HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc602-4
8. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

If he will make a statement on his plans to develop a refugee resettlement programme with the UNHCR. [64753]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

In the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill now going through Parliament there is a provision to introduce a resettlement programme that will enable those refugees whose life, liberty or security cannot be protected to be brought safely to the United Kingdom and provided with protection. That will provide a legal route for those seeking international protection and is further evidence of our practical support of the refugee convention.

Mr. Rammell

I thank the Minister for that response. Does she agree that that programme can be one of the ways by which we cut off the supply to unscrupulous human traffickers, opening up a legal migration route within the country of origin? Over the longer term, will that not reduce the number of unfounded asylum claims in this country, and does not the programme demonstrate the need for more effective international co-operation on these issues?

Beverley Hughes

Resettlement is a humanitarian measure to provide protection and a legal migration route, and it has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by refugee organisations. My hon. Friend is right that it will help to keep people out of the clutches of the organised criminal gangs who are fuelling almost all the illegal immigration across the EU. In the longer term, and in the context of international co-operation and common systems, it could have a beneficial impact on levels of illegal immigration and unfounded claims. We need to keep up the pressure to bear down on illegal immigration and people trafficking, and that, too, requires international co-operation, including co-operation with source and transit countries.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the hon. Lady tell the House how she intends to respond to the high commissioner's offer to visit Sangatte to see which refugees should come to this country? Against the background of £5 million being made available to improve the security fence at Frethun, what guarantee have the Government been given that Sangatte camp will close?

Beverley Hughes

We welcome the offer of assistance from the UNHCR and the fact that it sees a potential role for itself in such situations. Decisions about the way forward will of course be taken by the UK and French Governments together.

The financial contributions to accelerate the provisions at Frethun and in northern France represent a good investment, because they will enable British business to get its freight through much faster.

On the closure of Sangatte, both Governments have said that they foresee that that will be necessary as part of the package of measures that we are working towards.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

May I say how pleased I am that the Government are taking seriously the offer made by Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when he was here last week? He came to the House to talk to us about refugees, and offered to break the deadlock between Britain and France on that issue.

I was in Sangatte—not in the camp, but the village—just a few weeks ago. I walked around and talked to little groups of people, mostly men, on the beach and in the streets. They were mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq. When I asked why they had left, some of them said in the little English that they spoke that Saddam was a bad man; one man held two fingers to his head. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we sort out who is and who is not a refugee as quickly as possible?

Beverley Hughes

If there was a deadlock, it was broken a few weeks ago when my right hon. Friend met his French counterpart and introduced the first package of measures. Those discussions have been continuing at official level and will be resumed on Friday this week at a meeting between my right hon. Friend and French Ministers.

As I said, I welcome UNHCR's seeing a potential role for itself. I have to say to my hon. Friend that that must include help with some of the most difficult aspects of the situation, especially in relation to returning people and to the growing problem of children and young people arriving unaccompanied in the area. That is a very difficult issue. If UNHCR is willing to help us with those two matters, we will be glad to receive that help.