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Refugees and Resettlement

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

Following my statement on 28 January, the Government have continued to work to provide support to refugee children. We have always been clear that in order to provide the best help to the greatest number of those in need, we need to support the majority of refugees to stay safely in their home region.

That is why we recently doubled our aid for the Syrian crisis to £2.3 billion, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. This support has reached hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. To galvanise international efforts we co-hosted the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference in London on 4 February, securing pledges of more than $11 billion, the largest amount ever raised in one day for a humanitarian crisis. These commitments will create an estimated 1.1 million jobs for refugees and host country citizens by 2018. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, 1.7 million refugee and vulnerable children will be in quality education with equal access for girls and boys.

Today I am able to announce the results of work with UNHCR and informed by a roundtable with NGOs, local authorities and devolved administrations to provide a resettlement route to the UK, specifically designed for “Children at Risk” from the middle east and north Africa region. On the UNHCR’s recommendation the scheme will not target unaccompanied children alone, but will be extended to all “Children at Risk” as defined by the UNHCR. This broad category encompasses unaccompanied children and separated children—those separated from their parents and/or other family members—as well as other vulnerable children such as child carers and those facing the risk of child labour, child marriage or other forms of neglect, abuse or exploitation.

Through this category we will resettle the most vulnerable children, accompanied by their families, where the UNHCR deems resettlement is in the best interests of the child. We will commit to resettling several hundred individuals in the first year with a view to resettling up to 3,000 individuals over the lifetime of this Parliament, the majority of whom will be children. We will also review the scheme at the two-year mark. This unique initiative will be the largest resettlement effort that focuses on children at risk from the MENA region and will be over and above the commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees under the Syrian resettlement scheme. It will be open to all at risk groups and nationalities within the region, with the best interests of the child at the heart of the scheme. The UNHCR is fully supportive of the launch of this new initiative and the UK’s commitment to assist vulnerable refugee children at risk through further resettlement efforts which uphold the principles of child protection.

The Government are committed to making a full contribution to the global refugee crisis, in particular by helping children at risk. We firmly believe that we can make the biggest difference and add most value by supporting children and their families in the conflict region while providing a route to the UK for the minority of vulnerable or at risk cases where resettlement is judged by the UNHCR to be in the child’s best interests.

At the same time we need to shut down the illegal migration routes to Europe, exploited by human traffickers who encourage people to risk their lives to make perilous journeys. The success of the EU-Turkey migration agreement is a vital opportunity to end the misery and lethal risk that smugglers and organised criminals are causing on a daily basis.

Following discussion with the European Commission and the Greek Government I can today announce that the UK will be offering 75 expert personnel to help with processing and administration of migrants in reception centres, act as interpreters, provide medical support and bolster our existing team assisting the Commission to ensure effective and efficient co-ordination. We will also provide vital equipment and medical supplies. This is in addition to the UK maritime contribution, with three Border Force vessels assisting the Hellenic Coastguard to conduct search and rescue missions, and a Royal Navy vessel as part of the NATO mission in the Aegean.

The teams we send to Greece will include experts in supporting vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children and those trained to tackle people trafficking. This will help ensure that vulnerable people, including children, are identified and can access asylum procedures as quickly as possible. This is in addition to the work undertaken by the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit hotspots and assess what more can be done to ensure unaccompanied children are protected from traffickers.

To increase support to refugees in Turkey the Government are contributing £250 million to the initial €3 billion Turkey refugee facility. This is expected to provide immediate humanitarian support as well as funding for schools, hospitals and housing. We are also working with the Turkish Government to identify what expert support would best assist their immigration and asylum services in handling migrants returned under the EU-Turkey agreement.

We continue to take action within Europe to assist vulnerable migrant children. The UK is the largest bilateral contributor to the humanitarian response to the crisis in Europe and the Balkans with a total contribution of £65 million. This includes nearly £46 million to provide life-saving aid to migrants and refugees including food, water, hygiene kits and infant packs, and protection for the most vulnerable, as well as support to organisations helping Governments build their capacity to manage arrivals in Greece and the Balkans. The efforts of the partners we fund are targeted to reach the most vulnerable—including children.

It also includes the £10 million refugee children fund the Department for International Development (DFID) has created to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children specifically in Europe. The fund will support three specialist and mandated organisations UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to work with host authorities to care for and assist unaccompanied or separated children in Europe and the Balkans. This includes identifying vulnerable children, providing for their immediate support, referral to specialist care, and helping find solutions such as family reunification.

It is important to use the tools available to help children reunite with family wherever possible. The Government are committed to meeting our obligations under the Dublin regulation. We have seconded additional resource into the European Asylum Support Office totalling over 1,000 days of expert support to Italy and Greece to implement and streamline the Dublin process, including to quickly identify children who qualify for family reunion. And we continue to work with the French authorities to address the situation in Calais, including through a permanent bilateral standing committee to improve co-operation on Dublin transfers, particularly family reunion.

The recent secondment of a senior asylum expert to the French Interior Ministry to improve the process for family cases has already resulted in a significant increase in the number of children being reunited with family in the UK. In the last six weeks 24 cases have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France under family unity provisions, more than half of whom have already arrived in the UK. Once an asylum claim has been lodged in another member state we have demonstrated that transfers can take place within weeks.

We will do all we can to ensure that children in Europe with a right to be reunited with their family in the UK are supported to do so. However, the Government remain of the view that relocation schemes within Europe risk creating unintended consequences or perverse incentives for people to put their lives into the hands of traffickers. Instead we are committed to providing safe and legal routes for the most vulnerable refugees from Syria to resettle to the UK. Under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme we are committed to resettling 20,000 vulnerable refugees by 2020. In the last quarter of 2015 we resettled 1,085 Syrian refugees under this scheme over half of whom were children.