HC Deb 13 April 1983 vol 40 cc788-9
4. Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the international obligations of the United Kingdom towards refugees.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The principal international obligations of the United Kingdom towards refugees are those arising under the United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees of 1951, as modified by the protocol of 1967. The convention defines a refugee and gives guidance on international standards for the treatment of refugees.

Mr. MacKenzie

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of us are very concerned because in about 1979, 37 per cent. of those who applied for refugee status or for political asylum from the Eastern bloc were granted it, whereas in 1983 only 11 or 12 per cent. of those who applied have been granted it. To many of us that seems to be a tragic reduction in the figure. If the Foreign Secretary wants to maintain the respect of our friends and allies, the number should be very substantially increased.

Mr. Rifkind

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that decisions on individual applications for refugee status are dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend obviously takes into account the guidelines laid down in the United Nations convention to which I have referred.

Mr. Warren

In view of the reply that my hon Friend has just given, will he bear in mind that the Home Secretary told me only yesterday in a written reply that 142 applications by refugees from the Eastern bloc were refused in 082 and that the eventual fate of those people is not known? Would it not be possible for him to consider with the Home Secretary whether there is any chance of improving the refugee review system to ensure the standard of democracy in which we all believe?

Mr. Rifkind

I know that my right hon. Friend tries to treat applications for refugee status as sympathetically as possible. Of course, it is impossible to grant every application when pursuing a policy in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the United Nations convention.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does the Minister accept that this country's obligations to refugees extend to those who are already settled here, such as the many thousands of Ugandans who were driven out by Amin, and that those obligations include making every effort to help them to obtain compensation for what was stolen from them by the Amin regime?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to that problem. He will be aware that the present Ugandan Government have introduced a new initiative to help to resolve some of those problems. We shall do all we can to help British citizens or other persons resident here who seek a resolution of those difficulties.

Mr. George Robertson

Is the Minister really satisfied that the Home Office takes sufficient account of the views of the Foreign Office about refugees? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the increasing anxiety about the growing evidence that this country is no longer willing to give a safe haven to those fleeing persecution and oppression? Is he further aware that the Government's record of granting political asylum to people from countries such as Chile, Poland, Iran and South Africa—many of whom are sent home to face imprisonment and, often, death—shows that the Government's policy is arbitrary, inconsistent and a disgrace to the fine reputation that this country once had on this subject?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's remarks suggest that he is not aware of the United Nations guidelines to which my right hon. Friend pays attention. The United Nations convention states that a refugee should not be returned to his country where his life or freedom would be endangered on account of his race, religion or political opinion. Those are exactly the criteria to which my right hon. Friend pays attention.

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