HC Deb 11 July 2002 vol 388 cc1195-6W
Ross Cranston

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what his policy is towards unsuccessful asylum seekers from Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [69923]

Beverley Hughes

Our long standing approach to Afghan asylum applications has been that we would not, other than in exceptional circumstances, normally seek to return to Afghanistan asylum seekers whose applications have been found not to meet the criteria set down in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. In those circumstances we would normally grant the unsuccessful asylum applicant four years exceptional leave to remain (ELR) in the United Kingdom. We modified that policy in April this year so as to grant only 12 months ELR to reflect the improving situation in Afghanistan.

Large numbers of Afghans have come to the United Kingdom to seek asylum in recent years. We have provided them with asylum when they have needed it or granted ELR. But the situation in Afghanistan has now changed.

We believe there has been a real and sustained improvement in the country situation. The recent establishment of the Transitional Government serves to underline the improvements which continue to be made. The improvement in the country situation no longer justifies a blanket policy of granting exceptional leave to remain in the United Kingdom to all asylum seekers from Afghanistan who do not meet the criteria in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. We will of course continue to honour our international obligations under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights.

Asylum caseworkers will continue to consider—on a case by case basis—whether in the individual circumstances of a particular case it is appropriate to grant exceptional leave to remain in the United Kingdom to an unsuccessful asylum applicant and taking into full account the country situation. If the circumstances of an individual case justify it, exceptional leave to remain will be granted but, for the reasons stated above, I have decided that a blanket policy of granting exceptional leave to remain in all such cases is no longer justified. In cases where asylum has been refused, and exceptional leave has not been granted, we will take the appropriate enforcement action.

Further, in order to facilitate voluntary returns to Afghanistan I am considering whether for a limited period of time, incentive payments could be made to returnees. The payments would help returnees to re-establish themselves in Afghanistan. The payments would be closely administered and time limited: it is essential that they not act as a pull-factor to the United Kingdom, nor their provision abused. We will also be looking into what other support may be needed in order to ensure the sustainability of returns.

This would be the start of a number of packages we intend to develop to encourage return to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Other packages will involve, for example, different forms of re-integration programmes and explore and prepare visits. This demonstrates our long-term commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.