Category: Immigration

Immigration: Detention & Deportation

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for securing this debate. The detention and treatment of asylum seekers is an area of major contention. Asylum and immigration are often treated as a single issue. It is important to distinguish between those who have a genuine motive for seeking asylum and those who simply want to enter Britain for emigration purposes. We have a duty to genuine asylum seekers but not to those who wish to enter Britain on dubious grounds.

Britain has a proud history of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution and violence, as a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention. In some circumstances, it may be difficult for an applicant to prove that they are a genuine case and a sophisticated system is needed to ensure that undeserving applicants who pose as vulnerable citizens are not granted asylum.

We should take pride in our status as a participant of the United Nations Convention against Torture. Reports have estimated that torture takes place in 132 countries around the world. Although I have the utmost compassion for victims of torture and persecution, it is essential to strike the right balance between accepting applicants and deporting applicants under the asylum procedure.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo tells us that a change of government does not always lead to the end of violence. This implies that the international community has a duty to put pressure on the Governments of unstable countries to ensure that a change in regime delivers an end to the persecution of citizens.

More stringent checks should be carried out by immigration officers prior to making a decision to place a person in detention. Greater transparency in the process is a priority, especially as there is no maximum period of detention. This situation does not sit well with many asylum applicants and could be perceived as breaching Article 8.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It has been reported that the average length of stay in an immigration removal centre varies between 16 to 61 days. However, research produced earlier this year revealed a case of an asylum seeker who was detained in a centre for approximately eight years prior to deportation. There is a genuine risk that those held in detention centres for longer periods are more likely to abscond or enter illegal employment.

Britain and Denmark are the only European Union members who have chosen to opt out of the EU returns directive, which implements a time limit of 18 months for detaining individuals. This decision has not proven to be effective. The varied periods of detention reported to date reflect the failures inherent in the decision not to set a detention limit. Several other EU countries successfully deport applicants while adhering to the requirements of the ECHR. Will the Minister give due consideration to enforcing a maximum period of detention for asylum seekers and migrants?

It is not in the best interests of asylum seekers or our communities to detain citizens for such long periods of time. The average cost to the taxpayer for each individual held in a detention centre for a week is estimated to be £812. I welcome the decision to introduce fast-track and super-fast-track systems at Oakington, Harmondsworth and Yarl’s Wood for detainees where claims are decided within three to seven days. My only caveat is that the process for these accelerated applications should be subjected to thorough investigations, where the complexity of cases is taken into account prior to reaching a decision.

Centrally held data on detainees should also provide details of the number of asylum seekers in the criminal justice system. It is a shocking indictment of the current scheme that accurate data for the number of offenders without leave to remain in this country are not available. It is right that asylum seekers or immigrants who commit offences while awaiting decisions should be deported. We must not convey the message that we will give residency to those who show a flagrant disregard for our laws.

The mental health of asylum seekers must be taken into account when deciding on whether they are suitable for detention. Genuine asylum seekers, by their nature, have been subjected to sustained torture, violence and persecution. We therefore have a duty to ensure that if we decide to place applicants in detention centres, this does not compromise their mental and emotional health.

The British Medical Journal has reported that a majority of detainees who are held for long periods are more likely to acquire mental health problems and has also implied that lengthy detention can aggravate existing difficulties. In extreme cases, some detainees have engaged in self-harming or, in tragic circumstances, a number have committed suicide. These are wholly undesirable outcomes which serve as a reminder that we must honour our commitment to vulnerable citizens. It is also essential to provide staff in detention centres with adequate training as these establishments often house both asylum seekers and migrants. Can the Minister say whether this is implemented?

An effective border security system is the only way to prevent people from illegally entering Britain. Immigration benefits our country. However, it also places a strain on our population and resources. Economic migrants played an important part in developing a number of our industries, such as the National Health Service. Despite the socio-economic benefits of immigration, it is important for us to implement a system that is both prudent and fair.

It is clear that Britain was not prepared for the influx of citizens resulting from the 2004 enlargement of the European Union. It is only sensible that an annual limit is thus placed on the number of non-EU migrants. It is vital to enforce such restrictions as we consider the impact of the rising population on our infrastructure and local communities.

I have come across a few cases of people who have been granted asylum in Britain from countries which do not have a history of persecuting their citizens. I was particularly surprised by the details of a case I read as the grounds for asylum were, in my opinion, unfounded. This relates to a request for asylum from a Jamaican citizen. What are the grounds on which the application was approved?

It is worth stating that we have a duty to our citizens to grant asylum only to those in genuine need of sanctuary. Asylum and immigration share similarities in that they both require compromise and understanding from our citizens. It is crucial that governments do not abuse this responsibility.

Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill

My Lords, at the outset, I would like to make some general comments regarding immigration. This country, over a period of many years, has welcomed people from overseas who have in the course of time been assimilated into the community and are now part of the British population. I believe that the British, for all their faults, are tolerant. This country is a land of opportunity, and it provides the environment and facilities whereby hard work and initiative lead to success. My own family, with a number of other Asians, were expelled from Uganda in 1972, and we were welcomed here by a Conservative Government. We came here penniless, and we have been able to flourish and attain prosperity. I come from a small provisional town in Uganda, and the fact that I am sitting in your Lordships’ House says a lot for this country.

I am convinced that we will have our own equivalent to Barack Obama who will one day be the Prime Minister of this country. It took over 45 years for Martin Luther King’s dream to be realised, but I hope that our own dream will be fulfilled in a shorter period.

People who have come here from abroad have contributed to the well-being and advancement of the United Kingdom, and their children have had the benefit of a British education and are doing extremely well in every walk of life. Regarding assimilation, I should like to refer to the mosque in Brick Lane. It was originally a Huguenot church, it became a synagogue and it is now a mosque. Brick Lane is now a buoyant area, and most of the people living there are of Bangladeshi origin.

Having said that, I do not feel that we can allow free access to everyone who wants to come here. I am a supporter of a system of proper immigration controls in this country. Immigration brings with it a large number of possible benefits to our society, and we should celebrate the contribution that is made to our national life by those who have chosen to settle here. These benefits include the importation of vital skills and dynamism, as well as adding to a rich mix of culture.

In recent years, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of immigrants coming to this country. There has been a five-fold increase in the numbers coming here since 1997, and that takes no account of those who come here illegally. The increase in immigration is not per se something that we should worry about, but we need to examine the ability of our infrastructure to cope with the demands that are placed on it by rising numbers.

 

Looking at all the circumstances, we need to put in force a system whereby the number of immigrants should be calculated after an annual consultation with a variety of bodies, including local authorities, housing providers and public service organisations.

There has been pressure on the delivery of public services, and there has not been an adequate provision of resources to those charged with delivery. The chief constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has expressed her frustration at the pressure that she was facing, which has not been met with appropriate resources. In certain areas, schools are encountering difficulties in coping with the needs of children of immigrant communities because of their inability to speak the English language. It is therefore important that we apply an annual limit as a firm and fair immigration policy, which will improve community relations and ease the pressure on our public services.

I also express my concern at the number of illegal immigrants; this number is estimated to be about 600,000. This number is very high, and some of these illegal immigrants have been and are being exploited by other persons. They may have been trafficked by unscrupulous persons, and they may be badly treated. I have spoken previously in your Lordships’ House on people trafficking.

We therefore need to look carefully at the provisions of this Bill and examine them in detail during its passage. The Government’s measures do little to engage with the police and they do little to provide the appropriate powers; in essence, it is hard to see what will happen beyond the issue of a new uniform. We need a dedicated border police force, charged with regaining control of our porous borders and supplied with the necessary powers to undertake this task. We need to ensure that this new integrated border force combines the work of the police with immigration and customs officers. Officers should be trained and empowered to concentrate on those who overstay their welcome and to address the backlog of those who work here illegally.

This fits into a wider debate about demographics, population levels and the distribution of the population, but I am disappointed by the Government’s lacklustre approach, which is incorporated in this Bill.

I now wish to talk briefly about Part 2 of the Bill relating to citizenship. I am in principle in agreement with the proposals concerning the acquisition of British citizenship by naturalisation. I am broadly in favour of the six requirements set out in Clause 37. I also agree that legal immigrants need to meet criteria, which include knowledge of the English language, payment of taxes, becoming self-sufficient and joining in the British way of life. All these points will help integration and assimilation into the British community.

I would now like to turn to Part 3, relating to the common travel area, as stated in Clause 46. I welcome the proposed provisions to apply powers to control people arriving in the United Kingdom from other parts of the common travel area. We may, however, consider having tighter border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as there are a number of tiny lanes with no visible borders.

 

I would also like to express concern at the behaviour of some students who come here to study and after a while stop their studies and become economic migrants. In principle, I welcome the provisions of Clause 47, but of course we need to look at this aspect in greater detail in Committee. Clause 48 relates to the fingerprinting of foreigners liable to automatic deportation. I concur with the proposals to fingerprint those foreigners, but it is very important that the deportation takes place as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this has not been done adequately, and criminals have been able to stay in the country, presenting a danger to our community.

I now want to talk very briefly about Clause 51, in Part 4. I do not feel that there are adequate provisions and that enough will be done for the safety and well-being of children. I am very much concerned about the plight of children who have been trafficked. Furthermore, there are cases where the age of a child may be in dispute, they may be housed in unsafe accommodation and their case may not be dealt with properly in the asylum system. Therefore, we will need to examine the provisions of the Bill carefully.

I look forward to contributing further during the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House and to correct, improve and strengthen the measures for the benefit of our country and all who live and work here.

 

Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, for introducing the Bill. The House needs to treat this Bill with an appropriate level of respect, for it raises an important subject which warrants very careful consideration. There is strong public sympathy for the first-class service offered by Gurkha soldiers to the causes for which we have fought in military conflicts for nearly 200 years. I have always admired the Gurkhas; I have read about them and met them.

 

The Gurkhas have discharged highly praiseworthy service in the British Army since 1815 and are the only aliens to have been allowed to serve in our Army. As Nepal has never been a part of the Commonwealth, the Gurkhas’ status has been unique. One measure of their contribution to our military cause is the number of Victoria Crosses they have won in that period. Gurkhas represent one of only three categories of non-United Kingdom nationals who have performed regular service in the British Army alongside citizens of the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. Their service to our Armed Forces commenced after the conclusion of the Anglo-Nepali war when, under the terms of the peace settlement, large numbers of Gurkhas were permitted to volunteer for service in the British East India Company’s army. The first Gurkha regiments were created from these volunteers.

 

At the outbreak of the First World War, the whole of the Nepalese army was made available to the British Crown and around 1,000 Gurkhas enlisted in a number of locations. Some 40 battalions of Gurkhas served during the Second World War, amounting to around 112,000 men. Over the course of this 200-year history, around 300,000 Gurkhas have fought alongside British troops in military conflicts and earned the widest possible respect and honour from the British people. Nearly 45,000 have given their lives or been wounded in the discharge of these efforts. All of that gives a boost to their claim for settlement or citizenship in this country.

 

Before 1947, Gurkha soldiers were enlisted only into the British Indian Army. In that year, a tripartite agreement between the United Kingdom, India and Nepal established the raw principles under which Gurkhas would serve. Under that agreement Gurkhas were recruited as Nepalese citizens, served as Nepalese citizens, and, at the completion of their duties, resettled as Nepalese citizens. The spirit of their service is demonstrated in their motto: “Better to die than live a coward”. I have no hesitation in saluting their tremendous dedication and commitment to providing some of the best soldiers to have existed on the planet. There remains stiff competition for admission to the Brigade of Gurkhas, with around 23,000 applications for the 230 places available each year.

 

Before the transfer of the headquarters of the Brigade of Gurkhas from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom on 1 July 1997, very few Gurkhas were present in this country. Before that, Gurkhas had no right to settle in the United Kingdom and it was assumed that they would retire in Nepal with a Gurkha pension. From 25 October 2004, the Immigration Rules were changed, and the Gurkhas who retired on or after 1 July 1997 were granted the right to apply to settle in the United Kingdom. That change meant that those who served post-1997 would be able upon discharge to settle in the United Kingdom provided they had completed four years of service. They would also be able to obtain citizenship after a further year. Those who do not meet those conditions can settle at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs.

 

There are around 22,000 pre-1997 Gurkha veterans, and a further 6,277 are serving or have served since 1997. There are currently 3,870 Gurkhas serving in the United Kingdom Armed Forces. I understand that only around 100 pre-1997 Gurkhas are estimated to be resident in the United Kingdom. As of March this year, there were only 61 applications for naturalisation outstanding from people who cited Nepal as their place of birth. The Government appear unable to provide further clarity about the precise number of Gurkhas among those applications without analysing each individual file.

 

In 1997, the pay and pension arrangements for Gurkhas were improved and brought into line with those for the remainder of the British Army. There is understandable pressure to bring Gurkha pensions into parity with the remainder of the Army. We need to be cautious about how to address these claims. First, there is a strong convention that retrospective pension changes are not made within the public sector. Secondly, the pension arrangements for Gurkhas mirror those for the Indian Army, in accordance with the terms of the tripartite agreement, when it was presumed that Gurkhas would retire in Nepal under terms that were clear and explicit when these Gurkhas signed up for military service. The issue of retrospective parity for Gurkha pensions relating to service before 1997 has been considered and a judgment against the principle of retrospection has been delivered. A High Court ruling was made this week when a test case filed against the Government by three Gurkhas was lost.

 

The terms of the Bill are limited to the Immigration Rules, although the issue of pay, conditions and pension rights are fundamental to the considerations. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill should provide greater clarity about how these issues are to be addressed; otherwise what will be the practical consequence for Gurkhas who are serving or have served under pay rates and pension rights that have been determined according to a Nepalese economic evaluation? Gurkhas were eligible for an index-linked pension after 15 years of service, so that it was possible for a Gurkha to receive a pension from the age of 33 and retain the ability to work. The standard qualification for a British soldier is 22 years—seven years more.

 

The Government’s changes to the pay and conditions for Gurkhas in March 2007 afforded Gurkhas the opportunity to transfer to other parts of the British Armed Forces and to transfer their pension arrangements from the existing Gurkha pension scheme to the principal Armed Forces pension scheme. That was a positive step.

In the past few years we have witnessed a major change in the status and situation of Gurkhas. Transformed from a light infantry force based in Hong Kong, they are now based in this country and have been increasingly integrated into the military commitments of the wider British Army. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. They have a legitimate claim that the rules governing their immigration status in this country have not been appropriate.

 

I am persuaded that there should be a review to determine whether the 1997 cut-off for citizenship established by the current Government is appropriate. However, there is some danger in identifying political groups and affording them treatment that is, by definition, denied to others. I hope the Government will be prepared to examine how we as a society might be more generous to all servicemen who are not United Kingdom citizens. Although I would like to see a proper review, my instinctive view is that Gurkhas should be able to apply for settlement in this country irrespective of the current cut-off date. I believe that they should be able to make these applications while serving and should not have to wait until discharge from the Brigade of Gurkhas. Equally, all those who are rewarded and decorated for gallantry in the course of military service should be treated on the basis of a presumption that settlement will be granted irrespective of length of service.

 

This is a crucial issue that deserves to be considered in an atmosphere that is devoid of party political opportunism. In that regard, I believe that this House should reflect suitably on the issue, including the wider concerns about pension rights for Gurkhas and how the Immigration Rules apply to other non-UK nationals serving in the Armed Forces. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less.