Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

Part of the 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

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.