Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:19 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.