Examination of Witnesses

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Lucy Moreton and Zoe Gardner gave evidence.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:01 pm, 21st September 2021

Q 23 I ask the witnesses to please introduce themselves.

Lucy Moreton:

Good afternoon. My name is Lucy Moreton, and I am the professional officer for the ISU, which is the union that represents borders, immigration and customs staff.

Zoe Gardner:

Good afternoon. My name is Zoe Gardner. I am actually policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants—I think my title was communicated wrongly before. JCWI is one of the oldest organisations in the country representing migrants and refugees going through the UK immigration system.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The premise of the Bill, according to the Government, is to fix the broken asylum system. In your opinion, will the Bill do that? If not, what needs to happen to fix the system?Q

Lucy Moreton:

I think that if we knew how to fix the system, we would all have much quieter and easier lives. The Bill addresses some of the issues with the current asylum system, but without a significant underpinning of resources it will not make the difference that is anticipated. We have reached the situation that we have with the structures, both above and below the border, breaking, if not in fact broken, because of under-resourcing. You can set up an additional fast-track appeals process, for example, but if you do not resource the courts to enable them to have the rooms to hold the hearings, the judges to make those adjudications and the clerks to promulgate them, it will make no difference. You can express wishes in a Bill to return migrants to a safe third country, process them offshore or turn them back before they reach UK waters, but all that requires the co-operation of international partners, and if you cannot achieve that, it is nothing more than words on a bit of paper.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Zoe, do you have a response to that?

Zoe Gardner:

Yes. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. The short answer is that the available evidence does not support the approach being taken in this Bill. The aims of the Bill that the Government have put forward are to create a fairer asylum system and to discourage the use of irregular journeys by asylum seekers using smuggling routes. A fair asylum system would provide protection to refugees based on their need. The Bill does not propose a system that would do that. Furthermore, the evidence from similar policies enacted in other countries, or previously enacted in the UK, shows us that this approach is unlikely to deter people from seeking to come to the UK using irregular means, because it does not provide meaningful alternative ways for people to travel. In short, the Bill will not work. The only people who will be celebrating its implementation will be the criminal smuggling gangs.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Lucy, according to a recent report there are 399 asylum claims in the system that have taken 10 years and still not been processed. Is that more than just a resourcing issue?

Lucy Moreton:

I do not know the details of those 399 cases. If they have been in the system for more than 10 years—about 10 years ago, I was an asylum decision maker—it is likely that there will be other elements within that that are more complex. It is possible to repeatedly delay conclusion of a case through the late submission of evidence, for example. Whether that is the case in any or some of that group, I do not know. Clearly, the needs of anyone genuinely seeking protection in the UK are not served by being stuck in the system for months, let alone years.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Clause 10 treats people differently based on how they arrive. If you arrive via regular routes, you are given protection. Lucy and Zoe, do you think that achieves the aims of the Bill?

Lucy Moreton:

My understanding is that the stated aim is to deter irregular migration. I cannot see how some theoretical change, which is what it is at the moment, to how you might eventually be treated when you are finally granted asylum here would deter irregular migration. One element proposed for the group 2 refugees —the ones who have entered irregularly—is that it may limit their family reunion rights. Absolutely accepting the political balancing act that has to be done here, if you prevent people from travelling through a regular route, they will use an irregular route, so that alone seems to be circuitous.

Zoe Gardner:

I agree with that assessment. The available evidence shows that the people who are making these journeys in order to seek asylum do not know the detail of different refugee protection regimes in different countries. They base their decision making on where to go. Either they do not make the decision at all themselves and it is in the hands of the smugglers who transport them, or they make the decision based on their connection to a country—so having family members in a country, speaking the language, or having other connections. In the case of Afghans at the current time, they might be ex-colleagues who have worked with the British military in Afghanistan. That might be a reason for their trying to come to the UK. The details of the system will not deter anybody.

With regard to the aims of the Bill, which is concerned with fairness, if we look at how the inadmissibility rules have operated so far, in the first six months of their operation since January, 4,500 people have been issued with a notice of intent under the inadmissibility rules, and 173 of those are from Afghanistan. This means that in effect their asylum claim has been put on hold for at least six months while the Government seek to find another place to send them—anywhere else but here. That is obviously not in the interests of fairness when it comes to people from Afghanistan who are clearly fleeing a dangerous situation.

JCWI has a client from Syria who is 19 years old. He was individually targeted by the Syrian military and was forced to flee at a moment’s notice. He had no other option but to take an irregular route. He has two sisters living here in the UK, so that was what motivated his choice to pay a smuggler to make a desperate escape and come to the UK. He is now in the inadmissibility process, and his mental health is deteriorating because of his fear that he will be sent away. The Government have told him that they are considering his removal to Austria or France or to anywhere else—anywhere else being somewhere that has no legal obligation to take him in and where he will have no family members. If he were to be removed, we would potentially be giving the smuggling gangs a repeat customer, because he would obviously have reason to seek to come back to the UK.

It also does not make any sense to pause that client’s claim for the time being, and the claims of 4,500 others—probably more at this stage—and have them wait in this limbo system, at great cost to the taxpayer and great harm to their mental health, on the basis of agreements to return people here, there or anywhere that we do not actually have yet. This approach is not going to achieve its aims whatsoever. The only thing it will achieve is cruelty, delay, additional bureaucracy and, as I say, lining the pockets of the smuggling gangs.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you. I will let other Members ask questions now. If there is time, I would like to ask some more later.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Thank you for your evidence so far. Earlier we heard from Jon Featonby of the Red Cross that there was only one clause in the Bill that would directly impact smugglers themselves, by increasing possible sentences. You have gone further, saying that, on the whole, those gangs would celebrate the Bill passing through Parliament. Why do you go that far?Q

Zoe Gardner:

There is considerable evidence that every time we spend more money on trying to close down a route that is regularly used by smugglers to bring people through irregular means to the UK—indeed, this is the case in any other country—the people who are desperate to take that route do not simply disappear. In fact, the routes are simply redirected, often to more dangerous paths. It does not stop the journeys, but it does allow the smugglers to charge more, for yet more dangerous journeys and yet more complicated ways of making it through these barriers. There is always going to be more flexibility on the side of the smugglers than on the side of the state. Until we provide people with a regulated alternative means of travel to the UK, every round of security spending that we throw at this and every attempt at this failed model of deterrence and pushbacks will be celebrated by the smugglers, because it simply lines their pockets.

The increased sentences proposed by the Bill are all very well, and would be perfectly reasonable if in reality they were aimed at smuggling gangs. However, what we have seen in the last 12 months is that the Home Office has used legislation that was intended to be used against smuggling gangs and members of international criminal gangs to unjustly prosecute asylum seekers themselves. Several asylum seekers have served jail time on the basis that they were facilitating the entry of other asylum seekers on the same boat.

That practice was being undertaken until, in August this year, the Crown Prosecution Service published some clarified guidance confirming that it is not a crime to enter the UK, even on a small boat or through other irregular means, if your purpose is to present yourself to the authorities and seek asylum. That is the case for almost all, if not all—I think the official figure is 98% —of the people on these boats. It has been confirmed that those people are not committing a crime or an immigration offence.

The danger of the increased sentences is that they will be targeted at the wrong people and that they will be used to punish people who are exercising their right to claim asylum rather than being targeted at the people at whom it should be targeted: the organised criminal gangs. That should be done on the basis of credible intelligence and international co-operation, and not on the basis of picking people up off the beach in Kent when they clearly intend to make an asylum claim.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Q You have said that you think the policy of trying to disincentivise people from making these crossings is not going to work and that, on the other hand, some of the measures used to pursue that disincentive effect, such as the notices of intent, will have a pretty awful impact on those affected by them. Can you say more about some of the other disincentives? You have mentioned the notices of intent, but obviously there is criminalisation and measures around no recourse to public funds and family reunion. How will those impact on individuals and the local authorities that are trying to support them?

Zoe Gardner:

This refers to the differential treatment for people who, once they have arrived and been served with their notice of intent, have to wait six months in this unnecessary and harmful limbo situation in the asylum system. If the Government do not find somewhere else to send them—another country willing to take on our responsibilities for them—as is likely to happen in most cases, they will have their asylum claim assessed in the usual system. Given that the nationalities are overwhelmingly those recognised as refugees in this country—people from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, which have a high recognition rate—they will be recognised as refugees in need of protection from persecution.

The Government then propose, with this Bill, to offer them only temporary protection status, which is not the same as the refugee protection status that we have provided them with until now. That would mean people having an unstable status that would need to be consistently renewed, potentially once every 30 months, and with no guarantee of obtaining permanent settlement.

That is completely harmful to the mental health and integration prospects of refugees. It runs counter to obligations under the UN refugee convention, which requires that recognised refugees are assisted to naturalise and integrate. It also simply does not work from a practical perspective. We have an example of a JCWI client who is a gay man from Iran. He has been granted a temporary protection status for six months, due to complicated factors of his case. The Home Office proposes to reassess whether this gay man from Iran will be at risk again in six months, and again in six months, and again in six months. If it was every 30 months, I am sure that members of the Committee can see the lack of logic being applied there.

People who obtain refugee protection almost always need long-term, stable protection status. They come from countries where it is very unlikely that it will be safe to remove them again within 30 months. That puts a huge additional bureaucratic burden on a Home Office that is already failing to get through its case load at a reasonable speed and will very seriously hamper those people’s integration prospects.

Furthermore, as Lucy Moreton mentioned, those people may be denied the right to family reunification. That means that the largely female or child contingent of refugees who are currently able to get protection through a safe route of family reunion would then be denied that protection. That might mean that, in desperation to join their loved one who has come to the UK, they may then embark on those dangerous irregular journeys, so this may in fact provoke more irregular journeys and, again, enrich and empower the smugglers yet more.

Finally, the proposals also suggest that refugees granted this secondary status of protection would not be granted access to public funds. Aside from being cruel and harmful to refugees, that follows the same pattern of being illogical and impractical. The reality is that if these refugees are destitute, they will be able to apply to have the “no recourse to public funds” conditions lifted. Given that they will have waited for at least six months and then gone into the standard asylum procedure, which at the moment takes well over six months in many cases, and during that time will not have been allowed to work, plus being people who are recovering from trauma, the likelihood that they can go into a job and start earning straightaway is extremely low. The likelihood that they will be destitute under those circumstances is extremely high.

This just adds a huge additional bureaucratic burden where there will be application after application for these “no recourse to public funds” conditions to be lifted. In the meantime, there is the risk that people will fall into destitution. From the perspective of fairness and compassion, this plan does not work. From the perspective of having a functioning asylum system and a Home Office that produces efficient and tolerable procedures that work on a reasonable time frame, again, it completely fails.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Q Lucy Moreton, do you want to pick up on the issue of additional work that this will create for the Home Office, in terms of having to revisit asylum applications every 30 months, even though someone has been recognised as a refugee, and dealing with applications to lift no recourse to public funds conditions and so on? Also, on another subject: do you think pushbacks at sea are more about headline grabbing than worthwhile legislation?

Lucy Moreton:

My colleague’s point on the administrative burden of constantly having to reassess and read asylum claims was absolutely right. It feeds back into the point I made about resourcing: you cannot make this work if you do not put the resources in. If you want civil servants to reconsider applications every six or 30 months, you are going to have to put enough civil servants in there to do it.

On the issue of pushbacks, as things stand at the moment, given the instructions that we work under to ensure the safety of life at sea and the legality of it, it seems to us—the trade union, and the members who advise us—extremely unlikely to happen in practice. The restrictions are, quite rightly, very tight. No one wants to see a fatality from what is a very dangerous manoeuvre. It was not expected to be announced as it was. It had been in discussion in various iterations for a couple of years, but for it to be announced suddenly in the press came as a surprise.

It had the unfortunate impact of endangering both border officers and migrants because suddenly migrants feared that they were going to be pushed back, even though they are in circumstances where they never would be—they are vulnerable, the vessel is vulnerable, it has vulnerable people in it and it is not in the right bit of the channel. Because they are frightened of being approached by border officers, they are less willing to be rescued in circumstances where they deeply need rescuing. That was most unfortunate.

I recognise the risk in saying this, but I will personally be very surprised if this ever actually happens and is completed. I would be amazed. We do not see migrant vessels that are not vulnerable in one way or another.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I want to turn to your last point before I come to the one that I was going to make. You say that the people in the boats would be scared of Border Force because of what has been said. We were told by the Red Cross earlier that the people getting into boats were not informed about what was going on or what sort of law applied. How would they have a perception that the law had changed and that they were going to be pushed back, given that, as the Red Cross said earlierQ , they would not have any perception of what laws applied to them?

Lucy Moreton:

There are communications channels between migrants who make it and those who are waiting. Also, the spin put on it by the smuggling gangs is absolutely phenomenal. For example, we were seeing a lot of migrants being told that the small vessel route over the English channel would become illegal once the UK had left the EU. It was illegal before and it was going to be illegal after: nothing changed. But the gangs used that to pressure more people into taking the route—“Go now, before they stop it!”—and to charge more money for that route. Different vessels have different amounts of information, but this has been reported quite widely in the press.

Migrant groupings in France, I understand, are now aware that this is a risk. We know that they resist approaches by the French; they put themselves at risk in order to prevent the French intercepting and returning them while they remain within French waters. We get reports from our members on the cutters, particularly the smaller ribs, that migrants make absolutely sure that they have got a British vessel. They are far more likely to trust the RNLI or the coastguard, who they recognise because they are on telly and have different uniforms, than to trust us. The last thing we need is someone standing up and going overboard. If they are trying to avoid being intercepted, either by the French, by us or anyone they do not recognise, that is the risk.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Q It just seems a conflict to me that, on the one hand, the witnesses earlier were saying that migrants did not have information, and now you are saying that they do have information.

Zoe Gardner:

Can I jump in on that point? There is a difference between having some gossip information or potential misinformation about what will happen directly on the boat journey and what to do immediately on disembarkation, and actually having a complex and sophisticated understanding of the functioning of the asylum system in the UK, especially in comparison to the functioning of the asylum system in France.

Regarding the levels of understanding and information, as Lucy rightly said there is a lot of misinformation going around, but knowing that you need to avoid being intercepted at sea is different from knowing what your entitlements will be once you have got to this stage in the asylum system in the UK. They are different issues.

Lucy Moreton:

I think that is a fair point; it is more about misinformation, spin and misunderstanding than about concrete information and a robust or detailed knowledge of what actually happens.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Q I get that, but I think it is in both directions as well.

I will come to the point I was going to make. The number of cases and the backlog are increasing at a faster rate than the number of applications. I would like to try to understand whether that is purely resource—you have indicated there are resource concerns anyway—or whether there are ways in which the Bill could be written so that it was easier to make decisions and the decisions could be clearer and swifter, rather than having too many complexities, which results in longer times before you get a first decision. Is it the Bill? Is it the resources? Is it a combination thereof?

Lucy Moreton:

It is a combination, inevitably, but there are elements of both. The rate of cases in decision is increasing in relation to the number of initial applications, but that is because of late and repeated applications that slow things up, and that may well be an element in the 399 that was mentioned earlier.

One provision in the Bill suggests that individuals would be served with a notice of information to say, “If you do not produce all the information that you know at this time, you will not be able to bring it up later—or, if you do bring it up later, much less weight will be given to it.” I am not convinced that that will work as well in practice as it might appear.

There will always be information that changes if someone has been here and been in the system for six months or six years. There can be a change of situation in their home country that might make late information come up, and even if the information comes up late and is given less weight, it must still be considered and will still have some limited access to appeal, albeit I think that the intention is to remove the ability to seek judicial review of the decision by giving an expedited appeal through the immigration tribunals process.

If the immigration tribunals process does not have the capacity to hear that case for six months, it will not make a great deal of difference anyway, but certainly any measures that assist in encouraging migrants to produce as much information as they intend to rely on at the beginning will help. Most migrants do that, but you get to the end of the system and then suddenly you get, “Oh, but hang on a minute—now I’ve changed my religion, recognised my sexuality, the situation at home has changed, I’m married, I’ve got a child, I’ve got closer ties here, I’ve got a medical condition,” or whatever additional applications come in.

Anything that can control and manage that better will help; that is a recognised method of abusing the process, but we cannot shut it off, because there will always be people for whom it is absolutely true that their situation has changed and they do need protection. We need a method for considering that quickly, getting it through the appeals process quickly, if that is relevant, identifying those who are abusing the system and, crucially, removing them. Another large part of the Bill is the ability to remove people who have come to the end of the system, while still identifying and extending protection to those for whom we have an obligation to do so.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Q Do you think the Bill, as written, helps that process?

Lucy Moreton:

Everything will be in the detail. The words used will help, but I suspect we will find ourselves in a situation in two or three years’ time where there has been a loophole or a contrary decision by an upper court that has changed the way this works. There will always be genuine last-minute situations; there will always be genuine last changes that merit a fresh application.

If you front-load the resourcing at the beginning, if you can decide an application and have it through the court system in a matter of weeks, the scope for those last-minute changes of situation is significantly narrowed. If you make the whole process faster and tighter, rather than just trying to block the tail end of a very lengthy process, that would probably be more beneficial both to genuine refugees and to the British taxpayer.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Q Does Zoe want to add to that?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I do not want to limit anybody’s questions, but there are quite a few people who would like to ask questions. Jonathan Gullis.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Thank you, Ms McDonagh.Q

I am a bit perplexed. On the one hand, I am hearing that the system is broken; on the other, I am hearing that ultimately this is not going to be good enough. Lucy, on the pushbacks—I think the pushbacks are something that our commanders on those vessels need support and top cover from—you have said that that is not a deterrent, even though you have said that people will be scared of it. We have talked about the fact that people will not be getting access to housing in the legislation, at clause 11—we will use centres such as Napier barracks—which I think is brilliant and is also about the use of public resources; that will not deter. In Stoke-on-Trent they are livid at seeing illegal economic migrants—the ones coming over the Channel at the moment—paying thousands of pounds into the hands—

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Mr Gullis, I do not want to stop you, but it would be great if there could be a question, so that your colleagues can also ask questions.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

There will be. Illegal economic migrants put thousands of pounds into the hands of people smugglers. Does that not show that these people are not genuine refugees or asylum seekers, like those we have seen from Afghanistan and Syria, who we have brought through safe and legal routes?

Lucy Moreton:

It is a system that requires a great deal of money. You are not likely to have that money immediately available to you if you have fled in circumstances of danger. You may be able to gain it from relatives outside the country. Worse, though: you may put yourself into the hands of people traffickers, who will lend you the money for your crossing in exchange for your services in one way or another in the UK, be that in the grey economy or in modern slavery.

If you knew, before you spent all that money, that it was only going to get you a few weeks here until your claim is processed and dealt with, you would be far less likely to spend that money. If you knew that you spend that money and you are going to spend six to 10 years here to get through the system, that money is probably worth it.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Q Which is why the idea in clause 11 or clause 10 that in our United Kingdom we are going to potentially process people offshore, as with Denmark, is a positive and will help deter. If people know they are going to spend all that money and not even end up in the United Kingdom, that is a positive with the legislation.

Lucy Moreton:

From what I understand, the experience of Australia has been that it has not been as much of a deterrent as they would have hoped, but certainly, on paper, anything that shortens the system is going to be a positive. The reasons why people travel are so multi-factoral; it is not going to be a 100% answer, but nothing is. If there was an easy answer, we would have done it a decade ago when this started to be a problem. It may help, but it will not be a universal panacea.

Zoe Gardner:

I would like to pick up on the distinction you were making between Afghan refugees and the people you referred to as illegal economic migrants crossing the channel. It might interest you to learn that Afghans make up one of the most significant groups of people making those irregular journeys across the channel.

JCWI has some difficult in ascertaining at what point these people switch from being considered refugees—for example, if they worked with our military, or if they are gay and are facing persecution by the Taliban. Given that the resettlement efforts, as laudable as they are, will necessarily not reach all those people and certainly will not reach even all the people who worked with our troops in that country, if those people are facing being hunted down and murdered by the Taliban and are therefore forced to make a chaotic and immediate escape by whatever means necessary, be that with a smuggler, that does not remove their need for protection. It does not make them any less refugees.

It is really useful that you make that point, because it does point to a wider distinction that the Bill seeks to make, which is to draw a completely false distinction between two groups who are made up of essentially the same people. As I have mentioned, over two thirds of the people who are in Calais at the moment and who are making that crossing are from countries with very high recognition rates as refugees in this country. As I have said, they are from Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan. They are refugees and they need our protection.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the commitment made by the Home Secretary to implement the recommendations of the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”. One of Wendy Williams’s recommendations in her review was to avoid viewing policy making on a binary of “Do this or do nothing”. That is the binary that, with respect, you are putting forward here. Nobody is suggesting that the status quo is acceptable. Unfortunately, the do-this option, according to all the available evidence, is likely to make the situation significantly worse rather than achieving its ends.

As Lucy mentioned, the evidence from Australia suggests that offshore processing centres for refugees had no discernible impact on the numbers of people attempting the crossing, but it did have a huge impact of cruelty and harm to the refugees who were subject to offshoring. We already have difficulty in this country in ensuring that asylum seekers have adequate access to legal representation, to adequate hygiene and to the other most basic needs. To take that process offshore to somewhere out of sight and away from our ability to scrutinise it would make it much more difficult to ensure that those minimum standards were met.

What I hope would never happen is what happened in the Australian case, where teams of experts from the UN and Médecins sans Frontières, and teams of paediatricians, reported finding the most traumatised population that they had ever seen or worked with, including among victims of torture. There were extremely elevated rates of self-harm and suicide, even among children. It ended in abject failure. Not only had it not deterred people from taking boats to Australia; it ended up with the Australian Government forced to medically evacuate all remaining residents of those camps in 2019, having spent €6 billion on the entire process. That is an absolutely disastrous model for the UK that we absolutely should not pursue.

Aside from the moral objections that may not be shared by all but that the JCWI certainly feels about the UK––one of the richest countries in the world––attempting to palm off our responsibility to refugees on to a developing country such as Rwanda, the impact was cruelty, and cruelty with no point, no purpose and no achievement. The situation just continued––

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Ms Gardner, you have put your case extremely well and I do not want to inhibit what you want to say, but I do want to see whether more Members can ask questions.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Q I have one short question. If these people in Calais are legitimate refugees, why are they not claiming asylum in France, Italy, Spain or Greece? Why do they need to come to the United Kingdom?

Lucy Moreton:

Many of them have.

Zoe Gardner:

As I am sure you are aware because I think the previous witness did say this, the vast majority of people who seek asylum worldwide––86% of refugees and displaced people worldwide––remain in the country neighbouring the one they have fled. So 86% of people remain in developing countries.

France received three times as many asylum applications as we did last year. Most people stop as soon as they feel safe. The people making their way to England and who specifically wish to come to the UK do so because they have ties to this country, either because they have served with our military, as in the case of people from Afghanistan, or they have family members, as with the Syrian client I mentioned whom the JCWI is representing. They may also speak the language because of our colonial history and have other ties of kinship and history here.

There are people who have legitimate ties to the UK and there is no good reason why they should have their claims assessed in France if they do not wish to. It does not really work for us to say to the French, “Given that we are geographically located slightly to the west of you, none of these refugees is our responsibility. They are all on you,” because France could say the same thing. Then Italy could say the same thing and the entire international refugee protection system will crumble. It is necessary––

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Ms Gardner, you are making your case really well but I am trying to get a couple more people in before we go to the Minister, if that is okay, so I apologise. Paul Blomfield.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

Both witnesses have expressed concerns that the Bill’s objectives will not be achieved by the measures that it includes. The Home Office itself goes further in its own impact assessment, sayingQ

“There is a risk that increased security and deterrence could encourage these cohorts to attempt riskier means of entering the UK.”

Could you share your views on that with us––first, Lucy?

Lucy Moreton:

That has been the experience to date. There is a large displaced population in Europe. The majority of them have been there for some time. Just under half of them, in the last set of statistics I saw, have a failed asylum claim elsewhere within Europe. Whether they have legitimate ties here or legitimate reasons to be here or not, they will not simply say, “Oh gosh, it got a bit difficult today. Let’s turn around and go home.” If they do not have another route that they can try, they will simply become—as the risk assessment says—more and more risky.

We built the fence around the edges of where the Eurotunnel trains were, so people moved to Calais. We fortified Calais port, so they moved to Boulogne, went further north, or moved to Le Havre or Ouistreham. Every time we build a wall, they just move a little further down. Nobody wants—I don’t think anybody wants—to build a massive fence along the entirety of northern France, Belgium and Holland, but if we did so, they would come from Spain. Simply reinforcing the border is not effective if we do not also provide some form of alternate route, ideally an expedited route.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

Does Zoe have anything to add to that?

Zoe Gardner:

Lucy covered it perfectly.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Anne and Stuart, you have about a minute to ask your questions and to get some answers before I bring in the Minister.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I had a question for Lucy, which she has partly answered, so I will check with her offline—I thank her for partly answering it. I know that the JCWI has concerns about statelessness, so perhaps Zoe will say something about that. Also, this morning, we talked about the Bill being at odds with our international obligations, so will you comment on the fears that the British Red Cross expressed this morning, that if we do this—you referred to it yourself—there could be a domino effect? If we start to say, “Not on our doorstep”, France could say the same and so, even more worryingly, could countries where most people end up, such as the countries that border Afghanistan, where theQ hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said the genuine refugees come from. We have asked countries to keep their borders open, but what if they start to say, “No, we’ll not keep our borders open if the UK isn’t going to or France isn’t.” There will be that domino effect, which is worrying.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Zoe, I am trying to understand one of the points that you made earlier and your example of the young gentleman from Syria who came over here. You said that, under the legislation, even if he is sent out of the country, he will try to get back in, regardless of the legislation, even though he knows the system. Is that solely because he has family members here, or because, no matter what legislation we put in place, people will still—even when they know the system—try to come back in? Will you expand on that, please?

Zoe Gardner:

I certainly would not like to say that I know anything about his intentions individually, but I would say that, as a young person and a refugee, if he were to be sent to another country, anybody in those circumstances would seek to be with their loved ones. That is the natural and human thing that we would all do. As Lucy Moreton explained clearly, once you have taken such a long and dangerous journey, and seen things that we in this room have certainly never seen and hope never to, there is no prospect of going back or of giving up so, yes, people will try to make the journey back again. It already happens. It is factored into the price in some of the smuggling operations that we hear about, that if you are turned back by the French coastguard, you get one extra shot free on us, half-price or whatever.

People who have made the journey this far and believe that the UK is the place where they will be safe and their human rights respected will seek to come here. We cannot make them disappear, so—this goes to Anne’s point—the only credible response is meaningful and good-faith international co-operation. We need to engage with the French, step up to say that we will take our fair share and then speak from a position of moral authority to ask others to do the same. That means taking in people who have connections to the UK.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Okay, thank you, Zoe. I will bring in the Minister at this point.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q Thank you, Ms McDonagh. I have one question for Ms Gardner. One of the real focuses of the work of your organisation is around welfare. What assessment do you make of our proposals to streamline the judicial process to process cases more quickly and, of course, remove people who have no right to be here more quickly? What do you make of that?

Zoe Gardner:

I am quite confused about that being the aim of the legislation that we have in front of us. The measures that have been put forward in the Bill, as far as I can tell, will only serve to exacerbate and complicate the repeated legal claims that will be made. For example, the split standard of proof in the Bill would apply a different standard of proof to different parts of a person’s asylum claim. That will be challenged and tested in the courts and will take longer. Obviously, the delays of six months will make the system take longer. On the other side, slapping a priority sign on to somebody’s deportation order does not actually make any difference. Again, as Lucy said, that is a matter for having well-resourced court systems and a fair and efficient system, and the Bill just does not do anything to achieve any of that.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Apologies, but that brings us to the end of the time allotted to ask questions. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee. Many questions were asked and our witnesses gave evidence that Members wanted to listen to.