Clause 17

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 5:30 pm, 13th March 2007

I want to make a few quick points. I accept the argument that if people have exhausted all avenues of appeal, there is perhaps a pull factor if life is made too comfortable for them here. There have to be some measures that encourage them to return voluntarily. The other day, I met the International Organisation for Migration, which seems to be doing some good work in providing people with resettlement packages in their home countries. I return to the point that I made when we debated the previous clause, about people who have exhausted all avenues of appeal but who come from countries such as Somalia, to which it is difficult for them to return at the moment. We are doing neither forced repatriations there nor voluntary ones, which are also difficult.

I am concerned that the Minister has made several references to people in such situations being entitled to section 4 support, but there seems to be a very low take-up of such support. In response to a question I asked recently, I was told, I think, that the figure was 250 people in the entire south-west region; it may have been 270. That includes not only Bristol, but places such as Plymouth, Swindon and Gloucester, so the number must be a tiny percentage of failed asylum seekers not receiving any support. Why does the Minister think that take-up is so low and what does she  think is happening to people who are not getting section 4 support? The answer must be that they have either gone underground and are relying on the charity of friends or family, or have resorted to criminal activity because they have no other alternative.

What analysis has the Home Office done of the idea that destitution encourages people to return voluntarily? I have written to the Minister recently about the work of the Hotham Mission in Australia, which has been taking the opposite approach in assigning caseworkers to work with asylum seekers. Its evidence seems to be that following such heavy intervention, more than 85 per cent. of all asylum seekers who have been refused places leave the country voluntarily on the final decision. The Minister and I are in correspondence about this matter at the moment, but the argument of those involved would be that with such intervention—providing some support and working with families—asylum seekers are much more likely to return home than go underground and escape the system altogether.

Finally, where are we with the section 9 pilot schemes that have been running and in providing support to children rather than families as a whole? I understand that the Department is due to report on the outcome of those pilots soon. It would be interesting to know when the results will be published.