Report (3rd Day)
116A: After Clause 62, insert the following new Clause—
“Unaccompanied refugee children: relocation and support
(1) The Secretary of State must, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.
(2) The relocation of children under subsection (1) shall be in addition to the resettlement of children under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.”
My Lords, ever since I tabled this amendment, I have been surprised at the level of interest, and above all support, from the wider public over the need to do something for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. I declare an interest at the outset, as I arrived in this country in the summer of 1939 as an unaccompanied child refugee. This country at the time offered safety to some 10,000 children. It is thanks to Sir Nicky Winton, who helped to organise Kindertransports from Czechoslovakia, that I got here at all—I almost certainly owe my life to him. In tribute, last week a postal stamp was produced in commemoration of his achievements, and I saw photographs of the stamp with the Home Secretary when it was launched.
I also happened to meet Theresa May at a birthday party at Nicky Winton’s house in Maidenhead a few years ago. She was of course his MP and paid many tributes to him. I cannot help but feeling that he would be gratified if this House were to adopt this amendment today. In May, there is to be a memorial event for Nicky, who died last year at the age of 106, and it would be fitting if this amendment were on the statute book by that commemoration. Some years ago he expressed concern to me about unaccompanied children—in this case from the Horn of Africa—and wondered at the time whether similar schemes should be put in place. Although I cannot discount my personal experiences, the case for this amendment does not depend on them. There is a much stronger case for the amendment than what happened to me all those years ago.
Once in a while, there are major challenges that test our humanitarianism, and Europe’s refugee crisis is surely one such challenge. But within that, there is a need to do something about unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. They are believed to be mainly Syrian, although I am sure among them there are also some Afghans and Eritreans. There is estimated to be some 24,000 such children in Europe at present. Save the Children, which has been particularly involved in making these estimates, has suggested that the UK’s share should be something in the region of 3,000. I stress of course that we must deal with children who have claims for asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention—there may be others in Europe, but they are not the subject of this amendment.
These children are in a vulnerable state. Some apparently have disappeared and there are fears that they may have become the victims of child traffickers and perhaps forced into prostitution or slave labour. According to the Italian Ministry of Labour, of the 13,000-plus unaccompanied children who arrived in 2014, some 3,700 have disappeared. In 2015, nearly 6,000 are unaccounted for. Is it not a dreadful thing that children have just disappeared in modern Europe? In any case, the winter is not over. In many parts of Europe, children may be sleeping rough, without adequate food or water. Many may be in Greece or Italy, but some are elsewhere, perhaps even in the Calais and Dunkirk areas.
I think that there are clear signs that the British people want to respond, and many have offered to be foster parents. It just so happens that early this afternoon, I received an email, which I should like to quote from. It says, “Please keep fighting for the rights of the refugee children who are unaccompanied. It is very distressing how these children are having such a dreadful time to just survive. England has plenty of room for these children and, just to show our humanity, our doors should be open to them. I would be happy to offer a place of safety for one or two, as I have been a foster parent many years ago. The best of luck today.”
I believe that that is a typical response; I have certainly had such responses, and I am sure that many others have as well. I am confident that a widespread appeal by the Government and local authorities would achieve a positive response from people. Not everyone who wants to be a foster parent is qualified to do so, and we would have to set the highest possible standards, as we would for all other children in local authority care, to ensure that anyone wanting to foster is qualified to do so.
We have heard a lot about pressure in Kent, and I accept that Kent as a county has had difficulties, but I believe that there would be a response all over the country that would meet the need identified in the amendment. We do not want to put children and young people into care homes. Clearly, the aim of the amendment is that such children should be fostered and properly cared for, as were many of those on the Kindertransport, unless they already have relatives in this country, when the right course would be for them to be with them.
Local authorities have a key part to play in all this. Of course, they may need some extra help: it depends on the pressure on any individual authority. Let me stress that these children should be additional to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. I accept that that is a good scheme—a bit small, but it does useful work. I think that 1,200 have already come in under that scheme and we are talking about 20,000 over the next four or five years.
The amendment deals with a different need. The figure of 3,000 is small, but would make an important contribution to helping a vulnerable group. It is surely right that we in this country should take a fair share of the responsibility. I hope that other countries in Europe would also share in doing that.
I have tried to understand the Government’s objection to the amendment. I thank the Minister for several conversations with him; indeed, I have had a conversation with the Home Secretary as well; and I appreciate the frank exchange of views that we were able to have. The Government believe that if some of the children currently in Europe were allowed into this country, that would exert a pull factor and many more would arrive. That seems to be the nub of their argument against the amendment.
I do not think that there is that much hard evidence to support that belief, but in any case, the consequence of doing nothing for these children who are now in Europe must be much more serious than the possibility that an amendment such as this would attract others to follow. We are dealing with a desperately important crisis at the moment; that is the key to the amendment.
I am currently a member of one of our European Union sub-committees, and we are considering naval operations in the Mediterranean, especially Operation Sophia. Those operations are certainly saving the lives of people crossing from Turkey or Libya. To the extent that they do so, they lessen the risks of the sea crossing, so one could argue that they are also a pull factor, but that is no reason not to save the lives of people at risk in the sea, and no one suggests that those naval forces should cease their life-saving operations.
We are dealing with a refugee crisis in Europe of such magnitude that, frankly, the number in the amendment is rather small, and I have had people ask me: “Why so few?”. Some people in European countries have family members in this country. The amendment is not intended to cover those children: provided that they can be identified, they already have the right to come under existing arrangements. The priority must surely be: what is in the best interests of the children? Some may already have parents or close relatives in another European country, and it would clearly be in their best interests to join them there, wherever they are.
In the House of Commons on 25 January, the Minister James Brokenshire said—and I think that the quote summarises the purpose of this amendment:
“The Government are clear that any action to help and assist unaccompanied minors must be in the best interests of the child, and it is right that that is our primary concern”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/16; col. 39.]
In 1938-9, there was a crisis in Europe, as many Jewish children in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were helped to escape to safety on the Kindertransport. At that time, most countries—in fact I think all countries—refused to help. Britain was the only country that said that it would help; we set the lead at that time and set a standard that I hope we can follow today. We said that it could be done and, as a result, thousands of children thank Britain for this humanitarian gesture. Many of them have developed successful careers here and made an important contribution to this country, and I think that the children that we are talking about in this amendment will go on to make a contribution that is also important to this country.
I have one other thought. Let us not insist that these young people will not be allowed to stay here beyond the age of 18. That is not the subject of the amendment, but it must be implicit that anything that helps those children should surely not say, “And when you’re 18 we’ll throw you out”. In the best interests of those children, it might be that they should be allowed to stay. We cannot just turn them out to a country to which it might not be safe to return.
Noble Lords may not all be aware that just off the central Lobby there is a plaque in which the 10,000 children who came to this country on the Kindertransport gave their thanks to the people of this country. I was there when the plaque was put up, and it is an important thing to say—that people who are given safety are also grateful to this country. It was not just children from central Europe; some Basque children were also allowed to come here, following the bombing of Guernica.
It is only a few months ago that Sir Nicky Winton died, aged 106. He was the person who saved many children from Czechoslovakia. I would like other children who are in a desperate situation at the moment to be offered safety in this country and be given the same welcome and opportunities that I had. I beg to move.
My Lords, I, too, speak with a little, although rather different, experience of this matter. The church in Colchester, in the diocese where I serve, is at the forefront of welcoming refugee families to this country and is a wonderful example of what can be done when local government, the local church and local community work together. It is not just about welcoming people but about integrating them into a community. What we have started to do with adults and families we must urgently do with unaccompanied refugee children. As we have heard, it is estimated that there are 24,000 of them in Europe at the moment, many living on the streets and very vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and other forms of modern slavery. This is the thick end of the wedge of the humanitarian crisis that we are facing, and it is an obvious and very identifiable need that we could do something about.
Why 3,000? Well, that feels like a fair share for the UK to take in terms of our size and place in Europe. This was debated in another place on 25 January, and the Government undertook to work with UNHCR to resettle unaccompanied refugee children from conflict regions and to set up a fund for this work. But of course this does not quite amount to an undertaking to bring unaccompanied children here, which is why this amendment is so important and why I am so happy to put my name to it.
The Government are concerned that, if we take unaccompanied refugee children, their families might claim asylum for family reunification at a later date. Yes, this might happen—but against this, we must look at the plight of these 24,000 children right now. The church, therefore, with others asks the Government to work with UNHCR to bring refugee children who are in extreme risk to the UK in addition to the other pledges that we have made. The hard truth is that at the moment there are no refugee children like this from Europe being resettled in this country.
Clearly, if this were to happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, the availability of foster parents will be an important issue. But I assure noble Lords that this is another area where the church, other faith groups and other charitable bodies stand ready, able and willing to help. Just last week, I was with a priest in Rayleigh who has fostered two children. One is a boy of 14 who is seeking asylum in this country, having escaped conscription in Eritrea for an unspecified and unlimited period. I spoke with him and was amazed at how, even after a few months, he is integrating into British society and feels that he has a future. There are also charities such as Home for Good which help with the work that we could do. Like the Kindertransport in 1938, we, too, could be part of a story of hope and generosity for children abandoned, bereft, perplexed and in danger in Europe today. This is a small but beautiful thing that we could do.
My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate I am a signatory to this amendment. I am delighted to be able to offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who made a compelling and eloquent case in support of Amendment 116A.
In opposing this, the Government have used various arguments. One is that you cannot distinguish between groups that suffer, but all of us who think about that for very long know that it is at best a disingenuous argument and at worst an unworthy one. The noble Lord referred to the other argument that the Government use about so-called pull factors. In the case of children, surely that cannot outweigh all the points that the noble Lord has just advanced.
Then there is the question of numbers. I was looking today at the total number of refugees who have come to the United Kingdom and the total number who have come out of Syria. Some 4.8 million refugees have come out of Syria over the past five years. Turkey is currently hosting some 3 million refugees, and we will no doubt hear more about this later in the Statement that will be given to the House. Before anybody else suggests that this country is being swamped, just look at the numbers: 5,845 Syrians plus 1,337 under the vulnerable persons scheme is 0.15% of the total. So to ask just for 3,000 unaccompanied minors to come into this country is far from being unreasonable.
In Committee on 3 February, I asked the Minister about a report which had appeared in the Daily Telegraph and Observer newspapers which reported the comments of Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff. He said:
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children, who are unaccompanied and who have disappeared in Europe ... Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with”.
He said that 10,000 was likely to be “a conservative estimate”.
Arising from those shocking and disturbing figures, I hope that the Minister will tell us when he comes to reply what discussions the Home Office has had since 3 February with Europol about the children who have disappeared and what percentage Europol believes to have been unaccompanied. If thousands of child migrants have simply vanished in Europe while we have argued about how many angels you can fit on the top of a pin, it will be a lasting stain on our collective reputations.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also referred to foster parents. I hope that when he replies the Minister will tell us what discussions he has had with local authorities about promoting fostering arrangements for these children. For obvious reasons, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also referred to the Kindertransport. The reputation of politicians and diplomats from that era is redeemed by the extraordinary bravery and determination of men such as Sir Nicholas Winton, the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and Eleanor Rathbone, “the refugees’ MP”, as she was known. This year is the 70th anniversary of her death.
In 1938, after Kristallnacht, she established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940 in a six-hour debate, she intervened on no fewer than 20 occasions to insist that Britain had a duty of care to the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution—in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/40; col. 1212.]
In words that have an echo in the debates we have been having during the course of this Bill, she wrote that discussions about asylum seekers and refugees,
“always … begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small, leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-Semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
It is hard not to see the parallels. The debates about the Kindertransport continued in Parliament until literally hours before war broke out. In 2016 we should do no less than those who preceded us.
The amendment would require the Secretary of States to relocate 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in European Union countries to the United Kingdom. These vulnerable young people have already had traumatic experience of the chaos and violence of war, the abandonment of hearth and home, horrendous journeys and separation from families, with some placed into the hands of smugglers and people traffickers and some facing exploitation of every kind. They are entitled to international protection and to respect for their rights as refugees—even more so than adults. Surely the lifeboat rule must apply.
Nelson Mandela once said:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.
Many of us will be dead when these children come to maturity, but they will never forget, as the noble Lord who moved this amendment has never forgotten, the values that made their futures possible. I am very happy to support an amendment that says the very best about the values of this country.
My Lords, as one who signed the amendment, I am delighted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Alton. The heart beats strongly on this issue, but it has to beat strongly in the future as well. I imagine that as the years go by, with all sorts of issues such as climate change, war and famine, we will be discussing this issue time and again. We must somehow sort out our approach in the long term, and this is an opportunity to do so. It is an opportunity to say to 3,000 children, “You are welcome in our country”. It is an opportunity to show the world that we are not going to be dragged kicking and screaming into receiving refugee children but that we are happy to do so.
It is seven or eight months since Save the Children started its appeal for 3,000 child refugees, and now we have the chance to bring it into being. What an opportunity for us in the House of Lords today to say, “Yes, we welcome children”. The message will be carried to the Commons, and I do not see that they will be able to resist joining in with that welcome.
Alternatively, we could be hesitant and obstructive and say no, but I do not know what would influence anyone to vote against this amendment. Why should anyone go into the Not Content Lobby against children? Your Lordships had grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers and fathers—surely we can look at other children who are less fortunate than our own and say, “Yes, you are welcome, and we in the House of Lords will raise the banner of hope”. That will demonstrate that we are determined to tackle this problem, not only to Dunkirk, Calais and other places but also to the future.
Let us be brave. Let us have a unanimous vote of welcome today. We do not have to vote against this. We do not just have to say no. I do not know how on earth anyone who is a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt will be able to say, “We are going into the Lobby to stop these children coming over”. I am delighted to be able to support the amendment.
My Lords, I take a different view from the noble Lord who has just spoken, although I have a great deal of sympathy for the underlying sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for example—I agree with much of what he and the right reverend Prelate said. But there is a difference between making an obligation mandatory, as is contemplated by the amendment, and exercising the discretion of government. There may very well be a good case for the Government to admit much larger numbers of unaccompanied children than is provided for under the existing scheme, and I would have no objection at all to that number being 3,000 or more. However, I object to it being mandatory, because it deprives the Government of any discretion.
The House needs to keep two things in mind. First, if you admit children who are not accompanied at the moment of admission, you expose the country to a whole range of further applications by those who are related to them; and if you make it mandatory, you have deprived yourself of the ability to regulate that flow. The second, and different, point is the pull factor. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for example, is not right to disregard that. We have seen the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s statement, which resulted in a very great pull factor. My own fear is that if the House made this obligation mandatory, that would encourage people to send their children from where they now are into Europe, unaccompanied, in the hope that they would take advantage either of this provision, if it is carried, or of a future provision which they might envisage being carried forward. I am not against the concepts and arguments which have been very eloquently expressed by noble Lords, but I am against making it mandatory.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in sharing the feeling behind this amendment, and I congratulate him on moving it. He is one of many distinguished examples of people who have contributed a lot to this country since they arrived here as part of the Kindertransport.
I want, if I may, to mention my own sister. She was born in 1937 in southern Poland and is my only sibling—in fact, she is my half-sibling; her mother died in Auschwitz after four and a half years as a prisoner there, but that difference in parentage has never affected us. I am afraid that I frequently telephone her and remind her how much older she is than me. Over the period of our lives together she has frequently reminded me of what she suffered as a child who did not have the opportunity to take advantage of the Kindertransport. Throughout the Second World War, from the time her mother was taken by the Nazis, she fled from persecution. She moved from place to place, and although people who had feelings for her tried to protect her, she did not have that carapace of parental protection which most of us have enjoyed and which to a great extent was enjoyed by the Kindertransport children. A few years ago she was able to have published her memoirs of the time between her third birthday and the end of the war, such as she remembers it. It is there for all who wish to read it and it is a searing story.
If by this amendment we can save one child from the sort of experience that my sister went through or save the children of one family from the feeling of being lost in an uncaring world, at no real disadvantage to this country, we should do it. Nothing in this amendment would disadvantage this country. If the Government wish to carry out a cost-benefit analysis, they need only to carry out a similar cost-benefit analysis of the Kindertransport children. These 3,000 children would be a jewel in this country’s crown and would appreciate what this country had done for them, like my sister appreciated what it eventually did for her when she was able to come here as an eight year-old in 1946.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the wonderful speeches that we have heard today. Your Lordships’ House is a truly remarkable place. When I last spoke on this matter in Committee I cited the case of three unaccompanied refugee children and a dependent adult trapped in Calais, in whose favour the Upper Tribunal had ruled in January this year. The ruling that they be allowed to join their family in Britain forthwith was made under a clause of the Dublin III regulations that permits family reunification. It acknowledged that the proper process of applying through the French authorities had been followed, but that that process had failed and the children faced up to a year fending for themselves in the Calais camp while the French Government’s request to the British Government to take charge languished, as these cases are wont to do in the dysfunctional French immigration system.
The initial euphoria on the part of those children has ebbed away as they await the outcome of our Government’s sad decision to appeal the finding. That is the reason I support the laudable amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Although it is not necessary to enshrine in law our request that 3,000 of the 26,000 unaccompanied refugee children currently in Europe be allowed sanctuary in Britain, it is clear that the Government, despite their earlier protestations that they will look into the matter, have set their face against it.
Last Friday I was in Calais again. In the wake of the recent demolitions, I wanted to meet the heroic volunteers who have done so much to keep some of the most desperate people alive in wretched conditions through this winter. The Governments of France and Britain make much of the “pull factors”—as though making the atrocious conditions just that little bit more humane will be a magnet. However, the millions of people on the move are not fleeing their homes, their livelihoods and their communities for a better life in the West. As one Syrian told me recently, what they are leaving behind used to be so much better than anything they can hope for in Europe; but they have no choice. Among these refugees are children, some travelling without adult protection—some left home on their own, because parents could afford smugglers’ fees for only one; some children’s parents died on the journey or became separated from them. The best estimates are that there are some 28,000 refugee children fending for themselves in Europe, and 10,000 are now unaccounted for. Some of those children have family in Britain. With a will, using the safe and legal routes available to us, we could fast-track the assessment and processing of these child refugees and give them sanctuary. Lord knows, we have many able and willing volunteers ready to house them.
A census carried out in Calais just before the demolitions showed there to be 423 unaccompanied child refugees in the camp. Surely it is time for the Government to accept their moral obligation to look after those children with a legal right to come to Britain, and set up processing centres? Safe and legal routes is the right way to thwart the smugglers—not partaking in tortuous contortions of international law and returning refugees from whence they came.
It is my belief that in years to come all of us in Europe—save possibly with the exception of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel—will look back at this period in our history and hang our heads in shame. A small piece of redemption would be to accede to this request to give sanctuary to 3,000 children, alone in Europe.
My Lords, I want to respond briefly to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. In September, Save the Children made the proposal to bring 3,000 children to this country. Six months have passed and the Government have chosen not to exercise their discretion to do so. We have heard strong arguments as to why we should welcome those children here and, because the Government have chosen not to exercise their discretion in that respect, my noble friend Lord Dubs is putting forward this amendment to make it mandatory. We can wait no longer. Every day we hear of children being exploited and abused, and whose mental and physical health is deteriorating. Let us use this opportunity.
My Lords, perhaps I may also say something in response to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. The short answer to the very practical point that he made is for the Government to come forward with an alternative that does not tie them to taking in 3,000 children on the understanding that, if the amendment is accepted, they will be under a moral obligation to do something very similar. One argument that the Government have raised is that this may encourage other children to be put on boats and sent over. That may be but, if the Turkish agreement is to be of any use, one hopes that everyone will then go back to Turkey, certainly from Greece. However, there is a chance that that will not happen.
What really worries me—and I am obviously not the only one to be worried—is the plight of the very young children. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about Calais. I understand that at least one child there is only nine. However, I am concerned about children under 14 and especially children under 12. They are particularly at risk not just from people traffickers but from those who would enslave them. Speaking as the co-chairman of the parliamentary group on human trafficking, I can say that there is a real problem with these children. Ten thousand-plus have gone missing. How many have gone into the hands of those who will use them for prostitution, benefit fraud, thieving and even forced labour?
We absolutely must do something to stop those children being victims. They are already victims by being in Europe if they are unaccompanied, but they are in danger of becoming slaves. As many have said much more eloquently than me, we have an obligation to look after at least some of them. As has already been said, we have a noble record of looking after children who are at great risk.
I admire the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for putting forward this amendment and I support it in principle entirely. I have the feeling that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, does not object to the proposal; he just objects to its mandatory nature. Therefore, I put in a plea to the Government. As I have already said, if they do not like the way in which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is expressed, the very short answer to that is to bring forward a government amendment at Third Reading and they would have the whole House behind them.
My Lords, if I may say so, the noble and learned Baroness made a very important point. I imagine that there is a particular concern on all sides of the House about the very young children, but the problem is that, as I understand it, the amendment would apply to anyone up to the age of 18. That goes far too wide, particularly when the de facto age of maturity—or whatever the legal position is—has come down significantly. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government might consider looking at an arrangement of this kind for children up to the age of, say, 12. I believe that as currently drafted, applying to children right up to the age of 18, the amendment goes far too wide. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider the Government coming forward with a statesmanlike compromise.
My Lords, of course our hearts go out to unaccompanied children, especially the younger ones and particularly those under the age of 12—these are children who have somehow managed to find their way to an EU country. However, one thing rather concerns me about the provision as drafted, and it is this: ex hypothesi, the refugee children in other countries in Europe to whom this provision applies are already entitled to asylum in whichever EU country they already are. If we are to bring in some mandatory provision of this sort, for my part, I suggest that the requirement for them to be “refugees” be dropped. If the clause is restricted, say, to those under the age of 12 or to younger children, for them, frankly, the difference between being a refugee strictly entitled under the refugee convention and an economic migrant is vanishingly small.
My Lords, I have the good fortune to know my noble friend Lord Dubs personally as a great friend, and we have worked together on many issues. The thing about Alf—if I may refer to him colloquially, because I cannot think of him in any other way—is that he has never forgotten what happened to him and, throughout his life and his whole career, he has been guided by what action that demands of him as a member of society. This is not a one-off by my noble friend Lord Dubs; this is another indication of the man who has put this forward.
I have listened to the legal arguments and complexities that are again being raised. However, I believe unashamedly that from time to time in life, and in politics, there comes a moral imperative, and when there is a moral imperative it is not just to speak; it is to act. My noble friend Lord Dubs has given us an opportunity to act and give substance to our words.
However, this must be seen against the frightening background. In the world at the moment, there are 19.5 million refugees, which is around 2.9 million more than in 2013. Of those, 5.1 million are Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. Who is looking after these refugees? Who is hosting them? The overwhelming majority—86% of the world’s refugees—are cared for by developing countries that are desperately impoverished themselves, with many of their citizens not knowing what it is to live life as we live it. Think of that, and then think of this small action that we are being challenged to take today by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Beyond the refugees, there are of course all the internally displaced people—millions again.
This action gives hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, put it so eloquently. It is an indication of what, if we have any morality at all, that morality demands. It also means that we have to face up to the reality of the world. With climate change and all the conflict in the world, this problem will continue to grow. If we take this action, as I hope we do today, it must spur us on to consistent action as a nation in leading an international response to the global challenge that is increasing in size and complexity all the time.
I wonder whether it is too far-fetched to think that there might be an element of self-interest in this. My mother has often talked to me about what it was like for her as a five year-old girl being evacuated from Croydon in south London to the Midlands during the Second World War. It was a very difficult experience for her and, of course, many of our children were sent off to the United States at that time for their own safety. We face an uncertain Europe. Perhaps one day we might need to turn to the United States or Canada to look for help for our children, and they might turn to us and ask, “Well, what did you do for the children arriving in Europe when they needed your help?”. If we do not stand up now and show ourselves to be willing to accommodate these young people, it will make it harder for us when we are in desperate need and want the support of other nations to say, “We need your help for our children. I know that it is a bit far-fetched, but it is not impossible and it has happened in the past.
My Lords, I support the amendment and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on moving it. My uncle came here at the age of 13—he would have failed the 12 year-old cut-off point—as a semi-unaccompanied refugee from Nazi Germany; my mother was an adult when she came. I want to say something about the courage of the British Government at that time. When we talk about not wishing to accept the amendment, we should think about just how brave were the British Government against other Governments who did not wish to show such generosity and kindness in the late 1930s and in 1939 itself. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, paid tribute to Sir Nicky Winton, but, wonderful as he was, he was not alone—there was Trevor Chadwick, who worked with him. There were also British diplomats around Europe, particularly in Germany and in Austria, who played a major role in helping Jews and left-wingers get out of Germany and Austria. I pay particular tribute to Robert Smallbones, Arthur Dowden and the MI6 spy, Frank Foley, who does not receive enough tribute.
The reason for supporting this amendment is not only the moral one—it is the least that we can do—but something about what Britain is and what Britain should be and setting some kind of example. We could do it in the 1930s. Why cannot we do it now?
My Lords, this is a very difficult issue. The heart indeed speaks strong and it beats particularly strong, it seems, in this Chamber, but we also have to think it through a little. I entirely understand the good intentions behind the amendment, and nobody is better placed than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to propose it and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to speak to it. I would be perfectly content to support a Motion calling for HMG to accept a larger number of children and their families from the refugee camps elsewhere in the region. It is not a question of cost; it is a question of need and one that we should be ready to meet.
My concern is that the amendment refers specifically to unaccompanied children in Europe. These children are already in Europe and are initially the responsibility of the Governments in the countries where they find themselves. The idea seems to be that we, the UK, should take a fair share of these children, who indeed find themselves in terrible circumstances. But there is a risk, which we cannot dismiss—it is a serious risk—that in doing so we will make a bad situation even worse. We are not dealing here with a finite number of children—it is no use saying, “There are 24,000 children; we will take 3,000 of them”. We are dealing with a situation in which the families concerned have come to the view that if they can only get their children into Europe, they will be looked after, and as a secondary consideration they themselves might be able to follow them up later.
To my mind, the follow-up adults are not the issue, rather it is the risk that still more children will be put at very serious risk. A well-intentioned action could have the perverse effect that many more thousands of children will be sent off to face the terrible conditions that have been described. If so, we would not be solving the problem, and indeed we might be exacerbating it. That is why I believe that the Government are right to take refugees from the region, but not from Europe. It is unsatisfactory, but it is perhaps the least bad outcome. We have to consider this carefully. A point which has frankly been ducked in this debate—I think only one speaker has mentioned it—is the risk that this will generate very large numbers of children being put at risk and make a bad situation worse.
My Lords, I rise to make two brief points. The first is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who talked about anyone over the age of 12 not being vulnerable. I find that a quite incredible thing to say, not just in the sense that 13, 14 and 15 year-olds are vulnerable, but because when we talked about votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in your Lordships’ House, people on those Benches were saying that 16 and 17 year-olds were not mature. So there is a form of hypocrisy here in terms of the age of those who are seen as vulnerable.
My second point is that it is a complete nonsense to suggest that this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would act as a pull factor. It suggests that parents and children are sitting in a war-torn part of the world and suddenly say that because 3,000 children have been accepted into the United Kingdom they are going to send their children here. People are fleeing because they fear for their children’s lives and their own lives, not because of some rational thought about what is being said in the sanitised, oak-panelled walls of this Chamber.
I end by saying this. I was brought up to do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing or the technical thing about the territorial boundaries of where a child in need is. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It sends a message about the morals of this country: that we open our hearts and our arms to those in greatest need. We do not turn our backs on vulnerable children.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, including my noble friends who have managed to restrain themselves from speaking—that is probably all of them—I want to say that the word “vulnerable” is overworked but entirely apt; this is not just about the youngest children. I have heard it said that a 14 or 16 year-old who has made his way from Afghanistan or Eritrea all the way across Europe is not a child. Well, he will certainly have had a lot of life experiences. Children come in a lot of shapes, sizes and ages, and a 14 year-old who is caring for his eight year-old brother still has the needs of a 14 year-old. The number of children who have disappeared must give us more than a hint of the abuse, exploitation and trafficking to which children can so easily fall prey. Even those who have not disappeared are unlikely to have avoided abuse and criminality entirely.
The Government have also claimed, although I do not think it has been referred to today, that accepting unaccompanied children risks separating them from their families. But the proposal, as I understand it, would apply to children who have been registered by the UNHCR as having no identifiable family in Europe or in their country of origin.
I turn to the pull factor. I will simply put it this way: there are so many push factors that we do not need to think about the pull factor. Something that has shocked volunteers working in northern Europe is the number of children involved, including some very tiny ones—their ages vary somewhat between the camps. This is not to deny the importance of assisting those who are in the camps in the Middle East, but to accept this amendment would be to acknowledge the huge public concern. When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the contribution of refugees welcomed almost 80 years ago, I could see the nods of agreement right round the Chamber.
As to the mandatory nature of the amendment, I agree that it is not desirable to use legislation for a purpose for which it is not needed, but it would not have taken the form of an amendment if the Government had shown more movement towards the objective. Although the children in question may have rights in another European country, the situation surely is such that the UK should take the lead towards some sort of resolution.
I mentioned abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, did not mention the Modern Slavery Act, but I suspect that it was in her mind. The Government are proud of that legislation, which addresses exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Let us join up the dots.
My Lords, estimates from Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggest, as has been said, that there are some 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Europol estimates that more than 10,000 unaccompanied children registered after arriving in Europe over the past 18 months to two years have disappeared.
The Government’s policy is to provide assistance to help those in Syria and those from Syria who have moved to adjacent countries. That is welcome, but it does not answer the question of what will happen to those unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe and what effective help will be directed towards them. Are we really going to say, based on an unsubstantiated argument, that relocating just 3,000 such unaccompanied refugee children to the UK will act as a serious pull factor for more children to be sent by parents and that we intend to do nothing to help along the lines called for in the amendment?
Where children have been identified as being unaccompanied, on their own and having fled from a country ravaged by civil war, where tens or hundreds of thousands have died, with many being brutally murdered, is it really still the Government’s policy to overlook them as far as any relocation to the United Kingdom is concerned because they landed on their own on a Greek island, for example, rather than being in or near Syria? Should we, as a European nation, not accept responsibility for some unaccompanied children already in Europe? Doing nothing will not mean that those children will return to where they came from. It will simply mean that they will become more likely than ever to be exploited and abused by people traffickers and others of ill intent.
We support the amendment. If, having heard the Government’s response, my noble friend decides to test the opinion of the House, we will vote for it.
My Lords, I preface my remarks with a few comments. First, no one doubts the situation that many of these people find themselves in and the enormous humanitarian crisis unfolding across the world. As all people agree, it is the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War and it is happening right on Europe’s doorstep. There is no question, in any shape or form, of the Government not getting it; this is an enormous crisis.
Secondly, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who not only is a great parliamentarian but speaks with great moral authority in this area because of his personal story. We acknowledge that. I know from meetings with the Home Secretary that she takes a personal interest in this, because Sir Nicholas Winterton was a constituent of hers until he sadly died last year. She has been a great supporter both of him and, of course, of the wider Kindertransport tradition, and of what that says about the generosity of spirit of this country, which has been repeated on a number of different occasions, whether in the case of the Ugandan Asians or the Vietnamese boat people.
Thirdly, I want to say something about Save the Children. No one doubts its analysis, which is at the centre of the debate, the quality of that organisation or the incredible work that it is doing, which I have had the privilege of seeing for myself in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. I had the privilege of visiting those camps and seeing what they were doing. It had a transformative effect on me, not least because it inspired me to come back and walk 518.8 miles to raise money for Save the Children to help in those very camps. So I am not critical. Nothing here understates the crisis or seeks to take away from the great moral authority and history with which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs introduced his amendment, and nothing that I am about to say takes away from our admiration for the work that Save the Children does on this campaign.
The area that we take issue with was probably summed up by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She said that this report by Save the Children came out in September and that since then the Government have basically sat on their hands and done nothing about it. I put on record that, in September, the Prime Minister announced that we were going to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the lifetime of this Parliament. When we were in coalition we struggled ever to get more than a couple of hundred under the Syrian resettlement programme. Of that 20,000 who have come so far, 51% have been children. One can therefore extrapolate that what the Government announced in September is more than three times the number of children the amendment seeks to support.
Moreover, the Prime Minister has led the charge in raising funds to help people in the refugee camps. Oxfam’s latest report, which is entitled Syria Refugee Crisis: Is Your Country Doing its Fair Share? and was published in February 2015, highlights a figure of, I think, 227%. That is how much of our fair share the United Kingdom has placed in financial support to Syria. So when people start talking almost as if we should be hanging our heads in shame at the Government’s record in responding to the crisis, I simply say that the facts do not add up to suggest that. We are doing an incredible amount. The Prime Minister led that excellent summit in February, which raised a further $11 billion for the crisis in Syria. Of course, further work is ongoing.
In the specific instance when the Prime Minister was asked about this case—I think by Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats in December in the Commons—he said that he would go away and look at it. Again, the suggestion was somehow that the Prime Minister went away, shrugged his shoulders and forgot all about it. Far from it: he said that he would talk to the UNHCR, with which we work closely in the region, to put the best interests of children first.
We listened to its advice and concerns and we came back with an interim report in a Written Ministerial Statement on 28 January by James Brokenshire, which said that we were first looking at whether we could introduce a scheme not that far away from what my noble friend Lord Lawson, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, talked about. We said that we would look at that and discuss it with the UNHCR. That is exactly what we are continuing to do. The UNHCR has just enabled us to receive that report; it was received by James Brokenshire. We are now considering it and we will come forward with our proposals on how to respond to it. We need to be clear when we talk about the numbers that those numbers were an estimate. Save the Children recognises that. When it said 26,000, it was an estimate of the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that had made their way through Italy and Greece in the period up to August 2015. That was an estimate. It is not as though those people are waiting in a particular area inside Europe.
My second point relates to age. This is a material point, because our Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which has brought 1,000 Syrians to this country already and has pledged to bring 20,000, is aimed at the most vulnerable. Questions can be asked, and I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said about age, but we need to consider that 61% of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK are aged 16 or 17. We know that the prime country from which they come is not Syria but Albania, followed by Eritrea, Afghanistan and then Syria. The majority, 90% of those who arrive in this country as unaccompanied asylum seekers, are male. The central focus of the Government’s strategy in supporting Syrians has been the protection of women and girls in particular. Therefore, again, the question is whether we are helping the right people.
My next point concerns the pull factor. I am not going to get into that kind of language, but here is what Europol says. Europol says that of the people who arrive in Europe seeking asylum, 90% have got here through a criminal gang. These criminal gangs are vast money-making machines exploiting human misery. I would have liked to have heard a great deal more moral anger directed at those criminal gangs and the way that they are exploiting these children and encouraging them to put their lives in peril by embarking on that journey. I would have liked to have heard a bit more about that. We have set up a task force to seek to clamp down on those criminal gangs that are at work and causing so much misery.
Are people from Syria arriving in the UK? Yes, they are. Every week they are arriving in the UK. They are arriving at airports such as Glasgow and Newcastle, they are arriving into London and they are being welcomed and hosted by British people. They come here not on their own but because we invite them in family units. They come here not to sleep in cardboard boxes but to go into local authority social housing, and they are provided with care and support, including healthcare and psychiatric care, and with the opportunity to work and earn a living. I think that that is in the best traditions of what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, called for in this country. It is happening day in, day out in this country and it will continue. It may well be that it will actually continue at a faster pace as a result of the Prime Minister’s initiative in asking us to look again at the report that Save the Children did and engaging with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
What is my central argument on this amendment? Basically, I question whether it identifies and provides help to the right people. The people who are in Europe, wherever they are in Europe, have the right to claim asylum here. The people most at risk—the most vulnerable— are those who are still in the region. That is why our scheme is designed to take people directly from the region to the UK. Noble Lords may seek to belittle some of what the Government are doing, but compared with our European colleagues, we are doing a great deal. We have relocated 1,000 already, as the Prime Minister said we would by Christmas. There was some scepticism as to whether he would deliver on that pledge; he actually exceeded the pledge and we are continuing to do it. In the whole period, the 27 other countries in Europe have managed to resettle 650. Only six countries actually take children, so when there is moral outrage at what the UK is doing in response to the Save the Children report that asked us to take our fair share, I hope that that moral outrage is being directed also at the 21 countries that have not actually taken one Syrian refugee.
This country is doing a significant amount. Could it do more in the face of the crisis? Of course, it could do more in the face of the crisis, but is it working diplomatically? Yes; it is at the heart of the diplomatic efforts. Is it working on security? Yes; we have boats and ships in the Mediterranean seeking to stop people. We have people trying to clamp down on the people smugglers. We announced a new £10 million fund just last month—the debate proceeded as if it had not even happened—from the Department for International Development to help identify children at risk who have come to the European Union. That £10 million will be spent on helping to identify children at risk. We are dispatching the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit the particular reception centres referred to as the hot spots with child protection officers and come back and give us a report.
I have listened to what the noble Lord has said about how well the Prime Minister and the Government are behaving. Do I take it that it is the Government’s position that they will not take any of the children who are identified by Interpol as being loose in Europe? Yes or no?
The noble Lord presses me to say yes or no. I am about to give him a yes-or-no answer, which is to say, no. We have a principled objection. The people most at risk are in the region. That is why we have doubled the amount of aid we are giving, which was already 227% of our fair share, from £1.1 billion to £2.3 billion. We did it because we wanted to help, as we are helping—keeping 223,000 people in schools, providing 2 million bits of medical assistance, and helping 600,000 with livelihoods and medical care there in the region, because we believe we can do that. We believe that we should not be doing anything that encourages one child to make that perilous journey, where they fall into the hands of the criminal gangs and put their lives at risk to cross those seas to get to Europe. We want the action to be taking place there. That is our principled objection to this amendment. The noble Lord may disagree on that but we are clear where we stand.
I hope the House will recognise, and that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will recognise when he responds to this debate, that the Government are not immune to the argument that has been put forward. We are not doing nothing in the crisis; we are doing a great deal more than any other country in the world to respond to the initiative that is happening. We will go on doing so, not because of the amendment but because it is the right thing to do. I will be very grateful if the noble Lord will do two things when he winds up. First, will he comment on my analysis of the numbers and the vulnerability? Secondly, will he say something about other countries in Europe which are not doing a fraction of what this country is doing?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford talked about the generosity of British people. I work with Richard Harrington, whom we have appointed as a Minister, by the way, to look after the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and I know that every day he has a battle to persuade local authorities to take the children we already have coming through that scheme. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, in a previous debate, undertook to write to other dioceses to encourage them and their local authorities to come forward and offer spaces.
We currently have an 8,000 shortfall in the number of foster parents required, so all the offers to provide foster care are welcome. We desperately need those places for young people everywhere but there is no surfeit of people registered as foster parents waiting to take people in. As I say, there is a shortfall of some 8,000 that we definitely need to fill. I hope that the noble Lord will respond to the points I made about local authority capacity, and what other countries are doing, and to the questions I raised about the numbers and how they have been arrived at by Save the Children, and consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. It has been an emotional debate, which is not surprising as the subject is very emotional. I shall deal with only a small number of the points that were made as most Members of the House supported the amendment.
Of course we all condemn the gangs who have caused a lot of the tragedies in the Mediterranean and other tragedies and exploit vulnerable people for financial gain. They cannot be condemned enough and I agree entirely with the Minister on that point. As regards the numbers and the point made by, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, the amendment talks about children. If, in seeking to co-operate with Save the Children and the UNHCR, the Government can identify the younger ones, there is nothing in the amendment which says that they should not concentrate on those. There is a figure in the amendment simply because we need to get the Government to respond clearly, as it were. If the amendment said simply “take some”, there would be no pressure on the Government. It is better to have a number in the Bill. If the Government chose to focus on the under-14s, that would be perfectly acceptable in terms of the amendment. After all, although the Minister talked about 60% being over 16, that means 40% are under 16, which is still a fair number, and enough for us to get on with.
Some other countries—Germany has become the conscience of Europe in the last year or so—are doing a great deal. Others are not. But surely as a country we have set our own standards on how we should adopt a humanitarian approach to this enormous crisis. It is because I want Britain to take a lead in humanitarian action that I am keen that the House should pass this amendment. I appreciate what the Minister said about foster parents. He also commented on this issue in Committee. People have said to me in other parts of the country—not just south London—“We want to respond”. Given that response, I believe sincerely that if the Government and local authorities said that they were looking for qualified foster parents who have passed the local authority vetting process—as they must—and who would play their part, the people of Britain would respond handsomely. A typical example could be a family with two children who want to take another child. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has done a lot of good work for Save the Children. Indeed, he went on a sponsored walk. I should have said at the beginning that I appreciate that, and he deserves credit for it.
The Minister said that some of these people were Albanians. I have said emphatically that we are talking about refugees—children who qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention as having a well-founded fear of persecution, torture and death. They are surely the priority and they are the ones on whom we ought to concentrate. We are faced with an important decision. Our country will be judged on the decision we make tonight. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Schedule 10: Support for certain categories of migrant
Amendments 117 and 118 not moved.
119: Schedule 10, page 168, line 26, at end insert—
“(1) Section 166 (regulations and orders) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (5) (regulations subject to the affirmative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (c) substitute—
“(ca) section 95A, or”.(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) No regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 8 which make provision with respect to the powers conferred by section 95A are to be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.
(5B) Subsection (5A) does not apply to regulations under paragraph 1 of that Schedule which make provision of the kind mentioned in paragraph 3(a) of that Schedule.”
(4) In subsection (6) (regulations subject to the negative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (a) substitute—
“(aa) under the provision mentioned in subsection (5A) and containing regulations to which that subsection applies, or”.”
Amendment 119 agreed.