Baroness Sally Hamwee writes to explain the complications of the latest “ping pong” of the slow progress on Family Reunion.
Parliamentary procedures are generally logical but often also opaque, so it’s no wonder that people have been asking what happened to the amendment on safe and legal routes, family reunion and unaccompanied asylum seeking children which the Commons had rejected.
In the Lords the Liberal Democrats had supported Alf Dubs’ amendment twice. For this third round, the Government proposed as a compromise the clause I’ve copied below. Lord Dubs decided to accept it. I have to say I would very much have liked to insist on what he had proposed – but the art of the possible and all that.
The Government’s new clause is missing a lot of very significant detail. The review has no objectives. It has no timetable (the three months mentioned is just the period within which the Government has to publish details about how the review will be undertaken). It doesn’t provide for consultation other than regarding unaccompanied children (of course I don’t deny the importance of that).
We will be thrown back on guidance (unenforceable) and rules (unamendable) – and, it appears, they will be the existing rules with all their problems: Family with status need to be able to support the person seeking to join them. The difficulty of demonstrating that a child is in an unsafe environment. Getting a child to a visa application centre to make an application under the rules, and fees which, under one of the paragraphs of the rules, are well over £3,000. I made these perhaps slightly random points in the debate because, without more, they show the importance of consultation on the whole situation.
It is beyond me that what is necessary now is to show “serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”. Putting it that way round, rather than the converse, that a child should be given asylum unless there is an overwhelming reason to the contrary (hard to think of any), has always seemed perverse to me. So, too, is the policy that an application under Article 8 of the European Convention, on the right to family life, will not succeed unless there are “exceptional circumstances” with refusal resulting in “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.
But I should end on one positive note. The Minister confirmed that “any person who has applied under Dublin will have a route open to them, as long as the sponsor has the relevant status”.
We are promised (or threatened) with a “Fair Borders Bill” early next year. There is much that should be made more fair about border enforcement, but then the Home Secretary and I may not share views as to what is fair and right.
Baroness Sally Hamwee
The provision which the Government inserted in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is:
“Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion
(1) The Secretary of State must review, or arrange for a review of, the ways in which protection claimants who are in a member State are able to enter the United Kingdom lawfully.
(2) For the purposes of this section a “protection claimant” is a person who—
(a) has made an application for international protection to a member State, or
(b) is not a national of a member State and is seeking to come to the United Kingdom from a member State for the purpose of making a protection claim.
(3) The review under subsection (1) must, in particular—
(a) consider the position of unaccompanied children in member States who are protection claimants and are seeking to come to the United Kingdom to join relatives there, and
(b) include a public consultation on that aspect of the review.
(4) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement providing further details about the review under subsection (1) and, in particular, about the aspect of the review described in subsection (3).
(5) After the review, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare a report on the outcome of the review or arrange for such a report to be prepared, and
(b) publish the report and lay it before Parliament.
(6) In this section—
“application for international protection” has the meaning given by Article 2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for the qualification of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;
“protection claim” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see section 82(2) of that Act);
“relative”, in relation to an unaccompanied child, means a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child;
“unaccompanied child” means a person under the age of 18 (“the child”) who is not in the care of a person who—
(a) is aged 18 or over, and
(b) by law or custom of the country or territory in which the child is present, has responsibility for caring for the child.”
The Liberal Democrats have condemned Conservative refusal to address Channel crossings after Tory MPs voted down this week an amendment to secure safe and legal routes for refugees and asylum seekers. Despite this amendment having cross party support in the House of Lords, Conservative MPs voted to remove it from the Bill by 333 votes to 264.
Speaking in the debate on Family Reunion, Alistair Carmichael MP said “How bad have things got to be before any parent would consider the possibility of going to sea at this time of year, knowing the possible consequences that we saw in the channel so very recently? My colleagues & I will never pass up an opportunity to put the case for the creation of safe and legal routes”.
Tim Farron MP added “I often hear people talk about the pull factor, but there is a push factor, for pity’s sake. Those people will try to find a way to our shores by a safe and legal way, or by utterly brutal and dangerous ways, unless we provide those safe routes.”
The family of five Iranian Kurds who died most recently in the attempt to find sanctuary in the UK were certainly driven to risk the Channel crossing by the lack of any safe alternative. It is Lib Dem policy and has been for years to provide safe and legal routes. We will carry on pushing for this until it is Government policy too. Any Government that wished to respect the UK’s commitments under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees would agree.
Yet again the Court of Appeal has deemed Home Office actions unlawful.
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael MP, has today condemned the Home Secretary following a ruling by the Court of Appeal that government policies used for the removal of migrants were unlawful. Mr Carmichael noted that approximately 40,000 cases had been handled under the rejected regulations, saying that it was part of a pattern of unlawful behaviour by ministers.
Speaking in the House Mr Carmichael said:
“Yesterday the Court of Appeal ruled that Home Office regulations used for the removal of people under immigration rules were ‘unlawful’ – rules that have been used in an estimated 40,000 cases. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make a statement in relation to this judgment, or are the views of the judges of the Court of Appeal now just to be dismissed as a bunch of leftie lawyers?”
Responding for the government, the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said:
“Mr Speaker, the Home Secretary has the greatest respect for our judicial processes, as do all members of Her Majesty’s Government. There will be legislation on this matter coming forward, which the Home Secretary has announced, which will no doubt increase the clarity over the Immigration Law.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“The Home Secretary has said that the system is failing – it is now clear why that is. A government that cannot follow the law is not fit to be in power. When the government fails so consistently on so many fronts it is hard to take them seriously when they cast blame on others. We need a clear, sensible and humane system for immigration and under the Tories we simply will not get it.”
There have been no less than SIX instances in the last 18 months where the Home Office has been ruled by a court to have acted unlawfully in its dealings with Asylum Seekers and Refugees.
Home Office acting illegally examples This briefing note gives extracts from our newsletters.
All this is yet more evidence that the Home Office is not fit for purpose. The Liberal Democrats will strip it of its powers over immigration and asylum and set up a new, arms-length body to process applications fairly and lawfully.
http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1667 Gives more information on how Lib Dems would radically change how decisions are made and transfer of functions from Home Office.
It wasn’t a good day for the UK being the compassionate, caring, outward looking country that many of its citizens want it to be, and we ought to be. This is just a note of what Lib Dems had to say.
In the House of Commons we were so disappointed that every amendment to the Immigration Bill, https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2020-10-19a.802.3&s=speaker%3A10785#g807.3 that had been passed by the House of Lords, was defeated.
As LD4SOS we were particularly upset by defeats on ending indefinite detention and Family Reunion
In the debate on ending indefinite detention Alistair Carmichael asked “Last year, the Government had to pay out £7 million to 272 people who were wrongfully detained. Was that good value for money?” The Minister sidestepped that one. Later Alistair said “ It is worthy of note that the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that locks people up indefinitely for immigration purposes. Detaining people for months on end without giving them any idea of how long they will be there is clearly inhumane, but it is also expensive and unnecessary. I have long since given up trying to plead with Home Office Ministers on the basis of humanity and compassion, but I would have hoped that a case based on economy and efficiency would find some favour. However, even that seems not to be the case.”
Tim Farron speaking on Family Reunion said, “If we are—and I am sure all of us here are—outraged and filled with compassion and horror at what we have seen in recent times as people have made the death-defying journey across the channel in rickety boats, taking desperate risks because they are desperate people, the answer is most certainly to provide safe and legal routes. Lords amendment 4 gives the Government the opportunity to have a safe and legal route, and to reject it is music to the ears of the human traffickers. I do not yet understand why the Government seek to turn down such a route via either compassion or practical application.
We do wonder if any of the MPs voting against this amendment would want children from their family to be abandoned like this, and not allowed to be with family.
As Ed Davey says “Providing safe and legal routes to sanctuary is the best way to prevent dangerous Channel crossings and defeat the human traffickers & people smugglers.”
REGISTERING OF CHILDREN AS BRITISH CITIZENS was the debate in the House of Lords https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2020-10-19a.1272.6&s=speaker%3A13477#g1275.1 Brian Paddick said “why does the Government
want the immigration system to be self-funding in a way that no other
government department is? Controlling immigration is of benefit to all citizens
and should therefore be paid for by all citizens.” He spoke of Hostile Environment for
migrant children and Roger Roberts added: “imagine how full of worry and
anxiety somebody facing deportation or tribunal is”.
Tell Your MP now to support Amendments
We were all terribly disappointed last June when, despite an impassioned debate, the House of Commons rejected the amendments to the Immigration & Social Security Bill put forward by David Davis which would have placed a time limit on detention. Lib Dem Peers Sally Hamwee and Sarah Ludford picked up the fight when the Bill went into the Lords and tabled a number of amendments regarding detention including setting a time limit to detention. This stated that “individuals cannot be detained longer than 28 days unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a change in circumstances and that the initial criteria for detention is met”. Another amendment set out those criteria as: “the person can be removed shortly, detention is strictly necessary, and detention is in all circumstances proportionate”. These amendments can be seen here. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/58-01/121/5801121-R-I.pdf. Whilst they apply to f EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK after the Brexit transition period it is expected that they will also be applied to asylum seekers.
Sally and Sarah did a fantastic job of getting cross party support for these amendments. When first putting forward the amendments Sally spoke very passionately and was supported by a range of peers who made powerful speeches referring to the humanitarian, medical and practical grounds that support the amendment. You can see the speeches here. https://bit.ly/33pzmay.
It was, therefore, not a surprise that around midnight on 5 October the Lords voted 184 to 156 to accept the key amendment putting a time limit of 28 days on detention with robust judicial oversight. The other detention amendments were seen as being consequential to that amendment (House of Lords speak meaning that they would be supported if the Time Limit amendment was). Despite the late hour Sally, and others, made the case for reform very passionately. Roger Roberts said “I ask the Government to take another look. Let it be a humanitarian look and let us go on to be rather proud not of what we have done in hostility but of what we have done in caring and hospitality.”
You can read the debate here https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2020-10-05a.487.1&s=speaker%3A13477#g495.0
Speaking to the Independent before the voting took place Sally said “Locking people up for months on end without giving them any idea how long they’ll be detained – is clearly inhumane. They are not criminals, just human beings seeking sanctuary.
“That is why the Liberal Democrats are determined to amend the Conservative government’s legislation and limit the time an asylum seeker can be detained to a maximum of 28 days.” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-brexit-immigration-lords-priti-patel-refugees-b743060.html
Why This Matters
Having a time limit to immigration detention is necessary because currently people can be detained indefinitely and, also re-detained again when, for instance, they report to the Home Office. Many of these individuals will not have been convicted of a crime in the UK – they are only seeking sanctuary. Unless individuals can get lawyers involved there is no oversight by the judiciary – the rule of law is effectively abandoned. In the year ending March 2020 26% (some 6000) of those leaving the UK were detained for over 28 days; 475 had been detained for more than six months. In the second quarter of 2020 (at the height of co-vid) there were 28 detainees who had been detained for 12-18 months.
Indefinite detention can have a major detrimental impact on individuals who are already vulnerable. The uncertainty of not having a release date is very damaging to the mental health of detainees as highlighted in recent research done by the British Red Cross (“Never Truly Free; the humanitarian impact of the UK immigration detention system” file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Never-Truly-Free-March-2018%20(5).pdf). Many detainees say that they would have preferred to have had a prison sentence as at least then they would then know when they would be released and don’t have to live with constant uncertainty that, even when released, they may be detained again. People with underlying physical health conditions may not get the treatment they need when in detention.
Some Tories have argued that unlimited detention is necessary to protect the country against foreign national offenders who are waiting to be deported and “too dangerous” to be released. It is correct that a number of people being detained are foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes and are then deported. But they have already served a custodial sentence the length of which is based on a risk assessment, and, if a British citizen, could have been released on licence subject to supervision measures. There is a whole series of arguments about why deportation may not be the right action but it also needs to be recognised that some of the most vulnerable people in detention are foreign nationals with serious mental illnesses which may be linked to their offending history.
Write to Your MP Now
These amendments now go back to the House of Commons who have the final say – probably in the week of 19 October. Please write to your MP (particularly if they did not support these amendments last time) and ask them to do the right thing and vote for them. You can find briefing material on https://www.detentionforum.org.uk
After the online Lib Dem conference we are giving some information for those of you that were not able to attend, or did so, and were not able to access the “booth” which was instead of the actual stall that we usually have at conferences.
This is the video that played, it is only 2 minutes, and do have a look at it, as it explains so well what we are about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3vCFkN4hVE&feature=youtu.be
We are usually able to hand out documents that give a concise summary of our many Lib Dem policies affecting asylum seekers and refugees, as well as a useful document on facts. You can access them here: https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/category/documents
We had an excellent well attended fringe on “The plight of LGBT+ Asylum Seekers”, and you can see the write up of that here: https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1898
As always our regular newsletters are here https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/category/newsletters
We are always pleased to hear from you, so please do get in touch if you have any queries or want to know more. Also if you would like to be on our supporters list to receive our monthly newsletter, sent by mailchimp, do send us a message, and even better join us via this link! https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/join-us