Amendment 47

Nationality and Borders Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 2nd March 2022.

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Baroness Ludford:

Moved by Baroness Ludford

47: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—“Refugee family reunion(1) The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of the date of the passing of this Act, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the “immigration rules”) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) to make provision for refugee family reunion, in accordance with this section, to come into effect after 21 days. (2) Before a statement of changes is laid under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult with persons he or she deems appropriate.(3) The statement laid under subsection (1) must set out rules providing for leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom for family members of a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection.(4) In this section, “refugee status” and “humanitarian protection” have the same meaning as in the immigration rules.(5) In this section, “family members” include—(a) a person’s parent, including adoptive parent;(b) a person’s spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner;(c) a person’s child, including adopted child, who is either—(i) under the age of 18, or(ii) under the age of 25 but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum;(d) a person’s sibling, including adoptive sibling, who is either—(i) under the age of 18, or(ii) under the age of 25, but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum; and(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State may determine, having regard to—(i) the importance of maintaining family unity,(ii) the best interests of a child,(iii) the physical, emotional, psychological or financial dependency between a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and another person,(iv) any risk to the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of a person who was granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, including from the circumstances in which the person is living in the United Kingdom, or(v) such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(6) For the purpose of subsection (5)—(a) “adopted” and “adoptive” refer to a relationship resulting from adoption, including de facto adoption, as set out in the immigration rules;(b) “best interests” of a child must be read in accordance with Article 3 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would make provision for leave to enter or remain in the UK to be granted to the family members of refugees and of people granted humanitarian protection.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, the Ukrainian family scheme drives a welcome coach and horses through the usual Home Office approach to refugee family reunion, which is to oppose anything but a very narrow definition of “family”. The Home Office, in my opinion, seeks to restrict this safe route very considerably. As I understand it, the new scheme would allow children as well as adults to sponsor parents, grandparents, siblings and their immediate families, as well as allowing adults to sponsor their children over 18. It does not go as far as Amendment 48 from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in including, for instance, reunion with an aunt or uncle, and I look forward to him speaking to that amendment.

The Ukrainian family scheme is not the normal, routine Home Office approach. That approach was expressed at Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on refugee family reunion, and in Committee in response to my amendment, which was essentially the text of that Private Member’s Bill, as is Amendment 47 today.

In Committee on this Bill, the Minister said that the Home Office recognised

“that in some cases there will be exceptional and compassionate circumstances which warrant a grant of leave” for the purposes of family reunion and that the guidance on exceptional circumstances would be “published in due course”. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made in publishing that guidance? Yet again, as so often, the basis of the policy is just the exercise of discretion. It does not give certainty.

The Ukrainian family scheme is of course welcome, but in its recognition that, having fled to safety, refugees need their families, it should be a precedent, not an exception. As to allowing children to bring in family members, the Minister said at Committee stage of this Bill that

“noble Lords will at least grant that I have been consistent in opposing that sort of policy, because of its negative consequences”,

which, she claimed would creative incentives for children to be encouraged and forced

“to leave their family and risk extremely dangerous journeys to the UK in order to sponsor relatives.”—[Official Report, 8/2/22; col. 1474.]

In fact, it is the lack of safe routes such as family reunion that force dangerous journeys. Families Together, the coalition of 90 NGOs, talks about how the existing rules mean

“that those family members who have become separated but are not covered by the rules are left with the invidious choice of staying put in insecure and dangerous places or embarking on treacherous, expensive, unregulated journeys.”

I agree with another NGO, the excellent Safe Passage, that:

“Safe routes save lives, reunite families and support refugees to rebuild their lives … welcomed by our communities.”

I hope that the Government will take the precedent of the Ukrainian family scheme and widen it out to their family reunion policies. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 48 in particular. I say at the outset that I am grateful to the Minister for the trouble she has taken to give me a chance to talk to her and her officials about the clause and the Government’s view of it. Although I do not think that either of us was persuaded by the other as a result of our conversation, nevertheless I am grateful for the trouble she went to.

I want to just say a word or two about the background. Until we left the EU we had the benefit of the Dublin treaty, particularly Dublin III. To summarise, the benefit of that was that a refugee child or a child claiming refugee status could seek to join a relative living in this country. For example, a Syrian boy in France could apply to join an uncle in Birmingham or Manchester. That worked fairly well. The figures show that it was quite successful and it was an important part of reuniting families.

When we were concerned that Brexit would put an end to all this because the Dublin treaty would no longer apply, this House passed an amendment to the 2017 legislation so that the Government would negotiate to continue the family reunion provision after we left the EU. That was passed by this House on a vote, it was eventually accepted by the Government in the Commons and it became the law of the land. Then came the 2019 legislation and the Government took the provision out again, for reasons we never understood. Many of us were alarmed that something that had been passed could just be reversed, as it were, by other legislation.

Partly to conciliate me, I think, the Minister arranged a meeting. I was quite surprised that there were three Government Ministers and seven officials at the meeting, and me: it was sort of 10 to one. The effort was made to persuade me that everything would be all right under the then Immigration Rules. The then Immigration Minister was Brandon Lewis. He looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t you trust me?” I found this quite difficult. I said, first, “There is no guarantee you will stay in your job for very long.” Indeed, within weeks he was promoted to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Secondly, I said, “I may trust you personally but I don’t trust the Government.” I am afraid that is still my position on this legislation.

What we have is a less than satisfactory provision for family reunion under the Immigration Rules as they now stand. All the evidence is that it is not working. For example, according to Safe Passage, with which I work very closely, it is clear that since the Dublin III arrangements ceased very few children have managed to join their families here. Although the amendment goes a bit wider than children, essentially the main thrust of it is to enable children to join relatives.

Under the Dublin treaty provisions, 90% of these applications were accepted and in 2020 Safe Passage had 134 successful cases. Since the end of Dublin III and the provision being taken out of the 2019 legislation, Safe Passage has had 24 family reunion cases, and decisions from the Home Office on nine of those. Of those nine, seven were refusals: three from Greece, three from France and one from Belgium. Two cases were accepted, both from Greece.

We have seen a dramatic decline in the ability of young people on the continent to join their relatives here on the basis of refugee status. It has been a very difficult situation and, much as I wish to be brief, I want to give one or two examples. There have been no successful applications from France. I will briefly quote some of the reasons that have been given. The Home Office has argued that a child being alone in France or Greece is not a “serious and compelling circumstance” to warrant entry clearance to the UK. Safe Passage believes that a child being unaccompanied and separated from family should surely be a serious and compelling circumstance.

In the case of one unaccompanied child, the Home Office responded:

“You currently live in a shelter for unaccompanied Minors with psychological support. I note you have provided no evidence why this arrangement cannot continue or any serious and compelling considerations in your case.”

You have to stay there. There is no future; you cannot join your family.

I have one or two more to quote before I finish. In another instance, the Home Office said:

“From the evidence provided it is noted that you are currently receiving ongoing care” in a shelter for unaccompanied children

“and no evidence has been provided to suggest this care arrangement can no longer continue … you have evidenced no serious or compelling circumstances to show that your life cannot continue how it is now.”

What are we saying? We are saying that a child should stay in some sort of institution and cannot join their family member in this country. For heaven’s sake, what is all this about?

In another instance, the Home Office said:

“Whilst we sympathise with people in difficult situations, we are not bound to consider asylum claims from the very large numbers of people overseas who might like to come here”— ha, ha—

“those who need international protection”— now we hear it again—

“should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach—that is the fastest route to safety.”

I have met young people in Calais and in Greece who desperately want to join their family, often siblings, here. If they cannot do that, they do what any of us would do in that situation: they find another way of getting here to join their family. If the choice was between staying in some hostel, as the Home Office refers to; staying in the conditions in the camp in Moria, on Lesbos—it burnt down, but the situation there is still similar; sleeping under the trees and tarpaulins near Calais; or finding another way of getting to this country to join your siblings, we would do it. They will do it. It is no wonder.

When we still had the Dublin III arrangement, I went to Calais, and in the Jungle talked to people. They said, “When it gets dark we’ll try to hop on to the back of a lorry on the motorway nearby.” I said, “We are working very hard to find you a safe and legal way, so don’t do that dangerous thing.” But some of them did, because the safe and legal way did not arrive.

I have many more examples, but I shall not take up more time. But there is a clear case for family reunion, and if as a country we cannot support family reunion on the basis in which I have described it—on the basis described in this amendment—then we are a much less worthy country than I thought we were.

Lastly, in discussions on previous amendments there was much talk about public opinion. I believe that the British public are essentially humanitarian, and if they are given these arguments they will say, “Yes, we support that. We support family reunion, particularly for these children. Let’s go for it—we don’t agree with the Government.” Public opinion is on our side, so let us make sure that the Government listen to that public opinion.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 7:15 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in what he has just said. I was one of the signatories of the original Dubs amendment, as it became known. It is a pleasure to follow him this evening and endorse his remarks, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I also support and have signed Amendment 50, which is being proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. My Amendment 51 is an all-party amendment. I declare my interest as a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response, and my involvement in various relevant all-party parliamentary groups.

Amendment 51 has its origins in northern Iraq, where on 3 August 2014 ISIS attacked Sinjar, killing thousands of Yazidis, abducting thousands of women and girls, and forcing the rest to flee. This attack on the Yazidis was followed by mass atrocities in the Nineveh Plains, from where people were forced to flee or to die. People who were different, including gay people, were thrown from high buildings, prisoners were burnt in metal cages, women were raped, and homes were looted. These atrocities then intensified in their number and scope.

In 2019, I travelled to northern Iraq and met Yazidi leaders and members of other minorities; I took statements and evidence. It was truly shocking to hear first-hand accounts of the terrors to which human beings had been subjected. To hold to account those responsible for atrocity crimes, the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide lays a duty on us to protect, prevent, punish and—since the Bosnian genocide—act from the moment it is believed that this ultimate crime of crimes is being perpetrated.

In 2016, believing a genocide to be under way, the four signatories of this amendment tonight did precisely that and acted. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—who is currently in northern Nigeria, collecting evidence on atrocity crimes—the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and I jointly tabled an amendment, calling on the Government to provide a safe and legal route for Yazidis and others dying at the hands of their tormentors. We failed to convince the Government to support it.

However, during that debate, and again in Committee on this Bill, we have again argued that our asylum procedures should create a specific category to help those judged to be at immediate risk of genocide. This amendment would leave the adjudication of whether a genocide was under way to a judge of the High Court of England and Wales, a route suggested to me by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. It was supported as a principle during proceedings on the Trade Bill in 2021 by three-figure majorities of your Lordships’ House and only narrowly defeated in the House of Commons, in what I think was the closest vote of the Parliament on a House of Lords amendment.

Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide. Winston Churchill said that the horrific nature of the genocide of the European Jews, the Holocaust, was a crime so unimaginably monstrous that it did not have a name; a Jewish Polish lawyer, who lost over 40 members of his family in the Holocaust, gave it one. Despite the term being named and defined, we nevertheless refused to empower a United Kingdom court to pronounce on it, while knowing that routes to the International Criminal Court are invariably blocked by vetoes.

But the House should note that, as recently as in November 2021, a court—a German one, in Frankfurt—did finally put a name to the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis and others. It convicted a man who had bought a five-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave, and then chained her up in the hot sun where she burnt to death. The court convicted him of genocide. On International Women’s Day next Tuesday, we should recall that little girl and the estimated 5,000 young Yazidi women and girls abducted by ISIS, who suffered horrific and prolific sexual abuse.

Tonight, we have the chance to do something practical, which we have failed to do thus far. Despite all the evidence and a vote in the House of Commons declaring atrocities against the Yazidis to be a genocide, we have still not recognised this as a genocide and we have failed to create a safe or legal route to enable safe passage for those who are so grievously at risk. As I said at Committee:

“Reports suggest that among those resettled to the United Kingdom, there have been no Yazidis whatever and no Christians from northern Iraq—none. I would be most grateful if the Minister could tell us what the numbers are, or, if she does not have them, perhaps she could arrange for us to receive them between now and Report”.—[Official Report, 8/2/22; col. 1484.]

I hope we will be given those figures today.

In January, I asked for a bespoke humanitarian visa scheme for Uighurs and was told:

“While we sympathise with the many people facing difficult situations around the world, we have no plans to introduce a bespoke humanitarian visa scheme for Uyghurs.”

But sympathy alone is not enough. The Foreign Secretary herself has said that there is a genocide under way in Xinjiang; the House of Commons has voted to say there is genocide under way; and American Presidents, present and previous, have said there is a genocide under way. Does that not at least require a bespoke scheme to help some of those affected?

This amendment is modest: it will not be able to help the millions of people caught up in the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice evident in the recent genocides in Iraq and Syria, the razed villages of Rohingyas in Burma/Myanmar, or the concentration camps of Xinjiang. It will not in itself stop the hauntingly cruel elimination of innocent humans being murdered because of their religious, ethnic or other identity. This amendment will also not be able to save every life—but it will save some.

In Committee it was suggested by my noble friend Lord Green that the amendment would potentially open the door to millions of people. The signatories of this amendment have listened to that argument, and we have addressed it. Proposed new subsection (4) in the amendment now gives the Secretary of State the power to use regulations to cap the number of people granted asylum under this scheme in any calendar year. That is not unlike what we are doing over Syrians, Afghans or children. If this amendment had been passed in 2016, it would have saved the lives of some of the Yazidis, Christians, gay people and others who were targeted by ISIS.

In 2016, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said:

“I say to my noble friend the Minister: throw away the brief from the Home Office and go back to the department and tell it what has been said this evening. I am certain that, despite the media coverage and the information that is available, people in this country have no idea of the extent of the horrors that are being perpetrated”.—[Official Report, 3/2/16; col. 1894.]

I therefore hope that tonight the House will send this amendment to the House of Commons, so that an injustice can be put right and a safe and legal route opened for small numbers of people, to be determined by the Home Secretary, who are subject to what we declare to be the crime above all crimes, to which we are treaty-bound to do something about. We are also bound to them by laws of common humanity. I hope we can do rather more than simply express our sympathy and sentiment.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative 7:30 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, again in the absence of my noble friend Lord Kirkhope, who still has Covid, I wish to speak to Amendment 49, tabled in his name, which introduces a global resettlement target of 10,000 people each year.

We have just heard from the Home Secretary that the Government have committed to expanding their family visa scheme and introducing a new community sponsorship scheme for Ukrainians, both of which are significant and welcome steps. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the further policy details that she gave us earlier. But it is difficult to know exactly what is being proposed and, more critically, exactly how many Ukrainians will be able to access these routes and the timeframe in which they will be able to do so.

Community sponsorship, while effective, is typically not a rapid response option and requires considerable planning, resource and buy-in from local community advocates and groups. I have long been an advocate for this kind of policy but it is a solution that requires people to be able to plan and build the infrastructure to support it, as exists in, say, Canada. However, as we are all too aware, the moment of crisis is now. This is the second time in a few short months that a major global refugee crisis has emerged, with Ukraine swift on the heels of Afghanistan. The reality is that on both occasions we have simply not had the infrastructure in place to care for people properly in terms of both civil society’s response and local authority capacity.

With that in mind, I turn to Amendment 49, which offers the Government an effective, carefully planned and responsive solution for refugees as regards not only the protracted crisis that we expect to develop in Ukraine but those seeking protection on these shores from other conflict zones. There are two important reasons for that amendment. The first is that we would be playing our part as a nation in responding to global crises and resettling 10,000 of the world’s most vulnerable each year. Secondly, it would mean that we could plan and build a basic level of infrastructure at a local community level to be resilient to crises like the one playing out before us right now.

One of the greatest challenges for Afghan arrivals has been the fact that we have not had the capacity to take in such a big influx so quickly. That is largely because we have not had the stable infrastructure in place for welcome and integration. The success of the Canadian approach to refugee resettlement lies in its consistency. There is strong integration infrastructure there, well-resourced civil society groups and genuine expertise in the local authorities. That is why the Government setting a baseline target for the number of refugees who will be resettled by safe and legal routes could help to build the infrastructure required. If the response to Afghanistan proves one thing, it is that we need to guarantee consistency to both the local authorities and civil society groups that do so much to ensure the smooth transitions for asylum seekers.

A predictable but flexible global resettlement model in which the Government retain control over how places are allocated enables the Home Office to react swiftly to international refugee crises and in a co-ordinated fashion with local authorities, to scale provision in line with demand. Without this amendment, we will continue to lurch from one major crisis to the next. The best way to avoid that outcome is to ensure that we can plan and prepare the infrastructure and manage the flow of refugees. Amendment 49 does not prescribe the exact manner in which the Government should meet their target but simply seeks to address the underlying and fundamental issue—that at the moment we are unprepared and are not playing our part fully in the emerging international crisis.

The success of the Syrian programme in no small part was due to the political commitment and leadership associated with the 20,000-person commitment, which produced voluntary buy-in from local government and, in turn, enabled the build of a well-functioning and properly resourced system. The baseline of 10,000 people is an appropriate number for the future.

I conclude by taking a step back. If we fail to enshrine safe and legal routes, I fear that the two-tier system that the Government are creating with this legislation will come back to haunt us. Does the Minister imagine that the British public will endorse this legislation when its consequences become clear and we criminalise or remove public fund provisions for Ukrainian and Afghan women and children, who will inevitably in their desperation seek other avenues to reach our shores? War clarifies public opinion. The British public are hugely supportive of those fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war. I urge the Minister to consider whether, in the heat of the most major war and potential refugee crisis in a generation, it is the right moment to introduce a two-tiered refugee system. Surely it would be better to pause this legislative process to allow for reflection and see where the land lies.

However, if the Minister cannot consider that, I commend Amendment 49 to the House as a pragmatic way in which to ensure that we have the community infrastructure needed to support people for the long haul. It will send a signal both at home and abroad that we are a compassionate and fair nation.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I support all the amendments in this group but particularly Amendment 48, which has my name on it, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke. It is a great pity that the Government wound up the Dubs scheme for unaccompanied children, which was doing a great deal of good, and that the Government did not want to stay in Dublin III or try to negotiate on that. We are not part of that agreement, and that removed two safe routes for unaccompanied children.

Under the Immigration Rules, as I understand them, it is not possible for a child to come to stay with a grandparent, sibling—a brother or a sister—uncle or aunt. It has to be a parent. Suppose the parents are lost or the situation is such as that unfolding in Ukraine now. Suppose the child has lost the parents en route. Why can he or she not come and stay with their grandparents in this country? The Immigration Rules seem to be too harsh. I therefore support the language of Amendment 48.

The more worrying point for me is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, when he cited the Safe Passage numbers. It is alarming that the number of unaccompanied children coming in by a safe route has dropped steeply now that we are no longer in Dublin, the Dubs scheme has gone and these Immigration Rules are being applied. Where are these children going? Safe Passage tells us that in more than 50% of the cases that it is trying to follow, the children just give up, drop out and disappear off the books. Where do they disappear to? I fear that they disappear down to the beach and into the hands of the crooks.

Safe and legal routes really matter, so Amendment 48, which opens up the possibility again of having a safe and legal route for unaccompanied children, matters in my book. It was in this Chamber that the Dubs scheme was first approved by large majorities. For exactly the reasons that we approved it then, we should approve Amendment 48 now in a world that is, if anything, more dangerous, with more children in such a plight than then. I give my strong support to that amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, in rising to speak to Amendment 48 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, I declare my interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register.

I support Amendment 48 as one of a range of safe routes needed to give people seeking asylum an alternative to using criminal gangs. People will do whatever it takes to reach family. I simply endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the case for family reunion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I urge the Minister to consider this proposal as a pragmatic response to the need to find durable solutions to desperate people dying on our borders in order to reach their family. This route will prevent some from ending in the traffickers’ hands.

I now turn to Amendment 49. I support it because we need a target for the global resettlement scheme, to ensure that it is operational to a level which provides a real alternative to people forced to use criminal gangs, and that it reaches countries such as Iran, Eritrea and Sudan, from which the majority of those arriving on small boats originate. We had the annual target of 5,000 for the Syrian resettlement scheme, and that is indeed the number who came, in a controlled, predictable and prepared way. We currently do not have a target for the global resettlement scheme, and just 1,587 came in 2021.

A target enables local authorities, charities, faith communities and the wider community, including businesses, to create and maintain the infrastructure needed to provide good welcome and ongoing support. This infrastructure also makes emergency response easier, as we have needed with Afghanistan and now Ukraine. It becomes less a crisis-to-crisis response and rather a strong infrastructure that can scale up when needed.

I note for the Minister that community sponsorship is deliberately not named in subsection (2) of the new clause proposed by this amendment, as there has been an earlier commitment made by Her Majesty’s Government that those coming through community sponsorship should be seen as additional to those in any set target. However, it is named in subsection (3). The Minister has previously spoken of her strong support for community sponsorship, so I hope that she will take this opportunity also to reaffirm Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to the growth and development of community sponsorship widely, as well as the welcome announcement for it with Ukraine. Further details around that would also be welcomed, particularly by Reset.

It is welcome to see the Home Secretary committing to the humanitarian pathway for Ukrainians. We wait to learn the detail of this and the expected capacity. The point is that over five years, the number coming through on community sponsorship is 700, for the reasons that were named. It takes time. That capacity is growing and building strongly, but it will not answer the Ukrainian question quickly.

Returning to the need for a clear resettlement target, I conclude that without one, I fear that the global resettlement programme will be sidelined, and refugees will have no alternative but to use criminal gangs as what they perceive as their route to safety.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, since post Brexit, the EU’s Dublin III regulation no longer protects the rights of unaccompanied children. Therefore, along with many of your Lordships, I strongly support this measure, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has very simply and eloquently indicated that it is a matter of honour that an equivalent to the Dublin regulations should now by us be put in place.

Any ambiguity would thereby be removed and instead we would make sure, as the Dublin regulations used to, that unaccompanied children and certain other people in Europe are able to come here for asylum if a close family member should already be in the United Kingdom.

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

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I particularly want to mention the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs, and spoken to powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about the importance of reunion of families.

As some noble Lords will know, I have recently been involved in the evacuation of women judges from Afghanistan. The first flight that I was involved in getting the women out on had 30 women on it. Unfortunately, I was woken at 5 am by a call from our point man at Mazar-i-Sharif airport, who said that the husband of one of the women judges had an out-of-date passport. It was not long out of date, but it was out of date, so he would not be allowed on the plane. I spoke to the woman judge, who I had got to know through her desperate communications with me. She was weeping, and I could hear her children weeping. I told her to get on the plane with her children and that I would do everything I in my power to get her husband to join her.

She said, “Can you guarantee it?” I said, “That I can’t do, but I promise you I will do everything I can to have him join you”. I did not have the confidence in my heart that I would be able to keep the promise of reuniting her husband with her and her children. I am afraid that the whole family had to be stepped down from the flight, leaving me with seats which had involved a lot of money having to be gathered together for this evacuation, because she could not go on the flight. My heart was heavy, because it was a reflection on what I felt and the confidence that I did not have in our system. I have told that story because reunion of families should be at the forefront of our minds.

My name is on Amendment 51. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has spoken so powerfully about the importance of keeping to our commitment and duty to act when a genocide is in progress and not wait until it is over, and our duty to be of assistance to those who might flee from such persecution. As he has described, a very important protection is in here, in answering the question, as posed, “Who decides whether a genocide is in progress?” This would come before a senior court here, so it would not be a requirement of politicians to make that decision as to whether there was a genocide in progress. However, we must be prepared to support and help those who are fleeing the kind of persecution that is currently taking place in Xinjiang province. There is no need for anxiety that the whole province will end up on our shores; it is very rare that people can flee and make the journey at all. Therefore, I support Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

I want to speak powerfully about the importance of there being rapid responses. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, has just mentioned how we can invent all sorts of processes but there must be an opportunity to say, “Take people now” if they are in mortal danger. It is what people are feeling about the situation in Ukraine. If you want to be doing these testing and security checks, bring people here and then do the checking. If someone is really a Soviet spy or former KGB agent, make your decision and deport them—but you have to act quickly to save lives.

There is a particular issue here for journalists. Our own Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has run a wonderful project, along with many other nations, on media freedom. Britain was there at the start of this project and now there are 50 countries around the world involved in it. One of the reports by the high-level legal panel that was created under that project contained a commitment made by all those countries to create emergency visas for journalists and other human rights people at the front line whose lives are in mortal danger—as was the case for my women judges. These were people who were dealing with human rights issues, protecting women, protecting people from the Taliban and jailing the Taliban. Not being able to put your hand on emergency visas is a tragedy and puts people’s lives at risk. It should be possible for there to be emergency visas. That is what my Amendment 50, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is about: creating emergency rapid responses for people who are at risk.

I remember Anna Politkovskaya, a great Russian journalist, who came to Britain to receive an award, that I was asked to give to her, for PEN International—a brave journalist who had gone to Chechnya and covered some of the ghastly things that Putin was doing there. She wrote a book, Putin’s Russia, that really put her in his sights. She came to receive this prize, and I remember sitting with her that night; we were all saying to her: “Stay. Do not go back. Your life is in danger”. She said, “I know it is, but my son is 16 and I have to go back to make sure that he could get out with me”. She went back, and I opened my newspaper two weeks later, and there was the blood on her staircase. She had been shot dead.

What was needed was emergency visas. She could have gone to our embassy, secured a visa for her son and got out within days. Instead, weeks passed and she ended up dead. We must have ways of responding to these situations rapidly. My Amendment 50 allows that kind of visa to exist for those facing imminent risk of death, and it should apply to people who, perhaps for reasons of religion, or reasons to do with their personal characteristics, might be in the same mortal danger. I hope that the House will support this amendment too.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 7:45 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, we have heard some very moving speeches. Because I have consistently spoken over the years in favour of family reunion, I will say something about Amendments 47 and 48, which I support. I urge the Government to take them away and combine the best points from both of them into something workable, practical and possible to implement.

It is most important that children and young people who are already here should be able to sponsor their close relatives, and, conversely, older people here should be able to sponsor their younger next of kin.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I offer just a sentence on some of these amendments.

On Amendment 48, we need to bear in mind the risk that if we set up what is now proposed, children who are not yet in Europe will feel obliged to take quite serious risks to get into Europe to take advantage of it. With regard to Amendment 49, Syria is a good example. We decided that something needed to be done. We chose a target that, if you like, was doable—5,000 a year—and we did it. I take some encouragement from that. However, we need to be careful about the numbers, because we are already taking 40,000 a year, and if the Channel gets any worse that could be 70,000. We need to be careful not to lose the public’s support, which underlies all this.

Lastly, on Amendment 51, I have a good deal of sympathy with the comments of my noble friend Lord Alton on the Yazidis and others in Iraq. It may be that we should aim to do something similar to what was done over Syria, but again with a cap, in case the numbers run out of control. That has, indeed, been included in subsection (4) of the amendment, I think.

I mentioned public opinion, which changes from time to time. There is certainly very strong opposition to what is happening in the Channel; there is widespread public feeling that the Government, having promised to reduce immigration, have in fact lost control of the Channel. That, indeed, is the case. We cannot really expect the public to distinguish very clearly between asylum and other kinds of immigration. They are very uneasy, and in taking policy forward we need to keep that well in mind.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, as we have heard, in addition to the family reunion amendments so ably explained by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lady Ludford, this group includes amendments on setting an annual target for the acceptance of asylum seekers into the UK and the acceptance of refugees in specific circumstances—such as those faced by female judges in Afghanistan, the victims of genocide and those fleeing the appalling situation in Ukraine. If the noble Baroness does not take up the challenge set by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to combine the best parts of the two family reunion amendments, we will vote for Amendment 48, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, explained, the Government need to build capacity in this country to enable us to take in at least 10,000 refugees a year—a number that is seen almost universally as the UK’s annual fair share of global refugees. Without a target to aim for, the necessary arrangements—the infrastructure and capacity in local services—will not be in place to cope with situations, such as Ukraine, that can arise, as we have seen, with relatively little notice. It is no excuse for the Government to say, “We are unprepared”. We must be prepared, and Amendment 49 seeks to ensure that we are.

I reiterate what I said late on Monday: the British people want to help genuine refugees, like those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. What they worry about, rightly or wrongly, is being overwhelmed by immigrants. I repeat: in recent years only six in every hundred people coming to the UK to live have been asylum seekers. The British people have nothing to fear from this amendment. On the contrary, if it was explained to them, I am sure that they would support it overwhelmingly.

We support Amendment 50—so powerfully spoken to, and in the name of, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—which makes special emergency provision for people at particular risk, such as human rights defenders, including journalists, and minorities. We also support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, to make special provision for victims of genocide.

To put beyond doubt the mixed messages from the Government about what they will do to support refugees from Ukraine, Amendment 54A in my name, and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, puts into primary legislation the requirement to support, by whatever means necessary, Ukrainian refugees who need to come to the UK. We passionately support all the amendments in this group.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, what a powerful debate we have just had on what is one of the most important parts of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke about wishing that we could inform the public. I sometimes wish—I do not know how you would do it, unless you put it on live television—that the public could hear more of the speeches made in places like this. That would inform the debate and take it forward in a way that allowed people to make their own mind up. It is disappointing that it does not happen.

It is important, in this context, to remind ourselves that we are all wrestling with how we deal with refugees, family reunion and resettlement schemes. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, needs to be repeated time and again: this is not about immigration, it is about refugees fleeing persecution and about asylum. That is extremely important.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, was also right, with his Amendment 51, to remind us of some of the people who need support.

In speaking to her Amendment 50, my noble friend Lady Kennedy referred movingly to her work to support the judges in Afghanistan. She has dedicated her life to trying to do something for people in such situations.

We support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and the global resettlement programme that she announced. When the noble Baroness was talking, I wondered whether, in the light of what has happened in Ukraine and the movement of people in all parts of the world, there are the statesmen and stateswomen who could come together to create another 1951 refugee convention. It strikes me that perhaps it is time for the world to come together to understand what we should do about the movement of people across the globe, whether that be through war or famine or whatever. Essentially, this group of amendments—and the issue the Government are wrestling with—is about how we respond to that. The various amendments before us are seeking, in their own ways, to deal with that problem.

Above all, none of us could fail to be moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs. The passion and power that he brought to this issue moved us all and was a challenge to us all. Whether we agree with the amendment or not, what are we going to do about what is a very real situation? As we stand here in this Chamber and debate this, there are unaccompanied children who have nowhere to go. There are people fleeing persecution and war, people facing genocide, who have nowhere to go. That is the reality of what we face and what we are seeking to deal with.

To be fair to the Government, I know that the Minister will describe what they are doing about this issue and refer to the extension to the Ukraine scheme, which we all welcome. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, we obviously need to understand the details of the Government’s proposal. Interestingly, following pressure from this House and the other place, the Government have incrementally improved and extended their offer, which shows the importance of debate and discussion.

We strongly support my noble friend Lord Dubs’ Amendment 48 and will encourage noble Lords and Baronesses to vote for it, should it be put to a vote. Families are split across Europe, and children who seek safety with family members are at very high risk of taking dangerous journeys across the channel and elsewhere to be reunited with their loved ones. Time and again, as noble Lords have said, the lack of safe and legal routes is at the heart of the problem. If those are not put in place, people will seek alternatives—I would; anybody would—so between us, we have to find safe and legal routes. As my noble friend Lord Dubs pointed out, the Government recently closed those safe routes for children. They ended the Dubs scheme, and we need to hear from the Minister what is going to replace it.

On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, it is vital to mention that 10,000 is approximately the number the Prime Minister previously committed to. He said that the 5,000 people a year resettled under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme would be in addition to previous commitment to resettle 5,000. The crucial thing is to have a well prepared and flexible resettlement capacity which can react as needed. This week is a reminder of the reality of that and, as I say, it is good to hear from the Minister that the Government have moved on this.

We used to be a leading country in Europe on resettlement but that has not been the case for the past few years; we now need the Government to commit to our having not just a proud past on resettlement, but a proud future. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme took five months to get up and running; we need to look at that and understand how we can move much quicker.

On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of course we need to do something about genocide. He knows that we have some concerns about the detail, and it would be for the Government to sort out how it would work in practice, but we unequivocally support the principle of what the noble Lord is trying to do.

I go back to the key point of the debate on all the amendments before the Chamber. The lack of safe and legal routes is at the heart of this, and the amendments seek to address the particular problems that arise from that. As we see with the Ukrainian crisis and other crises, there will be a need at some point for greater international co-operation across not just Europe but the world to deal with this ever-increasing movement of people as they flee persecution, war and famine.

Many of these amendments are worthy of support and I hope the Government listen to what has been said. I will finish with this: when the Government are told by everybody that there is a problem with the legislation before us and they need to change some of it, it is sometimes a good idea for them to listen.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 8:00 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who spoke in this debate. To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I sometimes wish that people would listen to the points I make, but sometimes, because it is politics, they choose not to.

On Amendment 47, which relates to refugee family reunion, we have a comprehensive framework to manage cases that fall outside our rules. For example, refugees can sponsor children aged under 18—including siblings, nieces and nephews—to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances, and there is further discretion to consider any other familial relationship as necessary. As part of the 2021 safe and legal routes review, we sought to clarify in our Immigration Rules which exceptional circumstances may be engaged for children whose applications are being considered outside the rules. This will bring further consistency and transparency to our policy.

Regarding allowing child refugees to sponsor family members under this new clause, I cannot stress enough the objectionable consequences this could create. It risks incentivising more children to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family and risk hazardous journeys to the UK, playing into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people, which goes against our safeguarding responsibilities. I know that noble Lords would not want to see that outcome.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling Amendment 48, which is about safe routes for those seeking to claim asylum in the UK, including unaccompanied children, to travel from countries in Europe to join family in the UK. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also support this proposed new clause, but I cannot. It tries to create a scheme similar to the EU’s Dublin regulation in UK law with respect to those who are in a European country but have family members in the UK. However, unlike the Dublin regulation, where the asylum claim is initially made in the EU country they are in, this new clause attempts to introduce a route for those who are in safe European countries to come to the UK to claim asylum.

On the Dubs scheme, we did not end it; we completed what we set out to do, which was to take 480 children under the Dubs scheme. On family reunion under Dublin, noble Lords will see in the table I sent the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and which I distributed to all Members of your Lordships’ House, that Dublin had about a tenth of the number of our refugee family reunion scheme over a similar period. The noble Lord also talked about the Safe Passage cases. I understand that the Home Office asked him to send details of them. We would be very happy to receive them should he see fit to send them.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, noble Lords will be aware that the UK sought to negotiate on these matters, specifically for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but it was not possible to reach an agreement with the EU on family reunion. When the UK was seeking to raise these matters with the EU, our proposals had very clear safeguards for children. This new clause has none and fails to consider the individual needs of children, which raises significant issues. While the noble Lords who tabled the new clause might have good intentions, it is not drafted with a child’s interests as paramount. It creates entitlements to come to the UK to claim asylum if the individual has the specified UK relatives but does not consider whether this is in the unaccompanied child’s best interests. That is a really important fact. Neither does it consider whether the UK relative can actually take care of the child, nor does it involve any consideration of whether the child would be better placed with a relative, potentially an even closer relative, in another European state.

I cannot ignore the fact that this new clause would encourage asylum seekers, including vulnerable unaccompanied children, to make dangerous journeys to Europe to benefit from its provisions. By the same token, it would discourage asylum seekers, when in Europe, who wish to travel to the UK to interact with the care and support mechanisms or the asylum systems of those safe European countries which should provide them with the safety and protection they are entitled to under the same international legal obligations that the UK abides by.

I have been very clear that we will not consider a more favourable approach to family reunion in the Immigration Rules for those in the EU, including unaccompanied children, as opposed to those in the rest of the world who want to join family here in the UK. A single global approach to family reunion—as taken by our current refugee family reunion policy—is fair and does not encourage what are often dangerous journeys into Europe, facilitated by smugglers and traffickers. As I have said many times, European member states are safe countries with international obligations towards protecting asylum seekers and children, as we do here in the UK, affording all asylum seekers in Europe an opportunity to access the rights to which they are entitled.

The right reverend Prelate talked about community sponsorship and my articulated support for it. That does not diminish; I would like to see far more schemes develop here in the UK. He also linked it to the Ukraine humanitarian pathway. The two are not the same. I am sure we will get more detail on the latter in due course, but I think it is a really good idea.

I thank my noble friend Lady Stroud, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, for speaking to Amendment 49. The Government have time and again demonstrated their commitment to helping people in need of international protection. To date, our resettlement schemes have been non-legislative, operating outside of the Immigration Rules and on a discretionary basis. Operating in this way has effectively enabled us to respond to both protracted and emerging humanitarian crises and has seen us resettle over 27,000 vulnerable people since 2015. The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, outlined why that was so workable in the Syrian context.

Last summer, the UK undertook the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping over 15,000 people to safety from Afghanistan. The Government have recently opened, on 6 January, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which will provide up to 20,000 women, children and others at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK. This scheme is in addition to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, which has already seen over 8,000 people relocated to the UK, with an estimated additional 11,000 likely to be eligible to be relocated under this route. ARAP is neither time limited nor capped, which is a good thing.

On Amendment 50, I can assure the House of my support for the humanitarian intention behind the proposals. The noble Baroness referred to my commitments made in 2019. We announced our intention to pilot an Emergency Resettlement Mechanism to provide urgent protection in exceptional circumstances to refugees referred to UNHCR in need of rapid emergency resettlement. The implementation of the ERM is on hold temporarily due to the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves as a result of our successful evacuation efforts in Afghanistan which helped bring over 15,000 people to safety. It is important that we consider our capacity in the UK to not place additional pressures on local authority housing and services at a time when capacity is really stretched. The Government remain committed to implementing the ERM as soon as practicable.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for proposing Amendment 51, and for his welcome contribution to this important debate so far. On his point about the Yazidis, we have resettled 40 Yazidis through both the UK resettlement scheme and the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.

On the wider point about genocide, this strays into some of the FCDO equities. In Committee, I committed to refer this onwards to the FCDO. We are utterly committed to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Our approach to genocide determination does not prevent, and has not prevented us, taking action to address atrocities. Whether or not a determination of genocide is made, the UK is committed to seeking an end to serious violations of international human rights law—and, where appropriate, international humanitarian law—preventing the escalation of any such violations and alleviating the suffering of those affected.

The amendment would represent a significant departure from the Government’s long-standing policy of not assessing asylum claims from abroad. Therefore, we cannot support it. It is not practical for us to be bound to consider asylum claims in British missions abroad from the very large numbers of individuals overseas who might like to come here. Even with a cap on the number of individuals ultimately recognised as refugees under the route, opening an opportunity to claim asylum could make the operation of these locations impractical and unsafe where large numbers sought to do so.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 54A. The Government have made very clear their support for Ukrainians fleeing in fear of their lives. The Prime Minister announced that the UK is prepared to take Ukrainian refugees in considerable numbers. Every conflict and threat situation is unique and requires a tailored response. The Government have already announced a bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, having listened carefully to the asks and requests of the Ukrainian Government. I will also add that the Government have announced that the numbers are not capped.

We have helped hundreds of British nationals and their families resident in Ukraine to leave the country, with Home Office staff working around the clock to assist them. British nationals, and any person settled in the UK, can bring over immediate Ukrainian family members. Through this policy alone, an additional 100,000 Ukrainians could be eligible to come to the UK and access work and public services. I understand that people are being processed through these schemes in a matter of hours, as we speak. This is very good news.

We are establishing an expansive Ukrainian family settlement scheme which will be fee-free and allow British nationals and people settled in the UK to bring a wider group of family members to the UK. This extends eligibility to adult parents, grandparents, children over 18, siblings and their immediate family members. As I said earlier to the right reverend Prelate, we have committed to establishing a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, whereby Ukrainians who may not have family ties in the UK can be sponsored to come here by willing and able individuals, businesses or community organisations. There will be no cap on this scheme, as I have said, and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come who have matched sponsors.

I outlined some of the other things we have been doing in the debate on a previous group so I will not go over them again, but what I have outlined is an extremely generous and expansive package befitting the need of Ukrainians for our refuge and protection. On that point, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 8:15 pm, 2nd March 2022

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister. I still hope that some lessons will be learned from the Ukrainian family scheme, about which we will probably have some exchanges shortly. I hope for wider reform in future. I heard everything the Minister said but I still think that there needs to be fundamental reform of the family reunion rules for all the good reasons expressed in this debate. However, I am not going to make any further progress so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 47 withdrawn.