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Asylum (Unaccompanied Children Displaced by Conflict)

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the award of asylum seeker status in the United Kingdom to certain unaccompanied children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea displaced by conflict and present within the European Union; and for connected purposes.

Just over three months ago, the tragic death of a little boy and his brother exposed the world to a refugee crisis that Governments, including our own, had been doing their best to avoid. That three-year-old boy was Alan Kurdi and his brother was Galip. Both were Syrian refugees travelling with their parents to seek safety and sanctuary in Europe.

The latest figures for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees show that more than 900,000 people have made similar journeys, over sea, to Europe this year and that 23% of them were children. That is more than 200,000 children who have fled their homes in search of a new life in this year alone.

Many of those children have travelled with their families, as Alan and Galip had before they drowned, but tens and thousands of children travel alone, without parents or relatives, and make their way to Europe in the toughest of circumstances. It is that particularly vulnerable group that my Bill addresses.

Over the past few years, Save the Children and other charities have been working across Europe, particularly in Italy and Greece, doing what they can to support unaccompanied children who have made lengthy journeys to seek safety in Europe. Children in this situation become separated from their relatives for a number of reasons. Some have lost family members in their countries of origin, or those closest to them have been victims of violence, leaving the children with little choice but to flee, and to flee alone. Others have lost their family members en route through illness or drowning.

In their desperation, these children put themselves in the hands of people smugglers and criminal gangs to facilitate their journeys. Save the Children in Greece and Italy has spoken to many children about the abuse, exploitation, and physical and sexual violence that they have experienced during their long travels to Europe. Those journeys can last months or even years. Once they arrive in Europe, they are still not safe. There are serious concerns, which have been echoed by Europol’s Chief of Staff Brian Donald, that vulnerable, underage refugees are being preyed on by organised criminal gangs intent on forcing them into prostitution and slave labour. Mr Donald also warned that there is a “tremendous amount of crossover” between those smuggling refugees across borders and the gangs trafficking people for exploitation in the sex trade or as forced labour.

When we start to look at the data from last year, the grim truth becomes apparent. According to the Italian Ministry of labour and welfare, of the 13,000 unaccompanied children who were registered there in 2014, almost 4,000 disappeared after arriving. That is 4,000 children who are without official protection of any kind. They have no access to education, welfare, healthcare or a safe home. We do not yet have comparable numbers for 2015, but given the rise in refugees this year, we can expect a much higher number of disappeared children.

This is not a far-off problem to be dealt with by distant Governments. It is here in Europe on our own shores. It is our responsibility to protect all refugees, and none more so than orphaned children with no other hope. It is shameful that this Government have so far ignored these children, and it is time that they did the right thing and helped them.

Three thousand children is just a small part of the overall number, certainly small enough for our local authorities to handle, given the appropriate resources and support, but it will make all the difference to the lives of every one of these desperate youngsters who deserve our help. It amounts to just five children per parliamentary constituency and is less than a third of the number of children taken in during the kindertransport, a programme very similar to this proposal. There is no doubt that it was right to take in those Jewish children in the 1930s, and with the same morals at the core of what it means to be British, there is no doubt that these children are also deserving of our help.

This is not the first time that I have called for this in Parliament, so I can perhaps predict what response this Bill might receive from the Government. They will tell us that they would not want to risk separating children from their families, and that there are some concerns that the proposed programme would do that. That argument is simply not true. Of course all efforts should be made to ensure that children remain with, or are reunited with, their families. However, for the children in this programme, reunification with parents or their primary caregivers is simply not possible. These are children who have been registered by the UN Refugee Agency in Europe as unaccompanied, have no family with them and no known family to be sent back to. From talking to civil society groups, I know that there are enough families willing to foster an unaccompanied child. For example, Home for Good has registered 10,000 prospective adoptive families. Although they will not be ready to step up immediately, if the Government support local authorities and agencies to provide the requisite training, the UK will be well equipped to support these children.

It could not be clearer that these children deserve our support and our help. And any suggestion that they do not is nothing to do with their own safety. It is solely to do with the inability of our Government to act on the values that they claim to uphold—values that include helping seekers of sanctuary and protecting the young.

It is time for the UK to stand up and be a leader. Instead of waiting for something high profile to happen before doing the minimum, as we saw after the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the Government have the chance now to acknowledge a problem, acknowledge the desperate need of these children, and actually do something about it.

The UK could make a significant difference by working with UN agencies and civil society to put in place a relocation scheme for unaccompanied children in Europe. Under specific criteria and safeguards, relocation is one of the few viable long-term solutions for the protection of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in Europe. If the UK were to initiate this programme, other EU countries would follow, and many thousands of children would reach the safety and security they so desperately deserve. Given the opportunity, British people have shown again and again throughout history our generosity of spirit, especially in response to refugees. There is no question but that this generosity of spirit still exists in our country today; it just needs our Government to do the right thing, and facilitate it for the 21st century.

Question put and agreed to.


That Tim Farron, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Mr Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Mr Mark Williams, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Gethins, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Caroline Lucas and Liz Saville Roberts present the Bill.

Tim Farron accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March, and to be printed (Bill 104).

european union referendum bill (programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the European Union Referendum Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 9 June 2015 (European Union Referendum Bill (Programme)) and 7 September 2015 (European Union Referendum Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

No. 1

One hour after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments

Nos. 5, 6, 2 to 4 and 7 to 46

Three hours after the commencement of those proceedings

Subsequent stages

(4) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(5) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Question agreed to.