Amendment 91

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 11:45 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:45, 19 February 2024

Once again, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As we have heard throughout today’s debate, we have to do more to break the criminal gangs’ business model, and to deter illegal migrants. These journeys are extremely dangerous. People have lost their lives attempting to cross the channel, as is well reported. These journeys are also unnecessary, as those making these crossings are coming from safe countries, such as France, where they could have claimed asylum. I say respectfully to the right reverend Prelate that that is surely the fundamental issue.

While the Government have made progress towards stopping the boats—with small boat crossings down by a third in 2023, while the numbers of illegal migrants entering some European countries have risen by 80%—we still need to do more. By delivering our key partnership, relocating people to Rwanda and not allowing them to stay in the UK, we will prevent people making these dangerous crossings, and we will save lives.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for tabling Amendment 91, but we do not think it is necessary. It is clear from the evidence pack that the Government published on Thursday 11 January, and from the treaty itself, that Article 15 of the treaty enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, ensuring that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. I am sorry that I will be going over some old ground, but, as my noble friend Lord Howard pointed out, this is not dissimilar to some earlier amendments.

We have repeatedly made clear that the monitoring committee will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring, unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports, and the ability to publish these reports as it sees fit. Crucially, the monitoring committee will undertake real-time monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months. This period of monitoring can be extended if required. The monitoring committee will be able to urgently escalate issues prior to any shortcomings or breaches placing a relocated individual at real risk of harm. This will include reporting directly to the joint committee co-chairs within 24 hours in emergency or urgent situations.

To expand on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, I also refer the right reverend Prelate to my remarks earlier. Article 4.1 of the treaty sets out clearly that it is for the UK to determine the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under the terms of the agreement, and the number of such requests made. This means that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty if there had been, for example, an unexpected change to the in-country situation in Rwanda. As is the case in many scenarios, the Government would be able to respond and adapt as necessary and there is therefore no need to include a sunset provision as suggested.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region; for example, through its work with the UNHCR to host the emergency transit mechanism. A specific example of Rwanda’s successful work with the UNHCR is the memorandum of understanding between Rwanda and the UNHCR to host a transit facility in Gashora for asylum seekers fleeing civil war in Libya, which has operated since 2019.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is correct: if the agreement is not extended beyond the date he mentioned, in effect, it dies. Rwanda has a strong history—