HC Deb 11 July 2003 vol 408 cc1063-6W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when it became his Department's policy not to enforce removals of people refused asylum to( a) Iraq, (b) Zimbabwe and (c) Somalia; and what the reasons are for this policy in each case. [124239]

Beverley Hughes

Returns of failed Iraqi asylum seekers have not been enforced since the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990 due to the nature of the Saddam regime and subsequently due to the recent conflict. It is important that Iraqis start returning to their country now the conflict is over. At present only voluntary returns are appropriate but we will start enforced removal once conditions allows.

Returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers have not been enforced since 15 January 2002. On that date my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that removals had been suspended. This decision was initially made in the light of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe in the run up to elections due in March 2002. Since that date we have not considered that it would be right to recommence enforcing removals to Zimbabwe.

Returns of failed Somali asylum seekers have not been enforced since 1988 to the north of Somalia and since 1991 to the country as a whole. The original reason for this was the civil war and the overthrow of Siad Barre's administration in 1991. Somalia has since remained without a functioning central government and the security situation in much of the south of the country remains poor. Nevertheless, there are regions of the country, most notably Somaliland, where a functioning administration is in place and to which the Home Office believes enforced returns to be sustainable subject to agreement with the regional authorities. Home Office officials have been undertaking negotiations with the authorities in Somaliland on such an agreement.

Tom Cox

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what his most recent estimate is of the average time it takes to process asylum applications for(a) initial decisions and (b) final decisions. [123567]

Beverley Hughes

The average time between application and initial decision was six months for initial decisions made in the financial year 2002–03, compared with 20 months for April 1997. This has been calculated using all cases for which data are available, including older cases decided as part of the reduction of the number of outstanding cases, as well as new cases decided as part of normal work in progress.

Information on the proportion of cases decided, up to and including final appeal, within six months, will be published in the Home Office's Annual Report in order to report on the Public Service Agreement (PSA) target seven, published in July 2002. Due to the nature of the target, performance data will not be available until more than six months following the relevant financial year. For example (subject to data quality), it is planned that performance against financial year 2003–04 will be reported at the end of November 2004, although provisional figures for applications made between April 2003 and September 2003 will be available earlier.

Provisional data show that 73 per cent. of applications received in the period April to December 2002 had initial decisions reached and served within two months. 42 per cent. of asylum appeals received by the Immigration Appellate Authority (IAA) in the period April to December 2002 were determined within 17 weeks (including those appeals also dealt with by the second tier of the IAA).

Information on the proportion of new substantive applications with initial decisions made and served within two months, and information on the proportion of appeals received by the IAA which are dealt with within four months, is published in the quarterly asylum statistics, copies of which are available in the Library, published at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/ rd s/immigration1.html

Mr. Caton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) why failed asylum seekers' National Asylum Support Service support is terminated before their removal to country of origin; [124052]

(2) if he will grant failed asylum seekers a temporary status in the UK to enable them to receive support before they are removed. [124065]

Beverley Hughes

For single asylum seekers and childless couples the legislation allows for support to be provided to asylum seekers until a final decision is made on their claim and, in the case of unsuccessful applicants, for 21 days after the receipt of the final decision on the claim. In the case of families including children under the age of 18, support is provided unless and until the family fails to comply with removal directions or until the youngest child reaches 18.

In the majority of cases there is nothing to prevent the failed asylum seeker from leaving the country once their asylum claim has been finally determined. Letters sent at this stage to failed asylum seekers provide details of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), who will assist the person to make a voluntary return, and also the Immigration Service who will arrange for them to return to their home country.

Failed asylum seekers may be provided with accommodation if they are in a position where they cannot leave immediately through no fault of their own e.g. because they are suffering from a temporary physical incapacity or need a travel document to enable them to go. It would be inappropriate to extend this to all failed asylum seekers. We are determined to increase the number of failed asylum seekers who are removed or who leave of their own accord and providing support until they are removed would thwart this policy.

All asylum claims are carefully and fully considered. In some cases where asylum is refused there will be humanitarian or discretionary reasons which make it appropriate to grant leave. Once an asylum claim has been refused and all appeal rights are exhausted it is not our practice to grant temporary status until the failed asylum seeker is removed. We have no plans to amend this procedure.

Mr. Malins

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department who will be responsible for affording protection in the proposed regional protection areas for asylum seekers; what the basis of contributions to the cost of running the zones will be; what the estimated per capita cost is of doing so; who will undertake the initial decisions; what provision will be made for asylum seekers to obtain disinterested legal advice and representation; what appeal mechanism will apply for those who are refused refugee status; what provision will be made for humanitarian and secondary protection outside the provisions of the 1951 Convention and according to which country's criteria; and what the basis will be of allocating to EU countries those who have been granted refugee status and humanitarian and secondary protection. [124114]

Beverley Hughes

Under international law the Host State is legally responsible for affording protection in refugee areas. However, one of the aims of our proposals is to strengthen their capacity to provide such protection so that they meet the core standards of 'effective protection'.

We are looking to identify the precise needs of prospective host states and aim to provide appropriate resources in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), our coalition partners and the European Commission. We cannot at this stage provide per capita costs as this will depend on the needs of the host country and the scale of the refugee caseload we are seeking to help. However, it is our intention to start on a small scale.

The primary objective is to provide effective protection closer to the source country, not to process asylum applications in large numbers overseas. Asylum processing will be considered only as part of finding durable solutions. Any decision on who to admit to the United Kingdom as a refugee will be taken by British immigration officials.

We are working closely with UNHCR to develop appropriate logistical, staffing and legal arrangements. Where it is appropriate, decision-making processes will be overseen by UNHCR to ensure refugee interests are taken fully into account.

Our commitment to improving refugee protection goes beyond the 1951 Convention and we will be looking to develop appropriate solutions within the limits of our resources. This may include repatriation and local integration, but we may also resettle some refugees on a burden-sharing basis with our partner countries. The precise working arrangements will need to be agreed with host countries.

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