Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:07 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.