Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords am 3:56 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 3:56, 9 Mai 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the number of people who have entered the United Kingdom without prior permission since 7 March 2023 and so have been deemed inadmissible to the asylum system, and what plans they have to deal with them.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I must first draw attention to my interest in the RAMP organisation, which supports me, which is in the register.

My purpose in tabling this topical question debate is to establish facts about the Government’s policy in respect of the 73,000 asylum applications, covering roughly 90,000 people, that have been made since the introduction of the Illegal Migration Bill on 7 March 2023. The Minister will know very well that we on these Benches do not support the Government’s policy on removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda or provisions in the Illegal Migration Act. However, he will be very pleased to know that I do not intend to re-rehearse those arguments today.

Today I am seeking answers from the Minister to confirm how the Government intend their policy to be applied. This matters to the taxpayer, to the 90,000 people caught up in it and to the many organisations that are seeking to support them. I also seek to pursue some of the questions to which the Public Accounts Committee in the other House sought answers in its evidence session of 5 April 2024.

Those individuals who arrived in the UK on a visa, for example as a student, and then later claimed asylum, for reasons such as civil war breaking out in their own country, would have their asylum claim considered in the UK. However, as there is no legal route by which to enter the UK to claim asylum, once the Illegal Migration Act is fully in force most of the asylum applications made since 7 March 2023 will be deemed inadmissible. This means they will have lodged an asylum application but, due to their method of travel to the UK, their cases will have been placed on hold pending a third country accepting their removal—namely, Rwanda. Their asylum claim is not admitted into the UK asylum system, so the substance of their claim would never be assessed in the UK. They are effectively in indefinite limbo until they can be sent to a safe third country.

In the Permanent Secretary’s letter of 25 April to the chairs of the Public Accounts and Home Affairs Committees in the other House, he confirmed that the exact number of these asylum applications deemed to be inadmissible would

“only be confirmed once the full triage” of these arrivals had been completed. So my first question is: what do the Government predict will be the number of inadmissible cases from 7 March 2023 to the present, based on their current modelling?

We have two cohorts of people who are in limbo within this 73,000. The first is the Illegal Migration Bill cohort, who arrived between 7 March 2023 and 19 July 2023. These amount to 21,313 applications as of 14 April this year. These individuals are not subject to the duty to remove, but they are subject to the ban on leave to enter or remain, on settlement and on citizenship. Whether they are inadmissible into the asylum system is a decision to be made by the caseworker, following guidance. What happens after that is what I am trying to establish. At the moment, the Government appear to be doing their best to pretend that these people do not exist—maybe they are hoping that they can leave it for the next Government to sort out.

In the Commons Public Accounts Committee evidence hearing of 15 April, the director general of the customer services group at the Home Office stated that this March to July 2023 cohort would start to be processed this month. Has that practice of processing commenced? Secondly, when would the Minister expect the processing of the asylum applications of the March 2023 to July 2023 cohort to be completed? Thirdly, have the 2,500 caseworkers, previously recruited to clear the legacy backlog, been retained? If so, are they being used to clear this backlog?

We have a bizarre situation here, in that individuals can be admitted into the UK asylum system if they are deemed not to have arrived irregularly. However, despite the ban on granting leave having come into force last July, when the Act received Royal Assent, there has been no guidance since then on how the ban is being applied to them. How is the ban on leave being applied? When will guidance be published about how leave can be granted to this cohort and what rights and entitlements should be attached to that leave?

The second limbo cohort within this 73,000 is what I call the Illegal Migration Act cohort, those who have claimed asylum having arrived from 20 July 2023 to the present day. As of 14 April, there were 51,926 cases, representing around 64,000 people. Of course, this figure is growing each day as more people arrive. It might be wise to remember that, despite the Government’s focus on small boats, small boat arrivals accounted for only 37% of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the year ending June 2023.

Once Sections 2 and 5 of the Illegal Migration Act are commenced, asylum claims meeting the criteria will be automatically deemed inadmissible, with the duty to remove to a third country. I would like an answer to the question: what is the Government’s plan for these people? This is a matter of capacity, from both the Rwandan side and our own.

Although the Government insists the Rwanda scheme is uncapped, the reality is that only a small proportion of these limbo cohorts will ever be removed there. The Rwandan Government spokesperson said last weekend that Rwanda could relocate “thousands” over the course of the five-year partnership. There is no indication from Rwanda that this amounts to tens of thousands in the first year.

The Government intend to detain people prior to their removal to Rwanda. Currently there are about 2,200 detention spaces in the UK. Given that there are immigration detainees not related to this Rwanda policy already occupying detention spaces, what detention capacity is available for those being removed to Rwanda? Are there plans in place to create more detention spaces?

Current evidence suggests that the majority of these 90,000 people will remain indefinitely in limbo. They cannot have their asylum claims processed in the UK and they cannot be removed to a safe third country—with some few exceptions with which I agree, particularly in relation to Albania and India.

Without permission to work, they will have to rely indefinitely on asylum support, and there is a huge risk that many will be exploited in the black market. This is what closing down the asylum system looks like. Have the Government made an assessment of the impact of this policy on the numbers of people entering the black economy and very likely being exploited? This is not good for the individuals concerned, our communities or the taxpayer. The Government need a plan, and we need to understand what it is. They cannot simply pretend that this group of people do not exist. Amid the numbers, the data and policy detail, it is essential that we remember the human cost of this policy failure—people’s lives held in suspension. What assessment has been made about the long-term impact of this period of limbo on individuals and communities?

I will turn to money. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact highlighted in its last report the increasing amount of aid spent on asylum seekers and refugees from the aid budget—28% in total. In the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Office director-general for migration and borders was asked if that money could continue to be used, and he said it was an issue under review with the Treasury regarding the ODA rules and applicability, because the asylum seeker classification is the one that permits ODA funding for their first year in a country’s asylum system. Can the Minister tell us if ODA money can be used to support this growing cohort of in-limbo asylum seekers? I hope that he can provide answers, which I am seeking on behalf of not just the tens of thousands of people in this position and the organisations that support them, but the taxpayer who will have to fund it.

We need transparency around what the Government’s policies are. These are not simply operational matters; they are policy issues for which the Government has responsibility. Apart from the huge cost of the scheme, people need to understand what will happen to them. I remind the House that these people are illegal only because the Government have deemed them so; they are men, women and children who have sought protection in the UK, yet the Government have refused to consider their cases. The top nationalities of these people are Afghan, Iranian, Eritrean and Sudanese, which previously had grant rates of 98% to 99% for entry into this country. They are refugees. The current policy will hold these people in a government-imposed limbo, in a state of purgatory. It is not a good place; it denies hope and devalues the futures of so many who have fled for their lives.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Convenor of the Lords Spiritual 4:07, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for obtaining this debate on a very important area that, although it has, sadly, become very party political, is somewhere that we need to get real and use everyone’s creative thinking to try to find solutions. This is affecting virtually every country, to a greater or lesser degree, in Europe; it is not going to go away; we are dealing with the lives of vulnerable people; and I hope we can try to think together about the way forward. I have a certain reticence to speak as this is an area where some of the legislation is extremely complex, and I hope I will bring some light rather than more confusion to it.

The passing of the Illegal Migration Act, alongside the Rwanda plan, appears to have created much more confusion and overlapping statuses for asylum seekers. We now have asylum seekers whose applications were made before 28 June 2022 and the Nationality and Borders Act, those whose applications were made from 28 June 2022 to 6 March 2023, the group between 7 March to 19 July, and then those who applied after 20 July 2023. As I understand it, all are affected by slightly different legislation.

This is not my area of expertise, but it seems clear to me—this echoes the concerns certainly of many on these Benches, but I think throughout the House—that a number of applications for asylum will be deemed permanently inadmissible, yet the asylum seekers will remain in the UK as they cannot be removed either back to their own country or to Rwanda, simply because there are not enough spaces. This has already been pointed out with some detailed figures; as I understand, there are nothing like enough places for the numbers who need to be removed. They are stuck here. I thought that the word that the noble Lord, Lord German, used was very significant: they are in a state of limbo, never to be granted leave to remain. This cannot be a sustainable situation not only for their sake, which is the biggest issue, but because of the cost to the taxpayer, as thousands of asylum seekers will remain indefinitely dependent on Home Office accommodation and some sort of support.

There are also questions about the choices left for those trapped in this situation and the fact that thousands of those intended for deportation to Rwanda cannot, at the moment, be located. It indicates that they may be driven underground, where they are at risk of exploitation and destitution.

I would like to raise the particular point not only that hundreds of unaccompanied children housed in Home Office hotels and hostels went missing last year—we do not know whether they have been kidnapped or, as some people say, recruited by criminal gangs—but that recent reports indicate that over 350 children were held in UK detention facilities in France between January 2022 and October 2023. Many of these children would have been left extremely traumatised, yet it appears that the Home Office held no information on the number of officers trained in safeguarding and modern slavery at these facilities. We have a duty of care to these children, who are extremely vulnerable, and these reports are indeed alarming.

I will also take this opportunity to ask the Minister how many asylum-seeking children in the UK are unaccounted for and what the Government are doing about it. What are we doing to ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, arriving now and in the future, are properly cared for and protected? We urgently need robust safeguards and clarity on where responsibility for these children lies.

I know that, many times during the passage of the Rwanda Bill 2024 in this House, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke passionately for the case to protect unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I wish simply to press on the Minister and the Government the importance of protecting these vulnerable children from danger or exploitation while they are here, however long they are here for, regardless of their immigration status.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 4:13, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord German, on securing this timely debate. The asylum issue has been high on the national political agenda for a considerable period but, until recently, it was not a particularly prominent subject of debate or discussion in Northern Ireland. In common with the rest of the United Kingdom, there were frustrations with some hotels being unavailable to holidaymakers and others because they were being used to accommodate asylum seekers. Other than that, it was seen as an issue more relevant to Great Britain.

That has changed dramatically over the past two weeks. In one of his first acts, the new Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris asked his Justice Secretary to bring forward legislation to enable asylum seekers entering the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland to be sent back to the United Kingdom. It is the Irish Government’s view that 80% of recent asylum seekers arriving in the Republic have come across the Irish land border. The reason, according to the Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, is the deterrent effect of the United Kingdom Government’s Rwanda Act, with which your Lordships are all too familiar. These comments were seized on by our own Prime Minister as something akin to a cause for celebration. Other senior members of His Majesty’s Government have expressed similar views.

As noble Lords will be aware, we have an open border on the island of Ireland. The common travel area is an arrangement which began in 1922 and includes a basic right for United Kingdom and Irish citizens to travel freely between the two countries. While the major political parties in both jurisdictions have supported the open border concept, Sinn Féin/IRA had always been particularly adamant that everyone should be able to cross back and forth from north to south free of impediment.

However, the developments I have described have provoked something of a rethink from Sinn Féin supporters. In an opinion poll published last weekend in the Sunday Independent, 52% of Sinn Féin supporters said they now want checkpoints on the border to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving from Northern Ireland. That number is even higher than the 50% of respondents in the Republic of Ireland who said they hold the same view. According to a recent opinion poll, 82% of people in the Republic of Ireland also want immigrants who have travelled through Northern Ireland to be deported back to the United Kingdom.

The Irish Government’s initial response to this developing situation was to pledge to send 100 Gardai officers to police the border—the only land border between the United Kingdom and a member state of the EU. However, they now appear to have backed away from this. In the meantime, Rishi Sunak has made clear that His Majesty’s Government refuse to take back any refugees from the Republic of Ireland unless France agrees to take back refugees who crossed the English Channel to get to the United Kingdom in the first place. Put simply, the situation is nothing short of a mess.

Your Lordships will most probably be aware that a general election must take place in the Republic of Ireland no later than March 2025. The hardening of public opinion on immigration and asylum south of the border is quickly being reflected in changing policy stances taken by the political parties fighting for votes in the Republic of Ireland. It has served as a reminder that Sinn Féin’s capacity for hypocrisy and political opportunism knows no bounds. The party of open borders and unbridled immigration is undergoing a conversion.

But they are not alone in the hypocrisy stakes. One cannot but recall the recently departed Irish Prime Minster Leo Varadkar travelling to Brussels to brandish a photograph of a bombed customs post and insist that any border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was unthinkable. No doubt he was still intending to stand for re-election before embarking on that grossly irresponsible and offensive stunt.

One can only hope that, with the UK general election only months away, Rishi Sunak’s position on the border issue is not motivated by the shallow quest for votes in Great Britain over the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord German, asked several questions which need answering; I simply ask one more. What are His Majesty’s Government intending to do—in partnership with the Irish Government—to remedy this situation?

There is a time and place for politics; all of us in this House understand that. However, history tells us that playing politics with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is generally helpful to no one in the long run. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:18, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, Britain has a history of giving asylum to many political leaders, human rights workers and students, in some times, from various countries. Two that come to mind are Pakistan and Bangladesh, from which political leaders have sought political asylum during military rule in those countries or, sometimes even if the military has not ruled directly, when the political space for politicians has been squeezed and many of them had to flee. Britain has been home to many of them during their asylum.

My question is very brief: what will happen to any political leaders or human rights activists from such countries who come to the UK? Will their applications be sorted here, or will they also need to be sent to Rwanda?

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:19, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, both my noble friends have asked some questions. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Hussain’s question is a new one, but my noble friend Lord German certainly asked questions to which many organisations and many citizens want to know the answer.

The Refugee Council has sent us its estimates. No doubt the Minister has seen these, and I hope he will be able to answer on them, directly or indirectly, because if the Government will not say and will not give us the answer then what has happened to accountability, and if they cannot say then what does that tell us about how much they are in control? Last week, I asked some questions about numbers and the Minister regarded them as operational matters that he was not able to answer. I hope he will be able to be more forthcoming today.

I wanted to speak about housing, but I realised that time would be against me. I think all noble Lords will understand that, for everyone, housing is essential for stability and a basis from which exploitation and a whole range of abuses, including trafficking, can be avoided. If one does not have it, one is in real trouble.

I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights six or seven years ago when it considered detention in various circumstances, one of which was immigration detention. There are plenty of reports on the damage that detention can do. The committee was actually very shocked at the evidence it heard. The Government may say that one aspect of detention has been solved, which is the lack—or rather loss—of hope. They may say that is now irrelevant because detainees know they will be removed to Rwanda. I would challenge that.

I would also challenge how people are currently being detained, according to widespread reporting. This is not new, but people are being picked up from reporting centres and taken into detention without belongings, clothes, medication, phones or the means of contacting anyone who can help or needs to know. Neither the treatment nor the occasion is new, but if an asylum seeker is complying with the terms of their bail conditions, goes to report and behaves entirely properly then why are they received and dealt with in that way? Why the brutality and dehumanisation?

Of course, people are becoming more aware of what might happen without warning. I understand that they are being advised to pack a bag now, with contact details of lawyers and support organisations, and leave it with friends so that somebody can access it. But we also know that people are already slipping away and going underground.

I also want to ask about the Safety of Rwanda caseworker guidance, version 1.0. The legislation requires “compelling evidence”. The guidance has a section on this that is introduced by saying that it

“explains the meaning … for the purposes of considering claims that Rwanda is not a safe country for the claimant in question”.

How does this differ from the guidance from which the Home Office, and advisers and experts, have been and are working when the issue is whether a country other than Rwanda is a safe third country?

It is important to be clear what is required for evidence to be “compelling”. I thought I understood that when we were debating the Bill, but looking at the guidance, I am not sure I do. It looks to me as if the previous, or existing, tests are those required to be met. The references are—I suppose inevitably—to cases that precede this April. The term “compelling” is repeated and repeated, but that does not necessarily help. I am very much a lay person, but it did not seem to me in the past that the Home Office was satisfied with evidence provided by an applicant for asylum when it was not compelling.

I have been asked by a psychologist—I should declare that they are a personal contact—who has made assessments of asylum seekers and acted as an expert witness to the court, about my questions and whether I can pursue them, which chimed with my own reading. It is important, of course, that experts and advisers are clear, as well as the Home Office, because “compelling” must mean something. The guidance refers to

“a credible report from a suitably qualified independent expert, based on an adequate assessment”.

Of course, but is that a particular expertise that is different from previous expertise? The guidance also states that

“where the assertion is of a type for which strong, objective evidence ought to be available, such as the existence of a medical condition or a history of engagement in political activism, the threshold is unlikely to be met in the absence of strong, objective evidence in support of the claimant’s own account”.

Evidence of political activism is likely to be available—certainly in documentary form in the applicant’s coat pocket. It is exactly the sort of thing that it would be unsafe to travel with. As regards medical conditions, does this mean evidence recorded prior to the claim? Is it something new? Further assistance would be very helpful.

The guidance states that the impact of the threat of removal to Rwanda must be discounted. Is this rhetorical? Is it possible for an individual to be assessed without taking account of the whole situation, including removal from all his social, religious and support networks? My noble friend Lord German has raised some very pertinent questions about limbo-land, or purgatory. One thing is for sure: limbo-land is not a safe country.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:27, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord German, for setting up this important debate; I agree with most of what he said. I also welcome the Minister to his place; how glad I am to see him still here. Only he and one or two others are left defending the policy to deal with this problem. His former boss was on the television just recently, calling out the plan and saying that it would not work. His former colleague, Robert Jenrick, was also calling it out, saying it would not work. Presumably, these are all colleagues he worked closely with to ensure that the plan was well set. There are also some behind him saying that the policy is not tough enough and will not work, and some saying it is too tough. We also have the now-Labour MP for Dover joining in with the criticism of the plan.

So desperate are the Government to get any flights off the ground that they paid a volunteer £3,000 to leave. The British taxpayer will now be paying for their board and lodging in Rwanda for the next five years. Did the Minister sign that off, or can he explain who in the Home Office did? As we are talking about numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord German, says, that means that that part of the plan stands at one. Are the Government currently planning to increase that? Will we see any more volunteers recruited to go to Rwanda? What is the Government’s target?

I will also use the Government’s figures for the numbers of people. Where possible I have tried to use Home Office figures. The numbers show that 1,123 people have arrived on small boats in the last week—some deterrent. How can the Minister tell us that this is working? Of those arrivals, 711 arrived on 1 May, which is more than twice the number—300—that the Government’s Rwanda scheme will take, at a cost of half a billion pounds. Can he explain how that is value for money, at £2 million per person?

Will the Minister confirm that there have been 8,790 arrivals so far this year? According to the Government, that is a 34% increase on last year, and 13% higher than in 2022. Can he explain how the deterrent is working?

So nervous are the Government, and so worried about the ineffectiveness of their own policy, we learned today that they have announced that they will stop publishing the numbers on preventing crossings as a result of collaboration with the French. Can the Minister explain why?

As the noble Lord, Lord German, pointed out very effectively, the current backlog since the Illegal Migration Act became law is 52,000, according to government figures. The overall backlog, according to the right reverend Prelate, is some 90,000. We have a huge number of asylum seekers in the current system who do not have a clue what will happen to them and no idea how the Government’s plan will work. The vast majority are either lost, or in asylum accommodation or hotels. Can the Minister tell us exactly how many of those 52,000 people the Government are able to locate? On the larger figure of 90,000, can he confirm that the Government know where all those people are?

Can the Minister tell us how many asylum seekers the Government are currently planning to send to Rwanda? What is the actual figure? How many of these are currently detained? How many flights are planned, and when can we expect planes to take off? The numbers are dire, as I and other noble Lords have said.

The Government’s plans to deal with the situation are in disarray. Some say, including us, that the plans are not working and will not work, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. As I have said to the Government in this Chamber many times, all of us want to stop the boats: we just fundamentally disagree on how to do it. There is also considerable confusion, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord German, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the right reverend Prelate and, for different reasons, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. There is complete confusion about what the Government’s policy is. I say to the Minister that there is an opportunity today to clarify the numbers and to say what will take place, which parts of the policy are working and what the Government are going to do.

As we have said time and again, of course we need to boost the UK’s border security. We will do that with a new cross-border police unit to smash the smuggler gangs, and work with enforcement agencies across Europe to go after the gangs upstream and stop boats arriving at the French coast in the first place. Above all, we will fix the chaos in the asylum system, clear the costly backlog, end hotel use, save the taxpayer billions of pounds and introduce a new unit to swiftly remove thousands more people with no right to be here.

If the system is not in chaos, can the Minister define for the Chamber what chaos is? What most of us see is asylum seekers coming to this country, none of them being detained, many being lost and the Government having no idea what to do with many of them. The Government keep going on about Rwanda, saying that that will sort this out because it will act as a deterrent, yet the figures show that the complete opposite is happening.

Finally, can the Minister explain to noble Lords from all sides, and Members in the other place, why the Government are obsessed with Rwanda, when actually what would work is a basically competent policy that deals with the issue in front of us, rather than the pursuit of Rwanda, which seems to be the end goal that the Government have for everything?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:30, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As noble Lords are aware, the UK has a long and proud tradition of providing safe haven to those who genuinely need our protection, and we remain committed to providing such protection, in accordance with our international obligations.

The matter of the Government’s proposed approach to addressing the cohort of individuals who have entered the United Kingdom since 7 March 2023 is therefore an important one. It may be helpful if I set out, in general terms, the Government’s approach and recent successes in clearing the asylum legacy backlog, give a brief update on the Government’s aims for deciding the asylum claims which have been made since 7 March and clarify how inadmissibility provisions will be applied. Before I do that, again none of the speakers addressed the simple question of why people have to claim asylum in the first safe country. It seems to be forgotten repeatedly and often that these arrivals in this country have all left a safe third country. It is a long-standing principle that those in need of genuine protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity, in the first safe country they reach, and this is the fastest route to safety.

I remind the House of the progress the Home Office made in 2023 in clearing asylum legacy backlog. As noble Lords will recall, the legacy backlog comprised 92,601 asylum claims lodged before 28 June 2022, when provisions within the Nationality and Borders Act came into force. The Prime Minister committed on 13 December 2022 to clear this backlog by the end of 2023. The Prime Minister’s commitment to clear the backlog was delivered at the end of the year and, in total, 112,000 asylum cases were processed in 2023. Increased efficiency and capacity saw the Home Office not just clear the backlog but exceed it by also processing over 25,000 asylum claims lodged on or after 28 June 2022. To achieve the success of 2023, the Government enhanced processing and deployed an additional 1,200 caseworkers, thus meeting the target to double the number of asylum caseworkers and increasing productivity.

As of 14 April 2024, there were 2,545 full-time equivalent decision-makers in post, answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord German. That is nearly double the number of asylum caseworkers in April 2023. In addition, the streamlined asylum process was developed as part of the legacy backlog clearance strategy for adults. It centred around accelerating the processing of manifestly well-founded asylum claims from legacy claimants of certain nationalities, such as those from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen and, more recently, Sudan. This involved the use of an asylum questionnaire provided to claimants allowing them to explain why they required protection status in the UK. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed the introduction of the streamlined asylum process, publicly stating

“Removing the requirement for substantive interviews through the use of a questionnaire for asylum seekers from certain countries with very high grant rates should meaningfully reduce the current backlog of cases awaiting adjudication. Simultaneously, the procedure should uphold appropriate safeguards by maintaining individual interviews before any negative decisions are made”.

Since April 2023, children’s claims from high grant rate nationals of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam have also been considered through the streamlined asylum process. It remains a key priority to consider claims as efficiently as possible, to clear the asylum backlog and to reduce the number of people on asylum support, in turn reducing the burden on taxpayers. By our speeding up decision-making, asylum seekers are given the certainty they need to plan for their future. In 2024, flow claims—those lodged on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023, as well as asylum claims from those who arrived before 7 March 2023—are being prioritised now that the legacy claims have been cleared.

The Home Office has continued to build on existing processes and systems in its approach to tackling this latest cohort of claims. For example, the streamlined asylum process was extended to include eligible claimants from 28 June 2022 to 6 March 2023. During July 2023, the streamlined asylum process for children’s claims was also rolled out to claims from the same nationalities lodged from 28 June 2022 until 6 March 2023. We have recently redesigned the statement of evidence form for children, making the process quicker and more streamlined. The process for accompanied and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children enables cases to be progressed more quickly.  The latest provisional data shows that, as of 14 April 2024, there were 7,358 outstanding claims made on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023. This demonstrates that we are making good progress on clearing the remaining claims. That means that the Government have made excellent recent progress in clearing both the legacy and, shortly, the flow backlog of asylum claims. The Government remain committed to their objective of deterring illegal migration to the UK and stopping the boats.

The Government are clear that those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and not put their lives at risk by making unnecessary and dangerous journeys to the UK. Illegal migration from safe countries undermines our efforts to help those most in need. Controlled resettlement, via safe and legal routes, is the best way to protect such people and disrupt the organised crime groups that exploit migrants and refugees.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I wonder if I could ask about those who come directly to this country and those who pass through other countries? Given that nearly two-thirds of all people who are here irregularly do not come in small boats, what percentage have come directly? For example, those who overstay visas have not come via a third country but have arrived directly. I understand that the Government do not know how to split up that two-thirds, but is there any data on the numbers arriving here directly in that 60-odd percent?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can reassure the noble Lord that I am coming to a more detailed set of number shortly, if he will bear with me. The safe third country inadmissibility policy is a longstanding process, intended to encourage individuals to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is an established part of international asylum procedures, applied across the EU and explicitly provided for in UK law, including in the strengthened provisions introduced in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

With the exception of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, those who choose to travel from a safe third country such as France, and then claim asylum in the UK may find their claim treated as inadmissible to the asylum process. That means that the UK will not consider the substance of the person’s claim and will seek their removal to a safe country.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate about facilities in France, anyone detained at the border is held for the shortest time possible. We prioritise processing children and vulnerable people as quickly as possible. Individuals in detention are held in safe and decent conditions. There are established procedures in place in every facility to monitor people’s welfare and safeguarding needs. These facilities are subject to inspection by HMG’s Inspector of Prisons, accompanied by their French counterpart, to ensure that they are of the highest standards.

It is in this context that current removals to Rwanda may apply. Any individual who is otherwise suitable for an inadmissibility decision and who has arrived in the UK through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary methods since 1 January 2022 may be considered for relocation to Rwanda, under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership. Individuals will only ever be removed to a third country when that country is safe and removal is appropriate, according to the individual’s particular circumstances.

Once commenced, the provisions in the Illegal Migration Act will further strengthen our approach to inadmissibility.  When a person meets the four conditions under Section 2 of the Act, they will be subject to the duty to remove. Any asylum or human rights claims made against the person’s country of origin will be declared inadmissible. The UK will not consider the substance of the person’s claim and will seek their removal either to their home country—if it is safe to do so—or to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

As of 14 April 2024, there were 21,313 outstanding claims made between 7 March and 19 July 2023. In addition, there were 51,925 outstanding claims made on or after 20 July 2023. I would caution that this data is provisional. It is taken from live operational databases and has not been cleansed to remove duplicates. The finalised figures as at the end of March 2024 will be published later this month.

The right reverend Prelate also asked me about the numbers of missing children. There are 111, they are all male and 98 have reached the age of 18. There are 13 left who are under the age of 18.

These provisions will apply to both adults and children. The duty to remove does not require the Secretary of State to make removal arrangements for unaccompanied children, but there is a power to remove unaccompanied children in limited circumstances, such as family reunion with a parent. However, any asylum or human rights claim made against the child’s country or origin will be declared inadmissible. Taking these measures will send a clear message that children cannot be exploited and cross the channel in small boats for the purpose of starting a new life in the UK.

Once commenced, these inadmissibility provisions will apply to those who are subject to the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act, and who entered or arrived illegally on or after 20 July 2023. As all asylum claims are generally worked in date order, the next cohort of asylum claims that are due to be progressed are those made by individuals who arrived in the UK after 7 March 2023. Further information will be published on our plans to decide these cases in the coming weeks. I am afraid there is no more I can say at this point.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I appreciate that the time allocated for the Minister is passing but, since several noble Lords took far less time than their allocation, I am sure the House will be sympathetic if he continues.

I think he has finished with the numbers, which he said would answer my noble friend Lord German; I am not sure that they have. On the same subject, the only way to come without crossing the channel would be to fly or to be here already, because we are an island. The report on safe routes published some months ago merely reported on what the safe routes are, without proposals for new safe routes. Can the Minister tell the House what proposals the Government have in mind so that their conditions can be fulfilled? I also hope he can answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the reporting.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Baroness will be aware that under the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act, a consultation process took place with local councils and authorities to find out what their local capacities are. I believe that consultation process has concluded, but I do not yet know the outcome. That will presumably inform the debate as to the safe and legal routes that may or may not be made available after we know the numbers.

We are continuously working through cases that could not previously be progressed as they require further investigation. The difficult cases typically relate to asylum seekers presenting as children, where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions, where checks may reveal criminality that would bar asylum.

To come on to a few of the more specific questions, I can say confidently that detention capacity is sufficient. I cannot comment on other operational aspects around detention, but as of 24 April there were 2,200 people in immigration removal centres, which includes those liable for removal to Rwanda.

In answer to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I can say that any evidence presented by an individual will be considered on its own merits. The information needs to be substantial and reliable and support the claim being made.

In answer to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord German, about our ODA spend, that is all reported in line with OECD rules. We do not include support costs for those in detained accommodation, nor for those whose asylum claims have been declared inadmissible.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I am sorry to interrupt again, but can the Minister answer the question? His officials told the committee in the other House that there is ongoing discussion about whether the continuous use of ODA is possible. Have those discussions with the Treasury reached a conclusion, and is the Minister able to say that it is certainly possible to spend this money now?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid I do not have that information to hand. I will see whether I can find it, and I commit to write to the noble Lord if I can.

I turn to other aspects of the various questions I was asked. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, asked about individuals who were previously present in a safe third country and entered the UK by a dangerous and unnecessary method. I am afraid that they are liable to relocate to Rwanda. It is an ongoing operational matter, so I am unable to provide a running commentary on individual numbers or cases.

In answer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about colleagues, I note that he now has a colleague who says:

“Don’t trust Labour on immigration they really want open borders … The Government wants to close legal loopholes … Labour seems intent on creating them”,

and

“Labour … are not serious about stopping small boats, tackling criminality, protecting people from the smuggling gangs or saving lives in the Channel”.

What on earth did the colleague mean by all that? I think the noble Lord knows.

As I hope I have made clear, the Government recognise the crucial importance of having in place a robust operational plan to deal with individuals who have outstanding asylum claims in the UK. We are getting on with the job; we will have a lot more to say on this subject, and I expect to be questioned on numerous future occasions on this very subject. I have little else to add.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

The Minister did not manage to answer the question from my noble friend Lord Rogan about the situation between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. I am sure he would appreciate an answer.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

With apologies, I did mean to, but for obvious reasons I cannot comment on the internal policies of another country, and I do not think it would be appropriate to do so in this case.