HL Deb 16 July 1997 vol 581 cc114-5WA
Lord Monkswell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes are being made in the handling of applications from refugees and displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia following the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

All applications for asylum will continue to be considered on their individual merits within the terms of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Since 1992 exceptional leave to remain has been granted to those who came from Bosnia but did not qualify for refugee status. The situation now, following the Dayton Agreement and subsequent developments, makes that policy unnecessary and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has recently said that certain categories of persons could reasonably be expected to return to Bosnia.

The Government share the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' hope that many Bosnians will wish to return home voluntarily. However, leave will not be withdrawn from Bosnians already granted exceptional leave to remain on having been refused refugee status, nor from former Yugoslays admitted under the Temporary Protection Programme, and, subject to personal acceptability, extensions of stay will normally be granted.

From today, applications for asylum from Bosnians will be considered on their merits in the normal way. Exceptional leave will not be granted automatically if the application is unsuccessful, but it will be considered in individual cases where there are genuine humanitarian reasons. Those falling within the categories which the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says may reasonably be expected to return home will no longer, in general, be granted exceptional leave to remain and will be expected to return home.

Since August 1992, as a concession, the United Kingdom has not normally sought to return asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia to safe third countries through which they had transited, if they had spent less than a day or two in each country. Asylum applicants from the states of the former Yugoslavia will now be treated in the same way as those from other countries. This will mean that they will be returned to safe third countries where we are satisfied that: the applicant is not a national or citizen of the third country concerned; the applicant would be safe in the third country concerned; and the applicant either had an opportunity to claim asylum in the country concerned or was otherwise admissible there. However, we would not normally remove an applicant where there were immediate family members in the United Kingdom, such as a spouse, a minor child or, if the applicant were a minor child, a parent.

Since December 1992, nationals of the former Yugoslavia have been granted a visa abroad where they could demonstrate that they had a claim to refugee status or had been displaced from their home as a result of the conflict and that they had close family here. In view of the improved situation in the former Yugoslavia, this concession is now being withdrawn, and the normal arrangements for obtaining visas to claim refugee status in the United Kingdom will apply.

We have agreed with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that the temporary protection programmes announced in 1992 and 1995 are to end, although those people already accepted who can go straight into the community will continue to be allowed to take up their places. A total of 2,660 have been brought to the United Kingdom and given temporary refuge under the two programmes.