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Unaccompanied Children (Family Reunification)

Volume 611: debated on Monday 13 June 2016

6. What steps her Department is taking to accelerate the family reunification process for unaccompanied children in Europe with family in the UK. (905353)

Ministers and senior officials have formally opened consultations with Greece, Italy and France to identify and transfer to the UK unaccompanied refugee children where it is in their best interests. We are also consulting local authorities, non-governmental organisations and UNHCR. In addition, we have worked with France to improve the operation of the Dublin family reunification process.

May I associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary and other hon. Members on the homophobic, hate-based atrocity that has taken place in Orlando this week?

International Red Cross has stated its concern for children in Dunkirk. It has highlighted the length of the asylum process, the lack of official information and the domination of smugglers as factors that prevent the Dublin system from even getting off the ground. What progress is being made in overcoming these challenges to ensure that children are swiftly reunited with family in the UK?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are doing all we can to get children in the asylum system and, once they are in the system, to make sure the procedure happens as quickly as possible. We are having regular meetings with the relevant NGOs, including quite a big one on Thursday, to find out how we can speed this up. The records show that the system is operating much faster and with many more numbers than in 2015, and we are doing our absolute best to speed it up as much as we can.

What progress have we made in despatching the 75 experts to Greece, into the hotspots around Europe and also into Calais to ensure that there is robustness and confidence in the process of vulnerable children going into the system and then having their family reunion application processed, rather than going into the hands of the smugglers and traffickers?

On the officials due to go out to the hotspots, that is well under way. Many have already gone and a lot more will be going in the next few weeks. My hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in this and I am very pleased that, along with my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, we have worked together on many things. We take this very seriously. We are putting a lot of resource into it, and I hope in future to be able to report to the House the positive results that I know my hon. Friend wants.

The most recent figures published are that, I believe, more than 30 children from France have come over here—that is in the period up to April 2016—and I can assure the right hon. Lady that we are expecting this to increase very significantly. But we cannot take these duties lightly. For example, we have carefully read the survey, or census as it calls it, by terre d’asile on most of the Calais camp. It identified about 180 children of which 50 claim family reunion connections with the UK. We are doing everything we can to quantify exactly who are the ones with family reunification links with this country, and doing our best to speed up reunions. However, I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree that we have to take this seriously and make sure that they have proper connections with the UK, and if it is proved that they do, which is a very quick process, that they are brought over here very quickly.

20. Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), does the Minister think that 30 is an adequate number? How quickly does he think he can get the children who have been identified reunited with their families?


As I explained to the right hon. Lady, I think the number will be increasing significantly in the future. The most significant thing is the speed this takes once a child claims asylum; it takes a short period— in many cases, it is two weeks—and I am hoping to improve on that.