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Refugee Family Reunions

Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

3. Whether her Department is taking steps to broaden the criteria under which refugee family reunions are permitted. (901138)

The family reunion policy allows immediate family members of those granted protection in the UK to reunite with them here. In addition, the family provisions in the immigration rules also provide for relatives with protection in the UK to sponsor children when there are serious and compelling circumstances. Our policy is clear: where an application fails under the rules, we consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.

As the Minister will be aware, a lone child refugee is currently unable to sponsor even their parents or siblings to join them in safety here. UNICEF and the Refugee Council have both said that the rules are too restrictive, and the Home Affairs Committee has called the situation “perverse”. Will the Government therefore support the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, introduced in the other place by my colleague Baroness Hamwee, and allow these vulnerable children a chance to have the loving upbringing that every child surely deserves?

We are working with the UNHCR and with UNICEF on this issue, and we want to ensure that the application of these rules and this policy works in practice. I ask the hon. Lady to look again at the rules that I have outlined, because we can consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.

The Minister will know that it is around 12 months since the Calais jungle was cleared, and Britain did its bit through the Dublin and the Dubs schemes to take some unaccompanied child and teenage refugees. Will he confirm, however, that since then no further child or teenage refugees have come to this country under the Dubs scheme and, in particular, that there have been none from Italy or Greece? Will he accept that the Home Office has designed the scheme in a way that is too restrictive and that makes it too difficult for Italy and Greece to send children here, despite the fact that there are still 280 pledged local authority places that remain unfilled? Will he now agree to revise the scheme to ensure that those 280 places can be filled before Christmas?

We are working with other countries, which have their own national sovereignty. I was in Italy and Greece over the summer to talk about these programmes, and we are working with the Greek and French authorities to ensure that more children can come over and that we fulfil our duty. Let us bear in mind that when we get to the 480, the United Kingdom will have done more than other European countries, and we should be proud of that.

Will the Minister also look at the distribution of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children? About a quarter of the total are in Kent, but you won’t find many in the metropolitan borough of Wakefield.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. His county council in Kent is doing some fantastic work, and there are councils around the country making offers to do similar work. It would be good to see more councils coming forward to do that work, and I will be speaking to the Local Government Association this week about that very issue.

My private Member’s Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, will have its Second Reading on 16 March. It is important for families to be united, especially when they need to travel together. I have a 14-year-old constituent who was born and raised in the Hebrides. Unfortunately, her father has died and her mother has not been seen for about 12 years, as I am sure the Home Office knows. Crucially, the mother’s birth certificate cannot be found. The upshot is that the UK Government refuse to give my constituent a passport. She needs a status letter, please. It is beyond any doubt that this girl is a Hebridean Scot. In the words of the Home Office,

“On the balance of probabilities, the girl is a British national”.

Will the Home Office now give my constituent and her grandparents that status letter, so that she can get her passport? Anything less would create tremendous difficulties, as I am sure the Minister knows.

I am aware of that case and saw the hon. Gentleman’s social media output over the weekend, so I will write to him with some details. When we issue passports, we have to ensure that we go through all the proper checks to make sure that we are doing things correctly. I make no excuses for that—it is obviously a matter of national security. However, I am looking into the case and will get back to him in the next couple of days.