International Conference on Asylum and Immigration only partially addressed the issues driving the migration debate

Keith Vaz MP, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC), launched an inquiry into the European Asylum and Migration system at a meeting on Monday (12 September) in the House of Commons.

This was an important meeting, which showcased the power and influence of his committee. However, the meeting's focus on asylum and refugees and victims of trafficking left me asking how the wider migration agenda would be taken up by the HASC in the coming period.

The meeting was well-attended, with a strong showing from HASC MPs Dr Julian Huppert, Alun Michael and Bridget Phillipson and from the sector Anthony Steen, Alison Harvey, Maurice Wren, Donna Covey, and Roland Schilling. The room was also packed with immigration lawyers, and some foreign diplomats and delegates from the EU and far Eastern Asia and Northern Africa respectively.

Despite the diversity of the audience, there was genuine sympathy, and collective agreement, that for refugees fleeing Somalia and Afghanistan and those trafficked into the UK from Eastern Europe, the Caucuses and Asia, more should be done by the UK government to protect them.

Anthony Steen, a former Tory MP who now serves as the Chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, launched into an excellent keynote speech, and included some important stats which should make many of us think: 61 MPs and 17 peers are active in pushing the issues in parliament. Over 16,000 visas are granted every year for domestic migrant workers and 6 per cent of those end up as slaves.

In London alone, there are 220 brothels with 12,500 women servicing this industry, some of them incarcerated as sex slaves. In the streets of London, there are 1,012 trafficked children, a residual effect from the “massive movement” of Eastern Europeans. Men are also now being trafficked as slaves, working for no money.

Slavery is hidden, underground and unseen making it very difficult to tackle and parliamentarians tend to be ignorant of the facts. And a new phenomenon is emerging with the sudden increase in women traffickers, helping to make this industry the second largest after drugs.

The sector speakers gave a general outlook on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, each giving a plausible argument on how to manage asylum at a national level, working closely with EU partners to pave the way forward for an international impetus that will continue to protect millions of people. Specific examples were given of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and those enslaved in cannabis farms who have had their lives saved by the Convention.

A delegate from Malta highlighted the 2,700 Libyans under international protection in his country [as a result of the Arab Spring]. However, Maurice Wren reinforced the international perception of the UK's asylum system: it routinely fails women, in particular, those seeking protection on the grounds of gender persecution, who, sadly, found the system inherently unfair. Alison Harvey regarded the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe as “very ambiguous” which harbours a preoccupation (or “addiction”) with “unlawful detention”. This certainly got a reaction.

Still, immigration was rarely discussed, economic, academic or business related migration was missing from the debate.

The HASC decided to put forward four key concerns to the government in its next quarterly report:

  1. Public opinion – there is a need for an evidenced-based approach that avoids conflating asylum-seekers with migrants. Redressing challenges around language while reframing the debate will lead to a change in the culture of language and operations, establishing a clear narrative which says 'we are proud to take in refugees and asylum seekers.’ Who leads this debate? Politicians or the media?
  2. Detention and repatriation – Delegates urged that the UK needed to put more faith in its asylum process and managment and stop turning a blind eye to the unlawful elements of its overarching policies. There was also broad agreement that voluntary repatriation is a good policy to pursue.
  3. Fairness and equality - Equitable treatment is needed. Subsidiary protection tends to be low compared to other countries. More monitoring of the UKBA and more work needs to be done on resettlement.
  4. Border control - Better coordination at EU level needed with more support to Turkish and Greek borders.

These concerns are important and the meeting certainly provoked a heartening discussion on asylum and refugees, demonstrating cross-party will to continue to support the plight of those fleeing persecution and war. However this discussion did not touch upon the concerns that many have about wider migration issues, including the immigration cap, the ongoing exploitation of many migrant workers, undocumented migrants, and the anticipated (and proven) impacts of immigration policies on universities, business and wider economic growth.

We hope that the select committee will follow-up with a meeting that includes a wide range of stakeholders, addressing these issues as part of the wider migration debate. In the meantime, do keep an eye on the activities of the APPG on Migration which also facilitates cross-party parliamentary discusson on key migration issues.

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This is an interesting and vital inquiry if Britain is to regard itself as a civilised democracy. Regretably under PM Cameron Home Sec May and IM Green we have Ministers who may spout how civilised and democratic they are, but in fact their actions in regard to immigration and the rights of UK nationals, show them only to be hypocritcal ill advised and implementing an extremely incompetent policy by a department, the UKBA, as not fit for purpose!
The only body that does appear to be doing a good job is the HASC Chaired by K Vaz MP.

Thanks Allan,
It is quite obcious that UKBA is entrenched in practises of social exclusion.
David Camerons policies on immigration is racist and discriminatory especially for a government that has gained so much on the back and sweat of people from the former British Colonies now called "Common Wealth" if the wealth is common it is ironic that these people are targetd by UKBA.
UKBA is a vile institution carrying out illegal detention of those already settled with families in UK. Are we really civilised?

Michael couldn't agree with you more just read the press reports about asylum seekers and their treatment in UKBA detention centres - even the children. It is an appaliing record for a so called democratic civilised country. Yes 'Commonwealth' nationals served as servicemen and died in two world wars under the British Crown. Now just like the Ghurkas they are not wanted. Short memories and long pockets that is the BRITISH Govt. Politicians on the make fiddling their expenses who only got caught because one newspaper found a big story to print. In spite of all the negative reports of the UKBA Cameron doesn't appoint an IMMIGRATION MINISTER with real ability to sort out the problem at the UKBA and get the job done properly. So the man to blame is the man at the top - Cameron needs to get a grip but he's turned out to be another Blair! Looking after his own interests telling Libyans about democracy and denying it to British nationals - a HYPOCRITE!

Thanks. I hope the British people can see the serious damage UKBAS dicriminatory practises will have on Britains goodwill in many of these commomnwealth countries in future.
Ironically , guess who is the PERMANENT head of the commomwealth? the QUEEN of course!

Michael I regret to say the BRITISH PEOPLE do not see the serious damage being done by the UKBA. The home Affairs Select Committee Chaired by K Vaz MP does because they reported the UKBA as 'not fit for purpose! But then so did John Reid when he was Home Sec.
Parliament knows whats going on because many of us have approached out Mps without success. Many of us have written to the Shadow Home Sec and MEPs without success. What many of us are doing now is to petition the UNITED NATIONS COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS in Geneva Switzerland. see their website.
Go onto the Liberty UK website read the Matrix report of Sept 2010 that lays out the legal case.
Research in the Guardian the the three Court Cases and four Judges rulings the tests are UNLAWFULL and the Home Sec is side-stepping Parliamentary SCRUTINY! Reseach the UKBA and find their history specifically K Vaz MP chair of Home Affairs Committee who found the UKBA 'not fit for purpose'. Do your research and find the UKBA is a whole can of worms!
Thats of course apart from the Financial damage incurred by loss of students fees calculated to be £2,4 Bn this year and £25Bn by 2015 which was raised in the House of Lords.

I agree with you.Britains good-will is being squndered by ultra right wing ideologies.
UKBA is now imprisoning UK residents who have already settled here with their families in Immigration prisons.
I wonder what other definition can be given to UKBA prctises apart from "Ethnic Cleansing"
Its quite sad.

Michael the UK seems to think it can do one thing and preach another. This gives the UK massive credibility problems in many other countries. Countries we need to be friends with and impress with our 'fairness justice and democracy'. That is now being squandered and instead we can be seen as hypocrits and liars. Which bodes ill for the UK in a very open world were everything is read and noticed even on web sites like this that are read by other peoples around the world. The example the UK is now setting will lose this country prestige & business.
In the House of Lords it was stated the new language tests will cost the UK £2.4BN in students fees in the first year and £25BN by 2015. Colleges are being set up overseas where access is easier so we have an unnecessary draconian regulation that has been ruled UNLAWFULL in Court but which the UKBA D Green and T May persist in implementing and costing the UK £Bns! Heads in the sand comes to mind or dogmatic intolerance and ignorance? All at a time when the UK has an economics problem and needs more income!

Note comment above

Hi Awale, it would be good to know what your thoughts are on how the progressive discussions can be put at the centre of the political sphere. It is certainly something that would need more than just the politicians involved Are trade unions, business and civil society groups keen to engage in the debate or are they sitting on the fence?

I am amazed that David Cameron goes to lecture other Nations on Human Rights Conventions whilst those very Rights are being blatantly violated at home here in UK.
Not onlly that a government who has already set up a commitee to find a way of abandoning Human Rights with a "bill of rights".
Well we all know what "bills" mean.
God save the rest of us lowlly people.

Politicians are politicians.If we consider the politicians we since 1997 we have had massive lies of non existent WMDs which took the UK into Iraq. The objective was really oil!
Then the UK went into Afganistan to get Bin Laden? Well its taken years and the US get the man in Pakistan. But they have not destroyed or even watered down the AQ idea!
Brown became PM and sqandered UK assets - he sold the UKs gold at a knock down price. He promoted hospital PPIs and bailed out the banks. Wasted money on NHS computer systems and Fire offices. He left the UK people in hock! Yet bankers kept their bonuses! Banks still play games yet get Govt support & lose £Bns! Politicians besoted by power.
Cameron gained power with support of the Lib Dems. Lib Dems now talk democracy but don't practise it. Labour is a spent force who have abandoned democracy. Why? Because Politicians seek to promote their own interests first and make money for themselves.
They sell themselves to the popular press so are corrupted by the press. The promote their own interests and their own financial gains at public cost.How can they get even 'more.? By watering down public involvement / rights and promoting more power for themselves. They kiss the 'baby public' and at the same time steal the 'babies lollipops'! Politicians have pandered to the popular press leading to a corrupt police in order to get power and steal the public pennies at any price! Democracy becomes a meaningless word! Power at any price & the public pay!