By Jonathan – Campaigns and Public Affairs Team
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is being debated in the House of Lords at the moment, and the Refugee Council is lobbying the Lords to remove a section of it. The Bill is about 95% criminal justice and 5% immigration. Essentially the Government has tacked on a very specific measure for the creation of a Special Immigration Status on to a Criminal Justice Bill – a common tactic when you want to get something onto the statute book in double-quick time!
And what’s so special about this Special Immigration Status, you might ask? Well, in 2000 a group of Afghans hijacked a Boeing 727, flew to the UK and sought asylum from the rule of the Taliban. Following a series of legal cases, including the quashing of criminal convictions on appeal, their case for asylum was considered by the Immigration Appellate Authority. A panel of three adjudicators decided that they risked being killed if they were returned and said they should be allowed to stay. The government wasn’t happy and the case then ping-ponged around the judicial system until in August 2006, the Court of Appeal ruled the Home Secretary really should follow the laws of the land and implement court judgements. Instead of doing so, the then Home Secretary pledged to change the law – hence the Special Immigration Status.
Now nobody is condoning hi-jacking – and it is important to note that nobody before or since has ever resorted to hi-jack as a means of claiming asylum in the UK – but for the small number of people affected by this new status its impact will be devastating. It was a point made by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury in a recent debate:
“In order to strengthen the BIA’s ability at some future date to send back the tiny numbers involved to where they came from—we understand that there are no more than 50 of them now—the Government intend to consign them to a limbo …where they will have no access to employment or to public services other than very limited subsistence and accommodation along the lines that NASS provides at the moment for asylum seekers… They will not be entitled to local authority housing, social security or NHS services except in emergencies, and I believe that their children will be denied education in the state system. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. Moreover, these conditions will continue indefinitely. The Afghans are a good example because they have lived under them for the past eight years.”
You can read the rest of the debate here. Watch this space for an update when the Bill gets a more thorough going over at Committee stage in a few weeks…