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Unaccompanied Child Refugees

Volume 631: debated on Monday 20 November 2017

2. What steps she is taking to reduce dangerous journeys for unaccompanied child refugees with family in the UK. (901906)

3. What steps she is taking to reduce dangerous journeys for unaccompanied child refugees with family in the UK. (901907)

We have a comprehensive framework for refugees and their families to be safely reunited in this country without the need for dangerous journeys. Our family reunion policy allows children to join refugee parents, and there are immigration rules in place for extended family members lawfully resident here to sponsor children, where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Children recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can also join close family members through our mandate resettlement scheme.

Bedford is proud to have given homes to six refugee families through the vulnerable person relocation scheme, but there are hundreds of unaccompanied children stranded in Europe for whom family reunion is the only safe, legal route. Will the Minister look again at family reunion so that unaccompanied refugee children can join their close family and not just their parents?

Obviously, there are several gateway schemes, including the Dublin regulation and the Dubs scheme. As I have just outlined, our own immigration rules also contain a route that people can use, and I would encourage them to look at that.

I welcome the Minister’s response, but the generosity and decency of the British people is such that they want the Government to do more. The £50 million raised by the BBC’s Children in Need charity last week is testament to that generosity of spirit. Will the Minister match the welcome rhetoric with deeds that will break the logjam of children waiting to be reunited with their families in the UK?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that that is a good example of the great generosity across this country. We see it not only at events such as Friday night’s, but in the community sponsorship programmes and in communities wanting to do what they can to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We should all be proud of what we do as a country and of what the Government are doing to bring over children who need support and help. We are doing that, and our rules do allow for family reunion as well.

One of the dangers that unaccompanied children face is human trafficking, meaning that they may end up being sold for sex in this country. Did the Minister see the appalling report in The Times last week about children as young as five being sold for sex on the streets of Glasgow? What engagement has the Home Office had with the National Crime Agency, Border Force, the Scottish Executive and Police Scotland to stamp that out?

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to a horrific case that many of us will have seen, and the Home Secretary spoke to Michael Matheson just today to offer our full support and help. My hon. Friend also highlights why it is important that we do all we can to deter people from making perilous journeys and to crack down on the rogue traders and the despicable behaviour of human traffickers. I am pleased by the work that has been done recently across the Home Office, the police, immigration enforcement and the NCA to break down some of those routes, but there is always more to do, and we must stay focused.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that we focus as much as we can on developing and improving the situation upstream. That is why I am pleased that the Prime Minister was able this summer to put an extra £75 million into the Department for International Development to work with our partners around Europe to ensure that we do as much as we can to tackle the real problems upstream.

I welcome the announcement this weekend of an agreement to transfer a Syrian teenager from Greece under the Dubs scheme. I wrote to the Home Secretary about that case on 7 August. The boy has been locked in a police cell in Greece because there was no other safe accommodation for him, even though a local council here had offered a place. I understand that he still has not been given a transfer date, so I hope that the Minister can look into that urgently. However, given that we still have 280 empty local council places, 90 of which were supposed to be filled by people from Greece, and given that there are around 3,000 lone child refugees in Greece, does he agree that it is not good enough for only four eligible children to have been identified in Greece? Does he agree that we cannot carry on with just a blame game between Britain and Greece and that urgent action must be taken to change the scheme so that more children can come?

I am sure that the right hon. Lady will appreciate from previous answers that she has received that it is not just a matter of having empty spaces, but it is good news that children are now coming through from both France and Greece. As I have pointed out before, these other countries are sovereign states, and it is absolutely right that we do things in a way that works for them. I have been to Greece and to Italy to talk to people about what more we can do to make the process work fluidly. Ultimately, however, these are sovereign states that are working with the children, and we have to do what is right and what is in the children’s best interests.

The 15-year-old Syrian boy referred to by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) waited 14 months before the news of his transfer came through. What could be done to speed up transfers under the Dubs scheme?

We are always working with our partners in other countries, including Greece, on how we can make the system move as fluidly as possible. I am as keen as the hon. Gentleman to see people coming through that system as quickly as possible, but ultimately we have to do what is in the best interest of those children and we have to respect the law of sovereign states such as Greece.