Last Friday Tory backbenchers in the commons did what Tory backbenchers are prone to do – grabbed the wrong end of the stick on an issue and ran with simplistic solutions. On Friday it was on the issues of asylum. As Labour’s Shadow Minister for Immigration let me be categorically clear; Labour’s commitment to a fair asylum system has never been stronger but Friday was interesting as it showed a clear divide on this issue for Labour.
So I spent the day in Westminster (rather than my constituency at an especially busy time to be away) to protect the rights of people to make an asylum claim when they need to against a Tory attempt to limit those rights. The Tory backbench plan, described as a contribution to the Tory manifesto would have severely hit asylum rights for the most vulnerable.
As I said in that debate, Britain has a proud history of offering asylum to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people who have come to this great country over the years seeking refuge and asylum from horrors elsewhere. For example, it is to Britain’s credit that we welcomed German Jews in the 1930s and ’40s, survivors from Rwanda in the ’90s and more recently those who have suffered the horrors and atrocity being committed in Syria.
But in order to provide support for the most vulnerable we need an effective and efficient asylum system in the UK and EU which is fair for both the public and asylum seekers themselves. As part of that it’s vital that we have regulations about which country has responsibility to look after asylum seekers, something that I have recently been pushing the government on. There is nothing fair or efficient about allowing people to move through various safe EU countries to specifically claim asylum here instead, and such a move would only serve to undermine confidence and belief in the asylum system here at home.
The rules are contained in The Dublin Convention. These rules establish which country should have responsibility for someone claiming asylum, and in the words of the European Council of Refugees and Exiles it does this to “deter multiple asylum claims and to determine as quickly as possible the responsible Member State to ensure effective access to an asylum procedure”.
I recently asked a Parliamentary Question to try and shed light on this aspect of government policy – a regular and essential part of my role as an Opposition Minister. The figures I obtained from the Minister’s answer showed that the government are failing in their duty to do this.
What we need is a system that quickly, efficiently, fairly and with compassion grants asylum to those in genuine need. But the government is failing to ensure the rules of the Dublin Convention are respected meaning delays, inefficiencies and a potential decline of public goodwill towards our asylum system. It shows that Ministers aren’t focused on taking simple steps to ensure our asylum system is fit for purpose. As does the situation at Yarl’s Wood.
Only recently the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper announced that a Labour Government would take various steps to reform the asylum system to ensure that it is as efficient, fair and humane as we would expect. These reforms would include:
- An independent investigation into Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre – particularly allegations related to sexual assaults;
- Amending the immigration rules to make it clear that women asylum seekers and others who have suffered sexual abuse or who are pregnant should not, other than in exceptional and short-term circumstances, be detained.
- A consultation on the reintroduction of automatic bail hearings triggered after specific periods in immigration detention – to prevent long periods of detention with no decision on an asylum claim; and a consultation on maximum time periods.
Labour are the only party making these type of commitments. It was a little over a year ago that I worked with Yvette and the Leader of our Party Ed Milliband to commit to accepting Syrian refugees which in turn Ed used to force the Prime Minister into a U turn and finally accept those refugees. Since then I’ve used PQs to expose how poor the government has been at upholding their promise to take Syrian refugees – with figures showing only 90 have been resettled here last year. The government must be held to account for failing on immigration and asylum in every way and I won’t shy away from trying to make sure information is in the public domain that exposes their failings.
Vulnerable people who arrive in the UK seeking refuge from rape, torture, genocide or other unimaginable types of persecution should be granted asylum, and if the government is failing to set up a fair, efficient and effective system to do this the Labour Party will not score political points, but I will work hard to expose their failings and challenge them to change.
David Hanson is the Shadow Immigration Minister