HL Deb 22 January 1980 vol 404 cc369-72

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why Mr. Carlos Reyes Manso, a refugee from Chile who had been detained in concentration camps there and was subsequently expelled from Panama, was held in custody at Harmondsworth detention centre following his arrival at London Heathrow Airport at 0700 on 27th November; and whether they consider that this action was consistent with the United Kingdom's obligation under the UN Convention on Refugees.


My Lords, Mr. Reyes, a refugee from Chile accepted in Panama, was arrested by the Panamanian authorities and placed on a plane to the United Kingdom, with which country he has no connection, against his wishes and without proper documentation. This situation required, and still requires, careful inquiry. By 4th December sufficient information was available to justify Mr. Reyes' release from custody and temporary admission. The principal obligation under the United Nations Convention on Refugees is to protect refugees from "refoulement" and there is no question of our sending Mr. Reyes to Chile.


My Lords, while I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, is he aware that the information he gave at the beginning of his reply was all known to the Home Office on the Friday after Mr. Reyes arrived here, when I first intervened and asked for his temporary release and was told that this was not possible pending further inquiries? Can the noble Lord say why it was necessary to detain Mr. Reyes for a whole week, bearing in mind that this gentleman had already suffered enormously from being in a concentration camp in Chile and from being detained prior to his departure from Panama for 48 hours without food or drink? Does not the noble Lord think this was a somewhat inhospitable reception from a country which is one of the foremost signatories of the UN Convention on Refugees?


My Lords, Mr. Reyes' expulsion from Panama had to be investigated before he could be admitted temporarily to this country. There was delay in handling one telex sent from London airport on the day that Mr. Reyes arrived, and during the period that Mr. Reyes was detained a weekend intervened, but as soon as we ascertained that Mr. Reyes' expulsion from Panama was not caused by any misconduct which should lead us to believe that he should not be in this country, he was granted temporary release.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Mr. Reyes Manso abused his host country's hospitality by setting up a Chilean Communist cell? Furthermore, does he not agree that the United Kingdom should not be seen to be a haven for seditious political agitators?


No, my Lords, I am not aware of what my noble friend said in the first part of his supplementary question. All I am aware of is that Mr. Reyes had been living in Panama for some four years and it was a matter of concern, and a matter which the immigration officer who received Mr. Reyes knew nothing about, as to why Mr. Reyes should have been sent first of all to Chile, which seemed certainly to be "refoulement" in the terms of the Convention, and then straight to this country, a country with which Mr. Reyes had no connection and was telling the immigration authorities he did not want to come to. It was for those reasons that the immigration authorities in this country felt they had to look very closely into the case of Mr. Reyes.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this is not an isolated case? Is there not now enough evidence to require an inquiry into our whole treatment of these refugees who arrive at Heathrow and at ports? Some are sent to Pentonville for long periods. Would not an inquiry by the Government into these matters be desirable?


My Lords, I believe that in this case the immigration officer and the port of entry authorities behaved absolutely correctly. If the noble Lord has in mind particular cases which are causing him concern, and he will be so good as to let me know, I will see that they are looked into immediately.


My Lords, is not the noble Lord aware, pursuing the point made opposite, that it is unusual for your Lordships' House to be used for making defamatory allegations about persons who are not in a position to reply to them, particularly when those allegations emanate from dictatorial regimes, as that one did? But might I further ask the noble Lord whether it is an inflexible rule of his department that no one who is under investigation as to his status as a refugee can ever be released under the temporary admission procedure, even to a responsible organisation supported by the Home Office such as the Joint Working Group for Refugees? If that is so, can the rule be made known to the Joint Working Group and others so that they do not waste their time intervening on behalf of people who are held in custody at Harmondsworth claiming to be refugees?


My Lords, I understand the point which the noble Lord is putting to me, but we are not talking about an inflexible rule. Mr. Reyes arrived on 27th November; on 29th November the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as the noble Lord knows, telephoned the refugee unit of the Home Office at Croydon. I think it is important that I should recall to the noble Lord that, as I understand it, during that telephone call it was agreed between the UNHCR and the Home Office that further inquiries into Mr. Reyes' case were most necessary. During that telephone conversation an undertaking was freely given by the Home Office that Mr. Reyes would not be removed from this country until inquiries were complete. On those grounds, we are not talking about any inflexible rule; we are talking about sensible arrangements which were made on behalf of a man looking for asylum in this country.


My Lords, are the Government aware that a great many people are very pleased that they have decided to send an Ambassador back to Chile and to resume the full exercise of British influence there?

Back to