the boats, desperate people who have ties to the UK, such as the Afghan soldier documented in the Times this morning, would still seek to come here. The odds are that those routes will become more and more dangerous, and, as several noble Lords have said—I associate myself with essentially everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—at great profit to nasty, illegal criminals.

There has been a lot of discussion about so-called pull-factors. It is worth looking at what we actually do to the refugees who arrive here seeking to exercise the right to which they are entitled. We often detain them indefinitely, in a way that no other European country does. We often reject their applications when we should not. Three quarters of rejected claims are appealed, a third successfully. I have seen the great difficulty in taking on those. I have no doubt that many more should be upheld.

Unlike many other countries, we do not allow people seeking asylum to work while their claims are being processed. According to the latest figure, from September, 67,547 claims are awaiting decision—up 41% year on year and the highest figure on record. Refugees, who are often victims of human rights abuses and have had to flee in the most desperate circumstances and in the most awful conditions, are trapped in limbo for years. They are living on an absolutely inadequate sum of money in frequently horrendous accommodation. There is no pull-factor there.

Finally, we must consider how many more people might seek to come because of our actions and policies. I will highlight two points. The first is the recent slashing of official development assistance. The other is the failure of the COP 26 climate talks, of which we were chair, to secure any funds, beyond a contribution from Scotland, for what is known as loss and damage. These funds are reparation for the climate damage caused by our actions that is impacting on people’s lives and making it impossible for them to live in their own country.