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Asylum Seekers: Resettlement and Relocation

Volume 681: debated on Monday 28 September 2020

What her policy is on the resettlement and relocation of refugees and asylum seekers to the UK from (a) Greece and (b) other countries. (906713)

If she will relocate a number of unaccompanied refugee children affected by the recent fire at Moria refugee camp on Lesvos from Greece to the UK. (906714)

As another Croydon MP, I would like to add my words to those of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), and pay tribute to Sergeant Ratana and his long track record of service to our local community. Everybody in the borough, from north to south, feels it deeply. Our sympathy and condolences go to his family at what must be an agonising and heartbreaking time.

On the question of resettlement, we are continuing to welcome family reunion cases, as we are obliged to do under the Dublin regulations, including from Greeceā€”in fact, particularly from Greece. Already this summer, three flights have brought in refugees to reunite them with family members in the United Kingdom, so we are continuing to discharge our obligations.

Conditions on the Aegean islands were an overcrowded living hell for asylum seekers, even before the fire at Moria left 13,000 homeless. Given what the Home Secretary said to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) about the importance of safe legal routes, surely the Government must now join Germany and France in offering to relocate some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers from the Aegean islands, even beyond those for whom they have responsibility under family reunion rules.

We are investigating ways that the United Kingdom Government can help our colleagues in Greece. That includes the possibility of using overseas aid money to assist them, as well as looking at people who are entitled to be relocated to the UK under the Dublin regulations, and at what we can do to assist and expedite that process.

I have some numbers to put this issue in context. Some 13,000 refugees are without any shelter as a result of the recent fires in Greece, 3,800 of whom are children. There are 21 confirmed cases of covid in the camp, which has a quarantine capacity of just 30. Ten countries, including France, Germany, Croatia and Portugal, have already agreed to take some of the hundreds of unaccompanied young minors in the camp. At present, we have taken just 16, but this place promised to take 3,000 under the Dubs scheme. Will the Minister give me and others who are concerned about this issue just one meeting to discuss what more we can do on our obligations to those vulnerable young children?

We have fulfilled our Dubs obligation in full: 380 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been brought to the UK from European countries, in addition to 3,500 who came here last year. That is higher than any other country in Europe. In addition to that, we are honouring our Dublin obligations to Greece. It is not 16; well over 100 people have been taken from Greece directly back here. Where we have further obligations, we will do everything we can to make sure we meet them. In addition to that, as I said in response to an earlier question, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is looking at ways that we can help to provide the kind of shelter that the hon. Lady referred to. There is a lot that the Government have done and will continue to do. If she would like to meet me to discuss that, I would be delighted to do so.

I understand that on 15 September partner agencies were notified that the Home Office was lifting a ban on asylum evictions with immediate effect. I appreciate that the pause in the system cannot continue indefinitely. However, to evict people into destitution and homelessness as we enter a second wave of infections completely undermines public health efforts to keep everyone safe from the virus, especially in areas like mine that have local restrictions in place. Can the Minister share with us the plan to ensure that these risks do not become a reality?

As the shadow Minister says, on 27 March we paused cessations whereby people leave asylum accommodation when their decision is made positively or negatively. On 11 August, we resumed those for positive cases where they have been granted asylum, in a very phased, very careful, week-by-week, step-by-step way, moving them, where necessary, into local authority and other kinds of accommodation. We are now just beginning the process for the negative cases where asylum has not been granted, because clearly we cannot accommodate people at public expense indefinitely when their asylum claim has been rejected. We are doing this in a very careful, phased, week-by-week way to make sure that the sorts of risks that she describes do not come to pass. Where there are safe routes home to the country of origin for people whose claims have been rejected, we are working to make sure that those safe routes home are taken.