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Refugees: Unaccompanied Children

Volume 773: debated on Monday 13 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements are in place to fulfil their decision to welcome unaccompanied child refugees into the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we are working closely with local authorities, as set out in the Immigration Act 2016, and consulting non-government organisations, the UNHCR, UNICEF and relevant member states to establish the suitable processes to implement our commitment to transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK from Europe and resettle children at risk from the Middle East and north Africa region.

The Minister might be aware of UNICEF’s comment even today that we are “moving far too slowly” in this matter of bringing over unaccompanied refugee children. Is it not time that we worked with other voluntary organisations and other individuals who are eager to welcome these children and to be part of their resettlement in the United Kingdom? Would it be possible for the Minister to give us a timetable of exactly what we are doing and when, with a view to resettling not only these children but the 20,000 refugees whom we have said we will resettle during the course of this Parliament?

As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, we are working with international organisations, NGOs such as Save the Children and the UNHCR. Specifically on the question he raised about settlement, we are consulting and working directly with France, Italy and Greece and are working with NGOs in this respect. I emphasise that ultimately it is important to get this right for those children’s sake. It is not a question of delaying or dragging our feet; it is about ensuring that the best interests of children are put first.

My Lords, is the difficulty in identifying unaccompanied child refugees in France, Greece and Italy, or is it that there are not enough local authorities which are co-operating in finding foster parents?

I commend the noble Lord’s work in this respect and his consistent efforts on this issue. There is an issue about identifying the children who require such assistance. That is why we are working very closely with the French Government and my right honourable friend the Minister for Immigration visited Greece in May to discuss this issue. I assure the noble Lord that we are also working very closely with local authorities to ensure that the support they provide is effective and that we do not put undue burdens on them.

If the noble and learned Baroness is referring to the actual scheme, we are still finalising the arrangements. The resettlement figures across all the schemes for the year ending March 2016 are that 1,667 Syrians were resettled in the UK under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and that a total of 1,854 people have been granted humanitarian protection under the scheme since it began, including 1,602 who have arrived since October 2015. In the year ending March 2016, 49%—824—of those resettled under the Syrian VPRS were under 18 years old and 49% were female.

My Lords, are the Government working closely with Home for Good, which has several thousand potential foster carers who are willing to assist with welcoming these children at risk?

We are working very closely with several agencies, but I will write to the right reverend Prelate specifically on that agency. I assure her and all noble Lords that, where there are agencies and NGOs which can assist in this process—I return to the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—in the interests of the children it is important that we identify those children urgently and resettle them.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that Interpol said that around 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing. Can he tell us the fate of those children, whether other children been added to their number and whether we take seriously the problem of children simply disappearing into the ether?

My Lords, of course the Government take very seriously any child going missing anywhere in the world in any place. The noble Lord spoke specifically about the 10,000 mentioned by Interpol. I will write to him with an update on that number. The important thing to identify is that there are some people who are taking advantage of vulnerable young children—people traffickers in particular—and that is why it is important that we see the kind of co-operation we are now seeking across all European states, particularly with our partners in France and Greece, to ensure that we identify the children who are most vulnerable and resettle them at the earliest opportunity.

Will the Minister explain what will happen to these children when they reach the age of 18? Last month in the Commons, the Minister assured MPs that he would not want to conflate asylum seekers without a valid claim, whom the Government would seek to remove at 18, with these children, yet the next day the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, seemed to be doing just that when he refused to give an assurance that the Government would not seek to remove these children. I am confused of Burtersett.

When those children reach the age of 18, they will of course be adults and, as is the case under British policy, we will look at their circumstances. The noble Baroness has quoted two Ministers of the Realm who, in her words, have said perhaps slightly differing things. It would therefore be advisable for me to review both those answers and write to her accordingly.