Amendment 22

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 8:30 pm ar 4 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur 8:30, 4 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 44 in this group, which is in my name and supported by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Houghton of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Before turning further to Amendment 44, I say that I support the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I have had the benefit of hearing about these amendments in Committee and today in your Lordships’ House. I do not plan to say anything further on this, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government’s attitude to those who have been trafficked or other victims of modern slavery should be that they were in control of their own decision-making and to categorise them as such, when manifestly they were not. I also support Amendments 31 and 32 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which I am sure she will speak to immediately after I sit down, and Amendment 25 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs.

As the explanatory statement in relation to Amendment 44 makes clear, the new clause proposed by this amendment would exempt from removal to Rwanda people who are in a very special case: those who put themselves in harm’s way in support of His Majesty’s Armed Forces or through working with or for the UK Government overseas. It extends this exemption to their partners and dependants. In Committee on 14 February, responding to a debate on this amendment, the Minister said:

“Of course, we greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas, and we have accepted our moral obligation. … Anyone eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and Afghan citizens resettlement scheme should apply to come to the UK legally under those routes. As regards the specific case of British Council personnel, they are qualified under the third pathway of the ACRS and places are offered to them”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; cols. 287-88.]

I know and admire the Minister, and he is correct, but his restatement of the eligibility framework and criteria for these schemes does not engage, never mind undermine, the necessity for this exemption. It is clear that we have a moral duty to those who have served at our behest and in our interests. However, despite serving shoulder to shoulder with British troops, most of the Triples were not evacuated in August 2021, and many have subsequently been rejected under the ARAP scheme. We know now that they were rejected because of misunderstandings on the part of decision-makers of the terms of ARAP and, often, the nature of the service of the applicants, despite the existence of compelling evidence to the contrary, and there is now credible evidence suggesting that the UK Special Forces department blocked eligible applicants from being accepted. The group was refused wrongly by the bureaucracy or blocked for self-serving, venal reasons by the country’s Special Forces, whose Government and Ministers have a moral obligation to promise them, and still promises them, sanctuary.

It comes to this: many applied for the status that would allow them a legal route to resettlement in the UK. They were refused in error. Then, fearing what materialised as their comrades were murdered or tortured by the Taliban, they faced the choice of staying in Afghanistan and facing certain death or getting here somehow. They chose to get here somehow. They were in extremis and had no alternative. There was no legal route open to them because of our failures. In Committee, I shared accounts of the experience of five Afghans who were driven to this extreme and acted accordingly. I do not intend to repeat them but they are freely available in open source media, and I am sure many others will become apparent over time.

Responding to this amendment in Committee, the Minister asserted:

“Regardless of the contribution they have previously made, a person who chooses to come to the UK illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 288.]

The third clause of that sentence makes a rather startling admission: that the position of this Government is that, even when they—the Government—have failed, when access to a safe and legal route is wrongly denied, the consequences of their dereliction should doubly be laid on those who are already victims of it in the first place. Your Lordships’ House is a legislative Chamber. Where there is a wrong that can be remedied via legislative means, we are empowered to do just that. Making law is not separate from morality but, in cases of this moral seriousness, should be a means of translating morality into practical, proportionate and enforceable measures.

On 5 February, in the debate on a UQ on the relocation of Afghan special forces, I welcomed—and I repeat that welcome today—the Government’s undertaking to review all the ARAP applications from members of the Afghan special forces, known as the Triples, that already have been deemed ineligible. Some of these very brave men and their families and dependants are hiding in Afghanistan. Others are in Pakistan, waiting to find out whether the new Government in Pakistan will deport them back to Afghanistan, where they will be in fear for their lives.

As I said then, in addition to those who are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there are others who are here in the United Kingdom. In August 2021, when Kabul fell to the Taliban and chaos ensued around Kabul Airport, they were denied access to evacuation flights. The Taliban in attendance around the airport knew who they were and where they lived. Soon, when the killing of their colleagues and families started, they were forced to get here by irregular and dangerous routes. On 5 February, I asked whether the Ministry of Defence, in carrying out the review, would undertake not to make them ineligible for ARAP simply because of how they got here. No such undertaken was given, either then or since. Apparently, His Majesty’s Government, although greatly valuing the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas and accepting their moral obligation to them, none the less value the Rwanda policy more.

The provisions of the Illegal Migration Act are so unambiguous that, if any of those people got here with the assistance of traffickers and crossed the channel in small boats, they would be illegal migrants. Section 1(2)(a) places a binding duty on the Secretary of State to arrange for their removal. In conjunction with the provisions of this Bill, were they to enter into force, that removal would be to Rwanda. Some already have been threatened repeatedly with deportation to Rwanda. It is to remedy this that the amendment is necessary. In this context, I echo a question that I asked in Committee:

“When we ask others to ally themselves with us in future”— as we will—

“what lessons do we imagine that they will draw from these cases? That we are steadfast in our support for those who have lent their support to us? That we can be trusted to meet our commitments? No, we will be seen as utterly transactional—a power that asks others to risk their lives and pledge themselves to act in our interests but will not offer sanctuary in return when they need it”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 272.]

As I have said, I welcome the Statement made on 1 February that the MoD has decided to undertake a reassessment of all decisions of ineligibility made on applications with credible links to Afghan specialist units, but evidence of errors in handling eligibility for the Afghan resettlement schemes is not confined to the Triples and ARAP. I refer your Lordships to the evidence complied by the charity the SULHA Alliance, whose spokesperson Professor Sara de Jong has commented that their casework includes interpreters and labourers who qualify under ACRS who are being treated similarly by decision-makers, with many errors.

This amendment goes significantly further than the Government’s reassessment and meets the moral need. Although I do not approve of the Bill or its intentions, this amendment should attract support even from those who count themselves among the Bill’s supporters. If they wish the Rwanda scheme to work and to be seen to work, this would at least ensure that we do not face the ignominy of seeing those who risked their lives at our instigation being deported from the country in whose service they have risked exile, serious injury and death.