With the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill before the Commons possibly for the last time, several hundred people, mainly black and Asian, lobbied Parliament in protest at what they believe to be an 'anti-black family' measure.
Although the original legislation was aimed at imposing tighter restrictions on asylum- seekers, criticism now focuses on the provision added since the general election to end the right of appeal against refusal by an immigration official to grant entry to the UK as a visitor or prospective student. A Labour attempt during the Report Stage of the Bill last night to preserve the right of appeal was defeated by 299 votes to 248.
Although MPs were told there were 1,700 successful appeals last year for visits from the Indian sub-continent, Charles Wardle, Under-Secretary at the Home Office, said it was a 'creaky, outmoded mechanism' delivering decisions long after the reason for the visit had passed.
Dave Weaver of the National Black Caucus, which organised the mass lobby, said the Bill was racist. 'To take away the right of appeal from a person who is refused entry into this country is a signal to black people that the Government does not want us, or our relatives here.' In one case highlighted by the NBC, a husband was refused admission to the UK to visit his wife who was dying of cancer. On appeal, the man was allowed to enter, but by then his wife had died.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said the Bill was part of a process throughout Europe in which the victim was blamed for being the cause of the problem. German officials 'tut-tutted' about attacks on refugees but then said it would not have happened if they had not fled to Germany in the first place.
'It is exactly the same argument that was used about people seeking asylum in the 1930s from Nazi Germany. Just the same argument is used about people seeking asylum in this country either from former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Zaire or from any other place. This Bill is part of a move to appease the racists in our own society and appease the far right throughout Europe,' he said.
Graham Allen, a Labour home affairs spokesman, said interior ministers meeting in secret in groups such as the Trevi group were carving out a 'fortress Europe' with strong external borders. They were harmonising on the lowest common denominator. Britain was having to do away with appeals because they did not exist in most other EC countries.
Opening the Report Stage of the Bill, Mr Clarke said 24,500 new applications for asylum in the UK were received last year - nearly halving the 1991 total. But 19 out of 20 applicants did not meet the UN definition for refugee status. They did not face a personal risk of persecution because of their political or religious beliefs. He accepted the argument of Tony Blair, his Labour shadow, that there was a 'grey area' between bogus and obvious refugees.
Accused by Mr Blair of 'callousness', Mr Clarke told MPs: 'It is no good having an asylum system which says under no circumstances should you ever return anybody from these shores to a country where there is civil war, famine or whatever. It is unfortunately the case that the entire population of some countries would qualify for asylum.'Reuse content