Government plans to add India and Georgia to a list of “safe states” where people who arrive in the UK on small boats could be sent have come under fire in Parliament.
Draft legislation was laid last month to include the two countries in the list, meaning that if an individual travels to Britain from either nation without permission they will not be able to claim asylum, the Home Office said.
At the time, campaigners criticised the move, urging the Government to stop focusing on “evermore unworkable and unprincipled policies” and to ensure Britain has an asylum system “that gives people a fair hearing” and makes decisions “in months not years”.
Now, a Lords committee has raised concerns over a “lack of essential information” on the immigration law change to declare India and Georgia as “safe states”.
The cross-party House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee examined in detail the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Amendment of List of Safe States) Regulations 2024 and its implications regarding India and Georgia.
The committee highlighted that several sources, including the US Department of State and the Home Office itself, had reported “significant” and “widespread” human rights abuses in these two countries.
The Home Office stated that the tests for designating a country as safe included that “in general” there is no serious risk of persecution of nationals of that state.
It argued that, despite some “isolated incidents”, these tests were met by India and Georgia.
However, the peers raised the question of what would constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the case of nationals from these countries, which would allow their asylum or human rights claims to be considered.
The Home Office stated that guidance on this point will be published “in due course”.
But the committee considered that the operation of ‘exceptional circumstances’ is critical to understanding and scrutinising the policy and further details should have been in the legislation or, at a minimum, the guidance should have been published alongside the legal instrument.
Baroness Harris of Richmond, who sits on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said: “We have often made clear that it is important to provide all supporting information at the time an instrument is laid before Parliament.
“In the case of these draft regulations, the guidance on ‘exceptional circumstances’ is so critical to their operation that effective scrutiny is impossible without understanding how this aspect will work.
“More generally, we observe that there is scope for different points of view on whether India and Georgia are ‘safe states’, based on their human rights records.
“In the case of Georgia, we note that a significant proportion of asylum applications are granted (29 per cent in the year to September 2022 and 16 per cent in the year to September 2023).”
She added: “The Home Office has also not provided any clarity on whether the significant backlog of existing asylum claims from nationals of these countries will continue to be processed as previously or will be deemed inadmissible retrospectively.
“Overall, we found the explanatory material laid with the draft regulations did not provide a clear enough picture of how they would be implemented in practice.”
The committee drew the draft regulations to the “special attention” of the Upper Chamber and suggested that the House can only scrutinise them properly if the guidance is published before the debate on them takes place.
The regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure, which means that both Houses of Parliament must approve them before they can become law.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping small boats of asylum seekers from crossing the Channel one of the five key priorities of his leadership.
But since the year started, more than 26,000 migrants have arrived via the dangerous journey, even though this number is down by around a third on 2022.
The Illegal Migration Act brought into law the Government’s policy of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda.
But it was branded unlawful by the Supreme Court.
The Government has pledged “emergency legislation” and a new treaty with Rwanda to get its policy back on track but neither have yet been published.