Examination of Witnesses

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:32 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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Lisa Doyle, Mariam Kemple-Hardy, Priscilla Dudhia and Alphonsine Kabagabo gave evidence.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 3:15 pm, 23rd September 2021

Welcome, everybody. We will now hear from Lisa Doyle, executive director of advocacy and engagement at the Refugee Council and Mariam Kemple-Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, both of whom are appearing in person. We will also hear from Priscilla Dudhia, advocacy co-ordinator at Women for Refugee Women, and Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women, who are both joining us remotely via Zoom. Given that this panel is split between physical and video link contributions, it is especially important that Members direct their questions at specific witnesses to avoid confusion. We have until 4 pm for this session. Please could the witnesses introduce themselves for the record? Can we start with the witnesses who are present in the room?

Lisa Doyle:

I am Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy and engagement at Refugee Council.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

Hi, I am Mariam Kemple-Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action.

Alphonsine Kabagabo:

Hi, I am Alphonsine Kabagabo, and I am the director of Women for Refugee Women.

Priscilla Dudhia:

Hello, I am Priscilla Dudhia, policy co-ordinator, also from Women for Refugee Women.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Welcome to all our witnesses. Who would like to start?

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

Q The purpose of the Bill is to increase fairness, better protect people seeking asylum, deter illegal entry to the UK, break the business of human trafficking and remove more easily those who have no right to be in the UK. In your opinion, does the Bill achieve those aims? Can I start off with Lisa?

Lisa Doyle:

In our opinion, it does not meet those aims. Previous witnesses you have heard from in the last few days have also said this. There is little evidence that putting deterrents in place actually stops people arriving in the UK. People are pushed into situations where they seek safety. Research that we have conducted, and that the Home Office conducted a while ago, showed that people often did not have information about the rights and entitlements they would be greeted with in the UK.

Because there are not enough safe and regular routes for people to come to the UK, they are forced to rely on smugglers and others to reach here, and they get different types of information. The deterrents do not work. There is not evidence that they work. Our concern with lots of the provisions in the Bill is that they seek to punish or disadvantage or make vulnerable people even more vulnerable, rather than giving them the protection they need.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

Thank you very much for having me today. I want to say that I will be giving evidence based not just on the work that Refugee Action do as a service provider. Over July and August we held a series of focus groups with refugees and people in the asylum system to consult with them on what they thought the impact of the legislation would be.

First, at Refugee Action we have really welcomed the warm words of the Government recently in response to the Afghanistan crisis. They have said that they want to give a warm welcome to refugees fleeing that horror, and we welcome that. However, that warm rhetoric is not matched by the harsh reality that we see in this Bill.

As Lisa has said, the Bill is about punishment. It is not about protection. We understand there are two key objectives of this legislation, the first being to make a fairer asylum system and the second being to deter people from making dangerous crossings. We believe the legislation fails on both counts.

When it comes to making a fairer asylum system, what we actually see is this legislation creating a deeply unfair system, where, for the first time ever in UK law, refugees will be judged based on how they enter the country, not on their protection needs.

Secondly, when it comes to deterring dangerous journeys, this legislation is likely, as per the Government’s own equality impact assessment last week, to make people take even more dangerous routes. Far from breaking the business model of people smugglers, this legislation plays into that business model. If you make it harder to enter the country, smugglers can charge more and encourage people to take even more dangerous routes. We are likely to see more people losing their lives as a result of this.

The key disrupter to that business model is providing safe routes to safety, but we do not see anything said about that in this legislation. There is nothing to increase refugee resettlement, nothing to increase access to family reunion and nothing about humanitarian visas. It is all about punishment. It is not about protection.

Alphonsine Kabagabo:

Thank you for giving us this opportunity. We will be focusing on the impact of this Bill on women, because we represent that area. We are an organisation that supports women to safety in the UK and defends their rights. As other people have already said, this new Bill will have a great impact on women.

As you know, quite a lot of women in our network have survived gender-based violence. They have been traumatised through being raped, being forced into marriage, being forced into sexual exploitation or through FGM. For them to access a safe route has got to be an option for me, because it is not a choice. It is an issue that they cannot avoid. This Bill makes it even harder for those victims to access safety.

We are also concerned about some of the detail, such as providing evidence when you arrive, as soon as possible. Women who have been traumatised, because they have been violated, raped and all that, cannot provide that evidence straight away. They need time to heal, to be protected, to access mental health support. They need time to understand the system, so that is retraumatising them even more.

We are also very concerned because there is even a clause about being a member of a particular social group, and gender is not one of the groups. That really will absolutely affect some of the women we are fighting for. We were also surprised that the Bill is at odds with the Government policy on violence against women and girls, which proposes to support survivors of gender-based violence. Instead of offering safety and support, this new Bill will actively harm and traumatise women. So, I will say that, but my colleague Priscilla might want to add something. Over to you, Priscilla.

Priscilla Dudhia:

That was fantastic—nothing to add.

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

Q Picking up on what Alphonsine mentioned about late provision of evidence and disclosing evidence, which is mentioned in clause 23, and about people being penalised for not disclosing evidence that they may not be willing to share straight away, what are your thoughts on that? Also, what are your thoughts on the inadmissibility clause and about clause 10, the two-tier clause about treating people differently based on how they arrive?

Lisa Doyle:

In terms of the two-tier system, it seems incomprehensible that you would treat somebody differently based on their mode of arrival, not because of their protection needs. You could have a perverse situation with next door neighbours from Afghanistan, with one fortunately finding their way on to the formal resettlement route and the other being forced to take the decision to make a dangerous journey, then, on reaching UK shores, getting a different level of protection and rights than their next door neighbour, even though they are fleeing the same persecution and threats. People’s protection needs are not based on how they travel, how much money they have or what their identity is—in terms of whether men might be more prone to travel or not. People make decisions, when they are forced to rely on smugglers, about who they will prioritise to send to a country, and then hope that they can apply, through refugee family reunion, for others to join them afterwards. Having differential treatment based on mode of arrival seems grossly unfair.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

I agree with everything Lisa has just said. Afghanistan is a really instructive example. In August, the whole world witnessed what it is like when a country enfolds itself in crisis—how chaotic it is. We saw how few and how precious those places on those planes were.

It is fantastic that the Government have committed to taking in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan over the next two years, but we know that that is a drop in the ocean. We saw people clinging to the sides of planes. That is how desperate they are to reach safety. Although we welcome the fact that the Government have said that they will take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, we are very concerned about what will happen to the 20,001st Afghan refugee who arrives after this legislation. That Afghan refugee, as Lisa says, will be fleeing the same horror, but they will be treated as a second class of refugee.

When we spoke to our focus groups, they said that if they were to get this second-class version of refugee protection, their life would be one of “You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.” They said, “Look, this temporary protection is no protection at all.” They thought that, with very unstable immigration status, all the building blocks of rebuilding your life—being able to access a job, to rent somewhere, to send your children to university—would be far, far beyond them. As a result of that, we believe that this whole concept of temporary protection is, as I said, no protection at all. It is a system of punishment, not protection.

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

Q I ask the same question to Alphonsine and Priscilla.

Priscilla Dudhia:

Without repeating what has already been said, we would like to highlight that, as well as distinguishing between refugees based on their mode of arrival, the Bill also distinguishes between refugees based on the point at which they claim asylum and punishes those who have not claimed asylum “without delay”.

As an organisation that, as Alphonsine highlighted, supports a large network of women who have survived the most horrific cases of sexual and gender-based violence, we are concerned about the fact that women who had survived that violence would be punished by this. We know that women who have experienced that kind of violence have issues in disclosing that.

Those issues are well acknowledged in Home Office policy. That policy talks about the barriers that feelings of shame and guilt can create, the stigma that comes with sexual violence and the fear that some women might have of reprisals from community and family members. That same policy goes on to say that late disclosure should not automatically prejudice a woman’s credibility. In clause 10, we have a direct contravention of that acknowledgement of the very real challenges that women who have fled gender-based violence face in sharing their experiences.

Alongside that, there are other situations in which women might not be able to claim asylum at the earliest opportunity. For instance, many of the women to whom we have spoken in our network had no idea that they could claim refugee protection on the basis of the gender-based violence that they have faced. There are other women who have fled violence and did not intend to stay in the UK for a long time—who came here on a visa, wanting to escape persecution but with the intention of going back—but later discovered that, “Actually, no, there is a grave threat to my safety still, and I need to stay.”

I would like briefly to share the story of one such woman, called Agnes, who is a refugee from a west African country. Agnes fled political persecution. She fled her country—she was in danger—and eventually decided to go to the UK, where her daughter was studying. She was the only family member that she could be with. She wanted to return, but once she was here she realised that political opponents were still being targeted. A lady for whom Agnes was working as an assistant was in prison at the time when Agnes was in the UK, and she realised that it was not safe for her to go back.

Agnes said that she was expecting to go back home quickly, but she could not: “When I realised my visa was going to expire, I went to Croydon to ask what to do to apply for asylum, and that is what I did.” Unfortunately for Agnes, she was locked up in detention, which she found hugely traumatising given her previous experience of incarceration. Her claim was refused at the initial stage and on appeal, and she had to lodge a fresh claim. Today Agnes has refugee status and we are immensely honoured to say that she is part of our team at Women for Refugee Women, where she works as a detention campaign spokesperson. I say all this to highlight that there may be legitimate reasons why vulnerable women are not able to claim right away, and we do not think that it is acceptable to be punishing them.

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

Q Thank you. I have one more question on something that Priscilla touched on, about how the Bill will increase the need for asylum accommodation. We have heard about the issues at Napier Barracks. People from Afghanistan are being kept in hotels at the moment. What are your thoughts on the clauses to do with accommodation and their impact? I will ask Lisa first.

Lisa Doyle:

At the Refugee Council we are really concerned about having large-scale accommodation centres set up where people are kept away from communities that, should they get refugee status, they would want to be able to integrate into, so they will have little contact with friends, neighbours and volunteers. Those kinds of things are a real worry. The dispersal policy as it works now is that people are housed within communities. There are little details about the accommodation centres, and we are aware that the Home Office has started to tender out for those, but a lot of the detail on that is privileged to those who want to bid. We want to know who would be put into those centres. Napier Barracks is a really good case of looking at suitability for people. We know that with covid there were particular risks, and independent inspectorates showed that parts of Napier were not fit for human habitation.

In terms of vulnerability, the Home Office has alluded to the fact that it would not necessarily put vulnerable people into large-scale accommodation centres, but it does not have a very good track record of identifying vulnerable people at an early stage. Many people were removed from Napier because of their vulnerabilities, because non-governmental organisations and charities took legal cases against the Home Office and then the Home Office removed them. The safeguards are not there. If people are outside communities, there is not oversight and that will really damage people’s chances to integrate and rebuild their lives should they get refugee status.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

The first thing to say is that asylum accommodation has been in crisis for years. In the last 12 months, five of our clients have had the ceilings where they live fall on them. The two-year-old toddler of one of our clients was hospitalised because their head was split open. We have had whole families having to live in just one room. We have had people stuck in hotels for years. There is a crisis of accommodation. However, what we see in the Bill is that it doubles down on that injustice that we see.

When it comes to accommodation centres, we are against them on a point of principle and also because of the practice at Napier and Penally Barracks over the last 12 months. When it comes to the point of principle, as Lisa says, the idea of segregating part of our society and othering them is something that we disagree with. It takes people away from the communities that they want to integrate into; it takes them away from the healthcare that they may need to access—they are very traumatised people who have particular mental health and physical needs in many instances; and it takes them away from opportunities to get education and so on. On a point of principle, we are very much against that practice. However, in terms of actual practice, over the last year in Napier and Penally Barracks, we have seen appalling situations where people have tried to take their own lives. We saw, at the height of the pandemic, people being forced to live with 28 other strangers in dormitories. In Napier Barracks, there was an outbreak when 197 people tested positive for covid-19. Traumatised people in Penally Barracks were next to an active firing range. In terms of the way this has been put into practice, we are deeply concerned about the plans.

I want to make two quick final points about the how the legislation is currently drafted. First, the legislation would give the Home Secretary the ability to extend the maximum amount of time that someone can be in an accommodation centre. At the moment, the maximum is six months. The Bill does not say how long someone could be in the accommodation centre—arguably, it could be unlimited.

Secondly, the Bill also allows people in those conditions to be put under residence conditions, such as being told that they were not able to leave that accommodation for a certain period of time during a day. We are seeing the potential for unlimited de facto detention as a result of the Bill. Someone in our focus group said, “Let’s be honest; it’s not a camp, it’s a prison. Let’s call a spade a spade”. This is not something that we want to see in our refugee protection system.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I am terribly sorry to our witnesses on Zoom, but I would like to get some more questions in, if that is okay. I call Jonathan Gullis.

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

Q We have heard about safe routes to safety. I am interested in knowing why the European Union is not a safe destination.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

I heard the UNHCR give comprehensive evidence earlier, and I think the points that they made about the need or not to apply for asylum in the first safe country of entry were clear and unequivocal. In addition, I do not think it is up to me, you or anyone else to decide what is safe for someone.

I will give you an example of someone we spoke to. They are from South America, and they fled to the UK, but they had to take a flight to Spain first before moving to the UK. Many of us in the room would say that Spain is a safe country, but that individual was fleeing gang violence, and the gang had extensive networks in Spain, so it was absolutely not a safe country for him. He is deeply concerned about the impact the legislation could have on his claim for asylum in the UK.

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

Q But he would not have that concern if he came to this country through a safe and legal route. If you enter this country illegally—via the English channel with other illegal economic migrants—that would count against your application. People in Stoke-on-Trent think it is totally fair. I do not understand why coming through safe and legal routes is a problem. People who make dangerous journeys of their own choice, rather than going through safe and legal routes, put money in the hands of criminal gangs, which inevitably leads to more criminality, whether in the UK or in mainland Europe.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

First, the number of safe routes to this country is vanishingly small. As I said, it is shocking that there is not a word in the legislation that actually increases safe routes to safety. There is nothing about family reunion, refugee resettlement and so on.

However, on the issue of channel crossings—thank you for raising it—we at Refugee Action do not want to see people crossing the channel. It is dangerous and we do not want to see it at all. However, we notice that the rhetoric around this particular debate often focuses on the question of how we can keep people out, not how we can keep people safe. If we were to ask the question, “How do we keep people safe?”, there are very clear policy solutions. As I say, it is about family reunion, refugee resettlement and so on, but there is nothing at all in the legislation—nothing—to increase safe routes.

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

Q Would you not agree, then, with His Excellency George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner, that one of the solutions is to disrupt and deter people from making that dangerous journey, so that they are not endangering their lives or those of their family members? That means regional offshore processing, pushbacks and harsher action, so that if you enter this country illegally, it will count against you when you make an asylum claim. If we do that stuff, people will not make those dangerous journeys, and that will ultimately be what saves their lives.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

As I said earlier, the evidence is clear that if you make it harder and harder to enter a country, that does not break the business model of the people smugglers. As the Government’s own equality impact assessment stated last week, it actually plays into that business model, because you enable them to charge higher prices and people are more likely to go by much riskier routes. In terms of being a deterrent, that is not going to be effective. The most radical way to disrupt this business model is to focus on how we keep people safe, and that is about increasing access to safe routes. In terms of offshoring, I am not sure if Lisa wanted to add anything.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I am ever so sorry, but owing to the shortness of time, rather than go to another member of the panel, I would like to get someone to ask a question. I would like to give Alphonsine and Priscilla their first go at answering. I call Robert Goodwill.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Q My question is directed to the ladies joining us down the line. When we worked with the French Government to clear the camps at Sangatte and brought 750 asylum seekers across, about 90% of those were men. Do you share my concerns that illegal routes of entry to the UK tend to very much favour men, whereas some of the more organised routes through the UNHCR and the resettlement programmes could ensure that women who are particularly at risk through exploitation or sexual exploitation could be prioritised or allowed to have equal opportunities? By having a situation where we have people coming illegally into the country, that tends to favour men; women are being disadvantaged.

Alphonsine Kabagabo:

We certainly welcome a system that will let more women in and will give them the choice to be brought to safety in a safe way—we absolutely welcome that—but that is what we do not see. We do not see those opportunities being available today. We do not see the opportunities being available for the women we work with to reach a safe country in a safe way—even for men, although I do not have those figures. We have women who crossed the Sahara to come here, seeking safety. I will let my colleague add to that.

As someone who has experienced being a refugee, when I was stuck, I would have taken any route. When I was in Rwanda during the genocide, I would have taken any route to get to safety. No one offered me that safe route. The Belgians and the French came to rescue expatriates, not Rwandan people. That is the problem. The problem is that those routes are not available to us.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Q I have a quick follow-up questions. We heard this morning from the Australian high commissioner that the people smugglers who were bringing people to Australia did not in the main have connections with organised criminals in Australia, but we know that the organised smugglers who bring people to the UK most certainly have connections with modern slavery. Vietnamese people are brought to work in nail bars. We have people in car washes, and maybe even also people in garment factories or being brought into prostitution. Do you not agree that if we could deter people from coming from the continent to the UK—where those criminal gangs need to deliver their passengers to get the payback that modern slavery will give them—we would be better encouraging people to claim asylum in France, which is a safe country and a place where they can get the support they need?

Priscilla Dudhia:

As my colleagues have already said, the way to deter these gangs and so on is to create more safe and legal routes—to expand the global resettlement scheme; to set a number; to prioritise women who have survived sexual and gender-based violence; to expand family reunification laws, but is also to look towards other routes. My connection cut out for a bit earlier, so apologies if I am repeating what has already been said. We strongly urge the Government to explore humanitarian visas. Right now, there is no asylum visa. We think that all that would minimise the risk of people taking dangerous journeys. As Alphonsine has already highlighted, safe and legal routes are not available to everyone, unfortunately. We must not shut the door on vulnerable women who cannot avail themselves of the routes for reasons that are entirely beyond their control.

Looking to the situation in Afghanistan, for instance, the two-tier system would lead to immense cruelty and absurd results. You could have a female Afghan journalist who is really vulnerable and gets on the resettlement scheme, and then female Afghan journalist B, who is just as vulnerable, but for whatever reasons cannot access the resettlement scheme and has to quickly uproot herself from danger. We have heard reports from civil society organisations about Afghan women being targeted. Because of the way she has journeyed—because of the irregular route she has taken—she is punished. Yes, we need to create routes, but we cannot punish women like that. What is our asylum system if those are the consequences that ensue for vulnerable women?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Thank you. I would like to bring in a representative from the SNP now, because they are yet to ask any questions.

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

Q Thank you very much for your time today and for everything you do for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. I have a question for Lisa. You say in your written evidence that the cost of prosecuting and imprisoning those seeking asylum, if we go ahead with this Bill, could be up to £400 million a year more than under the current system. Given that in parts of the UK the prison system is already bursting at the seams, and there is an asylum decision backlog of 70,000 people living in limbo, unable to contribute to the economy, if you could spend that £400 million, how would you use it to improve the immigration system?

Lisa Doyle:

Certainly by expanding the safe routes that we have been talking about. A question was asked earlier about women and children. If the Government are serious about prioritising vulnerable women and children, the proposals to limit family reunion rights will run counter to that, because 90% of people who join people on family reunion are women and children.

We have an issue with decision making being too slow. At the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, the Home Office said that the average waiting time is a year now. We all want quick, efficient and accurate decisions, which would mean that anyone entering the UK would have their claim assessed quickly, and that would flow through the system and reduce the pressure on asylum accommodation. Putting more decision makers into the Home Office would certainly help. Improvements in the quality of accommodation and an expansion of safe routes would be a good investment for Britain to play its role in the international protection system.

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

Q Thank you very much for that. Mariam, the Australian high commissioner was here this morning—you saw that—and I was not able to ask my question, which was about resignation syndrome. You might not know much about that, but I want to talk about mental health generally. My question to him was about how offshoring impacts on everyone’s mental health, but particularly on children who suffer from resignation syndrome. I just want to get this on the record, because these children were in a catatonic state. Some of them had not moved for four months, and still the Australian Government were saying, “No, we can’t help.” Do you know anything about that? If not, you talked about people who attempted to take their own lives in the barracks, so perhaps you could say something about the impact on mental health of living in that type of accommodation.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

Sure. I am afraid I cannot speak about resignation syndrome. However, on mental health, I have mentioned that there are a few crises in the asylum system, but one of them is definitely a mental health crisis. When we work with and speak to refugees in the asylum system right now, they talk about the impact of the system—not just the accommodation, but the system overall. One person, who has been waiting almost three years for a decision on her claim, said, “It has destroyed me psychologically as a person.”

We have a system in which people are left in limbo for years. While they are waiting, they are not allowed to work—in effect, they are banned from working. They have to live on £5.69 a day—effectively, state-sponsored poverty. People tell us that they feel that they have lost all purpose. They feel that their experience of the asylum system is almost like a mental war, a complete retraumatising. These people have made it here, trying to seek safety, after going through a very traumatic process.

As I said, however, this legislation will only double down on that injustice. It will build an additional six months’ wait into the process, if someone is inadmissible. If their claim is deemed inadmissible and they have to wait six months to see if the Government will support them, it is unlikely that they will. Then, after six months, they enter the asylum system.

We would like to see policies in legislation that are sensible and humane. For example—I will say one final thing on the right to work—you mentioned how much money the legislation might cost the Home Office. Actually, those sensible policies we believe would save the Home Office a huge amount of money and would really help people in that psychological limbo while they wait for their asylum claim to be processed. If people were given the right to work, we estimate that it would save the Home Office about £100 million per year, and actually 71% of the public fully support giving people seeking asylum the right to work. However, we do not see such policies in this legislation. Instead, we see policies to punish and not to protect.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Mariam, you were talking about the information that refugees had in terms of the decisions they were making and the outcomes they were expecting. I want to go back to something we heard in discussions yesterday. I have never been in your world, and I really respect the work that you do in this space, but we seem to be getting conflicting information. If the legislation is to make a difference, it has to make more diversions into what actions the refugees take in coming here. On the one hand, you talk about push being what is driving them, not pull, but on the other hand, we hear people talking about how, because of this rule or part of the legislation, it stops them coming or makes them concerned about coming.Q

How can they be concerned? How do they get that information? I do not see that the information that they are getting about the Bill will be a motivator, because it all seems to be about push—about getting away from where you are—as opposed to any thoughts even about what they will find when they get here. I cannot square that circle—what knowledge refugees actually have about our place when they set off, other than, “It’s a nice place to go to.”

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

Absolutely. I watched those evidence sessions. I heard, I think, Zoe Gardner and Jon Featonby talking about the misinformation that people get as well. Actually, many people have said that they are more likely to get misinformation from, for example, smuggling gangs that are trying to get them to take these dangerous routes, rather than understanding the ins and outs of the most recent legislation in Parliament.

The people we have spoken to in the asylum system are talking about the legislation they are seeing and the asylum system they are experiencing once they are here. Before they left to come here, many people have explained that they knew very little about how to claim asylum in the UK. It was only when they arrived here that they understood what it would mean. As you say, it is all about the push factor. People explained to us, when they needed to leave, they needed to leave—they did not have any time to sit down, to do the research. One person was living in a refugee camp and thought that only four countries in the world would provide asylum.

One thing that the focus group said was that they felt the legislation fundamentally misunderstands the concept of what being a refugee is, as though it is a choice and you can choose where to go and how to get there. For them it was not a choice. It was not a choice to come to the UK, because the UK was where they believed they were going for safety. One person said, “This is where I felt I was going to be welcomed and where I was going to be free,” because they have language ties and family here, and things like that. That is why the UK is the place of the safety for them. They are not shopping around and saying, “Okay, it’s a nice place.” It is the place of safety for them.

The key thing to try to square the circle—I am not sure that I have—is that people have very limited access to information in that chaotic moment of trying to leave, as we saw in Afghanistan. People come here, and many have said—I think it is quite sad, looking at the legislation—that they believed that the UK was a beacon of human rights that would protect them. That is why they are here. They are then devastated to learn of the plans, and by how they have been treated in the asylum system so far. As I say, the plans will simply double down on the injustice that we already see.

Alphonsine Kabagabo:

Can I confirm what you just said, Mariam? Some people choose to come here also because of historical connection and the language. If you have been colonised by the UK, you feel safe to come to a country where you have a historical tie. When I was a refugee, I went to Belgium. I speak French, so I felt safe there. If I am in Belgium, I feel that is where I need to be. We need to understand that we are talking about people here, not numbers—people who are trying not only to survive, but to rebuild life, and rebuilding life sometimes means thinking, “Where do I have a chance to rebuild life—not just to be a refugee, but to be a person again?”. That is what I want to emphasise.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I get that, but my concern is how to get the message back around to the beginning. The refugees who get here and can therefore get messages back to people where they came from—is that not the most efficient method of getting anything true back to those people, as opposed to the noise they get from people smugglers and so on? That message should be that the best way to come is the safe route. If they come across the channel they will run into all sorts of problems, and therefore we want to motivate them to go the safe way, rather than any other way.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I am sorry, but I want to get another question in. Neil, do you want to ask your question? That will probably be the last one—both questions can be answered together.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Q I think Mariam mentioned that there is a vanishingly small number of safe routes, which creates the incentive to take dangerous routes into the UK. Could any of the witnesses say which safer routes they would like to see extended, and how those could be added to the Bill?

Mariam Kemple-Hardy:

The first question asked how we can get information to people that they should take the safe routes instead. My very quick and simple answer is that there is a vanishingly small number of safe routes, so that question is completely irrelevant for most people. If you want to know how to help people to take more safe routes, the answer is to create more safe routes. Nothing in the Bill creates more safe routes.

To the second question, we have for a long time been calling for the Government to announce a regular annual global commitment to refugee resettlement. We have been calling for the Government to resettle 10,000 refugees from around the world on an annual basis. We believe that is absolutely possible, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said in the past that it is absolutely feasible. We would like to see the Government take the legislation and do what they have set out in their rhetoric by creating safe routes to safety.

There are other different types of routes—I believe the British Red Cross spoke in particular about family reunion—but we would like to see one key thing that the Government could do relatively easily. We previously took in 5,000 Syrian refugees each year. Let us up our ambition, meet the ambitions of global Britain and say, “Yes, we will take in 10,000 refugees from around the world.” It was great to see the announcement of the Afghan resettlement scheme, but that answers only today’s crisis. We want to see a resettlement programme that addresses not only the crisis of today, but the crises of tomorrow.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

We have a couple of minutes. Do any other witnesses want to say something briefly?

Lisa Doyle:

May I just add to that? I agree that resettlement needs expansion. Refugee family reunion is a really good safe route; it is used by tens of thousands of people, 90% of whom are women and children. The Bill seeks to reduce the rights to refugee family reunion, rather than expand them. Priscilla also mentioned a humanitarian visa that would allow people to travel to the UK to claim asylum. They would still have their asylum claim looked at, but they could formally and legally get on a plane and come to the UK—you have to be physically present in the UK to claim asylum, so that would be helpful.

However, no matter how many safe routes are opened, you should not be closing down routes for people who need to enter irregularly. That is in the convention, as was just highlighted very strongly by the UNHCR. There will be categorisations and formal processes and criteria that people will have to meet for all of the safe routes, and not everyone will be covered yet. There will still be people who fall outside of those who have protection needs, and we should honour those.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, Government Whip

I have a quick question on what you just said. For absolute clarity, are you saying that we should not be closing down routes where people are drowning and dying to get hereQ ?

Lisa Doyle:

We do not want people to drown and die to get here.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, Government Whip

Q But you said that we should not be closing those routes down.

Lisa Doyle:

We should not be punishing people who feel they are forced to travel irregularly to enter a country. There is a precedent in international law to do that. All the evidence in previous days has said that if you build your walls higher, the people smugglers become more and more sophisticated and have to take—

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, Government Whip

Q So for absolute clarity, you would rather see people drown—

Lisa Doyle:

Of course I would not want to see people drown. What I am saying is that there will always be a need for people to enter countries and to seek safety not on formal safe routes, because formal safe routes are not broad enough to encompass everybody. The reality is that people are desperate. They need to move and they want to rebuild their lives.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Thank you. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence.