Government faces setbacks on asylum bill - Refugee Council
October 11, 2002

Government faces setbacks on asylum bill

The Government’s plans to place asylum seekers in accommodation centres in rural areas, with up to 750 places each, faced a heavy defeat this week, as Tory and Liberal Democrat peers as well as Labour rebels voted 171 to 107 to amend the plans during the report stage of the controversial Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.

The amendment added a clause to the Bill which would ensure that centres should be restricted to areas “suitable to the needs of the people to be accommodated therein” and that they should house no more than 400 people. Lord Judd, a former Labour minister, warned: “there is a danger of inadvertently creating a hell-hole of a social ghetto”.

It was argued that siting accommodation centres in converted military barracks near small towns, such as Bicester in Oxfordshire and Throckmorton in Worcestershire, was inappropriate for asylum seekers and locals alike. Tory peer Baroness Anelay of St Johns, said: “We have to exercise humanity alongside effective decision-making”.

Labour Peer Lord Clinton-Davis commented, “I am deeply concerned that a government which I support have even touched the idea”.

The Government was also defeated by one vote on plans to educate asylum seeking children in accommodation centres outside the mainstream school system. The Refugee Council, amongst others, has argued that families with children should only be placed in accommodation centres if they have access to mainstream schools and that educating young refugees separately would be discriminatory and could seriously hinder the development of particularly vulnerable children.

The Refugee Council worked with the Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association (ILPA), as well as the Children’s Consortium to draft amendments to the Bill, which were spearheaded by Bishops in the Lords.

The Bishop of Portsmouth pointed out how the views of Foreign Office undermines the Government’s plans to educate young asylum seekers separately, quoting its Annual Human Rights Report 2002, which states: “School segregation is a particularly severe form of racial discrimination”.

With further embarassment to the Government, the Bill faced a third defeat yesterday when peers voted 77 to 71 to set the threshold for deportation of asylum seekers who have been found guilty of a criminal offence at a minimum custodial sentence of 10 years.

The Government had sought to take powers to deport asylum seekers handed a sentence of 2 years or more, which would include a much broader category of offences. The amendment was tabled by shadow Lord chancellor Lord Kingsland, with support from Liberal Democrats.

The Government is expected to use its Commons majority to overturn all three defeats when the Bill returns to the Commons next month.