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Volume 608: debated on Monday 11 April 2016

The Government are opposed to EU relocation proposals, which do nothing to address the underlying issues the EU is facing and simply move the problem around Europe. Our focus should be on securing the external border, returning those with no right to be in the EU and addressing the underlying issues in source and transit countries, so that people no longer feel that they have no choice but to travel to Europe.

At the weekend, it was reported that the Children’s Commissioner had written to the French Government urging action to speed up asylum claims to help lone children in the Calais refugee camps to reach relatives in the UK. These children must be absolutely petrified and feeling completely isolated and vulnerable—a situation that we would not countenance for our own loved ones. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with her French counterparts in order to stress the critical need to get these poor children safely reunited with their families in the UK?

The Home Secretary and her colleagues have had regular discussions with their French counterparts precisely on this matter in order to speed up the process. Indeed, I can report that there has been a significant improvement over the last few weeks in the time it takes to process these applications.

Charity workers at Calais have deep concerns about the 129 missing children, following the dismantling of parts of the jungle. Does the Home Secretary agree that the authorities must do more, and will she make representations to the French authorities urgently to seek these children out and, in particular, to determine with haste which of these children are eligible to come to Scotland and the rest of the UK?

I am pleased to report again that there are regular discussions between the Home Secretary and her French colleagues on this matter. The Department for International Development recently announced the provision of a further £10 million-worth of special funding precisely to help unaccompanied children in Europe. Details about how the money will be allocated will be announced shortly.

Does the Minister agree that, far from lagging behind the European Union on this issue, the UK is actually doing far more than any other country in Europe through its massive support for the camps and the refugees in the region, while also resettling the most vulnerable refugees from the camps to the UK?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government believe that relocating children around Europe is not the answer. Under our scheme to relocate the most vulnerable people from Syria and the countries around it, 51% of the people being brought over here are children. I hope that Members on both sides of the House would accept that this is a well measured and well carried-out scheme, which has led to significant improvement in many children’s lives.

Nevertheless, thousands of children are still waiting to be resettled. We have been having this debate for weeks and months. I am ashamed when I listen to debates in the European Parliament about this issue and hear concern and compassion—something that seems to be singularly lacking in this place.

The right hon. Lady will be aware, I am sure, that under our resettlement scheme many children have been resettled—more than 50% of those coming here are children, as I have said. I remind her and other Members that the policy of UNHCR is to keep children in the areas around Syria, and it has been very successful in identifying children with the greater families to make sure that they have a good chance of a better life in the future.

23. Will the Government expand the current definition of the family unit to include de facto family members and simplify the system so that vulnerable children can come here much more quickly than is currently the case? (904398)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are currently looking at reports from the UNHCR on precisely the issue of unaccompanied children, and I hope he will agree that lots of efforts are under way to ensure that that happens.

22. Thank you, Mr Speaker; I was not expecting to be called. The Government have rightly made a big deal of the Syria donor conference in London, but the UNHCR has said that financial solidarity is not enough. Why will the United Kingdom Government not listen, and why did they not step up to their responsibilities at the Geneva conference and do more to help Syrian refugees? (904397)

I was at the Geneva conference on behalf of the Government, and I wish to place on the record that the British Government were congratulated by many other Governments on the work that they have done in relocating Syrian refugees. Our programme for resettling them has been significantly greater than those of all the other countries in the European Union put together.

At Easter, along with three other SNP Members, I spent several days visiting the camps at Calais and Dunkirk. During our visit, we met many refugees with strong ties to the United Kingdom. Why is the Government’s record on “take charge” requests under the Dublin convention for those with strong ties to the UK so poor, and what exactly will the Government do to ensure that there is greater awareness of, and a faster process for, such requests?

The hon. and learned Lady has rightly mentioned the Dublin convention and its effect. It is our Government’s policy to ensure that the convention works properly. With that in mind, we have seconded officials not just to France, including Calais, but to other parts of Europe—Athens, Rome and Germany—to ensure that what she has asked for happens and that the process is speeded up significantly.

I am afraid that the Minister’s answer is not good enough. There was no evidence of any Home Office presence in any of those camps, and what is happening to children in the camps is utterly disgraceful. In the Grande-Synthe camp—

Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) is chuntering, from a sedentary position, “It is up to the French.” The hon. Gentleman is welcome to his opinion, but his opinion is not enhanced by his suddenly winking at me as though in self-justification. The hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished advocate, and she must be heard. Even if she were not a distinguished advocate, she would still be heard.

This is not a laughing matter, and it is not “up to the French” when those children have connections with the United Kingdom. That is my point.

In the Grande-Synthe camp, I met a 16-year-old girl who was working hard for exams in a pop-up school in a tent. She had made the journey to northern France on her own. Her father is in the United Kingdom, but owing to the absence of guidance from the French authorities and the failure of our Government to act, she was stuck in limbo and uncertain about her future. Children like her are very vulnerable in the camps. It is time for the Home Secretary to show leadership. Will she give us a commitment that her Department will ensure that those with a legal right to join their families in the United Kingdom are granted that right as a matter of urgency?

I shall try to avoid repeating what the chunterers were saying earlier, because the hon. and learned Lady has made a serious point. However, I must reiterate that those children are in France and are predominantly the responsibility of the French Government, with whom we are working very closely by placing officials with them.

The children in question have a clear path. They should claim asylum under the Dublin convention, which they are perfectly allowed to do. It is then the responsibility of the Home Office—the British Government —to ensure that their asylum claims are processed speedily and effectively. If they do have the relationships with families in the United Kingdom that the hon. and learned Lady has been told that they have, I can assure her that the process is very much speedier and more efficient than it used to be.