Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2002-03, dated 8 May 2003


COMMITTEE REPORTS ON ASYLUM REMOVALS

Targets for the removal of failed asylum seekers should be "rational and achievable", says a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee published today (Thursday May 8).  The report strongly criticises the target of 30,000 removals set by the government and later abandoned.  It says:  "We deprecate the setting of wholly unrealistic targets which serve only to arouse false expectations and which can only prove demoralising for all concerned."

The report says that the removals process is a great deal more complicated than  most people appreciate and acknowledges that progress has been made in recent months.    It goes on,  "We believe it is self-evident that the removal of asylum seekers whose claims have failed is a precondition for the credibility of the entire asylum process."    The Committee concludes, however, that the greatest scope for increasing the credibility of the asylum system lies with the more efficient processing of new applicants - which will be the subject of the Committee's next inquiry which starts today.

The Committee makes a number of suggestions for making the removals process more humane as well as efficient.  In particular it recommends that small payments should be made to returning asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute on return to their country of origin.

The Chairman Chris Mullin said, "We want to see applications for asylum processed as quickly, efficiently and fairly as possible and the removal of those whose applications fail.  However, we should never lose sight of the fact that, whether we are dealing with genuine asylum seekers or economic migrants, we are dealing with human beings, not numbers and they should be treated accordingly."

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The quality of available statistics

a. It is very difficult to address the problem of over-staying failed asylum seekers effectively in the absence of reliable statistics.  It is not satisfactory that the Government is unable to offer even a rough estimate of the number of failed asylum seekers remaining in the UK (paragraph 27).

b. We recommend that, subject to proper evaluation and costing, embarkation controls should be reinstated at UK borders, to enable credible estimates to be made of the number of failed asylum seekers who remain in this country (paragraph 27).

c. We believe that the Government should explore the most appropriate method for building a complete picture of net migration into the UK (paragraph 27).

Targets

d. We deprecate the setting of wholly unrealistic targets which serve only to arouse false expectations and which can only prove demoralising for all concerned.  We are at a loss to understand the basis for the belief that a target of 30,000 removals a year was achievable and ministerial pronouncements on the subject are obscure.  It is surely not too much to expect that, if it is thought necessary to set targets for removals, they should be rational and achievable (paragraph 32).

Before removal: initial decisions

e. We are concerned at the number of initial decisions which are not sustained, and this is an issue to which we shall return in our forthcoming inquiry into Asylum Applications (paragraph 36).

Non-suspensive appeals

f. We recommend that-

(1) if the Secretary of State wishes to add further countries to the list in Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, he should append a written memorandum to the relevant Statutory Instrument, explaining the rationale for believing those countries to be safe;

(2) if grounds other than nationality for considering an claim "clearly unfounded" are developed by the Home Office, an explanation of those grounds should be made available to this Committee; and

(3) a review of the practicality and effects of non-suspensive appeals should be carried out after they have been in operation for 12 months (paragraph 42).

Voluntary Returns

g. We recommend that the Voluntary Assisted Returns Programme is opened up to detainees in Removal Centres, advertised in the Centres and otherwise brought to the attention of detainees.  We further recommend that the Immigration Service advises asylum seekers of the option of voluntary return from the beginning of the asylum process (paragraph 48).

Enforced removals --- Protracted delay before removal

h. We believe that, where the removal of a failed asylum seeker is delayed through no fault of his own, it is morally unacceptable for him to be rendered destitute.  We recommend that during any such delay the individuals concerned should be provided either with adequate support (including sufficient cash to allow for reasonable minimum living expenses) or a temporary status which will allow them to work to support themselves (paragraph 55).

Barriers to removal

i. We recognise the difficulties posed by the absence of proper travel documents to co-operate with the return of their citizens.  We welcome the establishment by IND of a dedicated Documentation Unit and assurances that the Immigration Service now seeks to tackle this problem at an early stage in the proceedings and look forward to seeing these changes reflected in the figures for removals (paragraph 58).

j. We consider that the negotiation of Readmission Agreements with countries currently reluctant to accept the return of their nationals should be a diplomatic priority (paragraph 60).

Non-returnable people

k. We believe it is absurd to refuse leave to remain to people who, for whatever reason cannot be removed.  We recommend that such people be granted a temporary status which will allow them to support themselves.  If the numbers are as small as the Minister suggests, this should not pose any great difficulty (paragraph 63).

Absconding

l. In the absence of adequate statistics, it is difficult to know the extent of the problems caused by absconding.  The current situation, in which the Home Office simply does not know-even in broad outline-what proportion of failed asylum seekers abscond is unacceptable.  It ought to be possible to obtain at least a snapshot of the scale of the problem and we recommend that steps are taken to do this without delay (paragraph 65).

Left in limbo

m. We recommend that the refusal notice, prior to appeal, should give some indication of the length of time the appeal process is likely to take, and should advise the claimant that the delivery of an adverse appeal decision may be expected to be followed immediately by removal.  If removal does not occur immediately the failed asylum seeker should then be advised at six-monthly intervals of the progress of his case (paragraph 70).

Removal

n. We recommend that a welfare officer ought to be attached to each Removal Centre with a remit that includes ensuring that those detained have had an opportunity to alert friends, family and legal representatives to their impending removal.  We also recommend that Home Office guidelines should make clear that failed asylum seekers in detention should not be removed without having been given a reasonable opportunity to wind up their affairs (paragraph 75).

Detention

o. We recommend that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate should provide quarterly figures on total numbers detained during the period with lengths of detention (paragraph 82).

p. We believe that detention can be justified especially prior to removal in cases where the individual has a history of evading the Immigration Service, or where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual will abscond or pose a security threat or engage in criminal activities if allowed to remain at liberty (paragraph 83).

q. We reject the suggestion that provision should be made for automatic bail hearings at the point of detention on the grounds that this would only present yet another opportunity to string out a process that already takes too long.  There may be a case, however, for giving anyone detained longer than, say, three months an automatic bail hearing at that point (paragraph 84).

Families

r. We believe that, under current practice, children should only be detained prior to removal when the planned period of detention is very short or where there are reasonable grounds to suppose that the family is likely to abscond (paragraph 86).

Lengthy detention

s. We recommend that after 12 months detention, another bail hearing should be automatically held, with the presumption that the individual should be released unless there are compelling reasons why his continued detention is in the public interest or the detainee is considered to have prolonged his own detention by failure to co-operate with inquiries or to provide accurate information.  Similar reviews should be held, if applicable, every 6 months thereafter.  The Home Secretary should also be obliged to lay before the House, on a quarterly basis, a publication listing the names of all detainees who have been in detention for 12 months or longer and the reasons, in each case, for their continued detention (paragraph 90).

Conditions in Removal Centres

t. We believe that strip-searches of detainees should only be carried out where justified by reasonable suspicion and not as a matter of routine.  We recommend that the practice of conducting random strip-searches after visits should be abandoned forthwith (paragraph 93).

u. We regret the delay in publishing a full set of detailed Operating Standards for Removal Centres.  As the Centres have now been operating for some time, the inevitable consequence of this delay has been the emergence of undesirable disparities in standards and conditions between different Centres.  We urge that remaining Operating Standards should be published as soon as possible.  Standards governing visiting hours and legal access are particularly needed.  We further recommend that standards should be raised in those Removal Centres run in former Prison Service accommodation, to match the best practice of privately-contracted Centres, and that a target date should be set by which consistency of standards across private and public Removal Centres is to be achieved.  If, after a reasonable time, the public sector is unable to achieve an acceptable standard, the contract should be put out to tender (paragraph 96).

Access to legal advice

v. We accept that current arrangements for access to legal advice are inadequate.  It may be that the matter can be resolved by appointment of a welfare officer, as we have recommended at paragraph 75 above, who can either put detainees in touch with their own legal representatives or who can provide access to emergency legal advice.  Failing that, however, consideration should be given to providing detainees with access to a duty solicitor (paragraph 99).

Self-harm

w. We welcome the Minister’s undertaking to develop better statistical information about instances of self-harm in Removal Centres (Paragraph 102).

Removal from the country

x. We recommend that the booking of seats on scheduled flights for the purpose of removal is centrally co-ordinated in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to avoid over-booking the number of allocated immigration seats (paragraph 106).

Legal advice

y. We are anxious that nothing be done to inject any more delay into the proceedings than is absolutely necessary.  We agree, however, that when removal is imminent, notice of removal and information as to the whereabouts of those to be removed should be given as a matter of course to legal representatives in good time for them to make representations (paragraph 110).

Splitting families

z. We believe that the welfare of the child should be paramount, and that separation of a child of an asylum seeker from both parents by removal is nearly always unjustified (paragraph 114).

Mistakes

aa. We recommend that mistaken removals are recorded, audited and the number of cases published each year.  We further recommend that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate operate checking mechanisms to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, this does not happen.  In particular we suggest that it should be made clear to the companies responsible for removals that if their staff are concerned about a particular case they should clear the matter with higher management and the Immigration Service before proceeding (paragraph 119).

Allegations of misconduct

bb. We recommend that consideration be given to extending the role of Visiting Committees to cover removals (paragraph 124).

In the source country

cc. We recommend that the Home Office, through the Advisory Panel on Country Information, commissions research into the reception of failed asylum seekers by the authorities in their source countries, after removal (paragraph 130).

Resettlement grants

dd. In order to avoid people returning to destitution, we recommend that formal provision should be made for payment, at the point of departure, of a modest allowance to asylum seekers who otherwise are likely to be destitute or impoverished on arrival in their country of origin.  We accept, given that there is a wide variation in the circumstances of failed asylum seekers, that this payment should not be universal (paragraph 132).

Conclusions

ee. We believe it is self-evident that the efficient removal of asylum seekers whose claims have failed is a precondition for the credibility of the entire asylum process (paragraph 133).

ff. We recognise, however, that the removals process is a great deal more complicated than most people appreciate.  Part of our purpose has been to set out the practical difficulties surrounding removal in the hope that they will be better understood and addressed (paragraph 134).

gg. We also reach a number of conclusions and make recommendations about how to make the system quicker and more efficient.  There is a pressing need for more accurate statistics.  Improvements are essential to the process of initial decision-making.  Enforced removals need to be carried out more rapidly, effectively and humanely (paragraph 135).

hh. We repeat, however, the point we made at the outset.  Namely, that whether we are dealing with genuine asylum seekers or economic migrants we should never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human beings, not numbers, and they should be treated accordingly.  We have made a number of suggestions for ways in which the removals process might be made more humane (paragraph 136).

ii. We pay tribute to those in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and in the private companies they employ who are attempting to carry out a difficult-and sometimes distressing-task with dignity, humanity and fairness (paragraph 137).

jj. Finally, we acknowledge the improvements to the removals process that have occurred in recent months and trust that they will continue.  While the Government should do its utmost to remove failed asylum seekers, the targets it sets must be realistic.  However the greatest scope for improving the credibility of the asylum system lies with reducing the number of applicants and more efficient processing of new applications and it is to these that we will return in our next inquiry (paragraph 138).