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Calais and Dunkirk: Refugee Children

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to speed up the reuniting of refugee children in the camps of Calais and Dunkirk with their families in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the primary responsibility for migrants in Calais lies with France, but we continue to work with the French authorities and others to improve family reunification processes for unaccompanied children. We will shortly second another UK official to the French Interior Ministry to work on this issue. Transfer requests are now generally processed within 10 days, and children transferred within weeks. More than 70 children have been accepted for transfer this year from France.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I was happy to hear over the weekend that the Government considered that they were on track and that we will receive 20,000 refugees by 2020. Could we not start with the children? The winter is coming, and conditions are dire in northern France. Could not we have a special humanitarian effort this year? Kindertransport does not belong to yesterday alone. It could belong to today—and we could bring over some 380 children who are eligible to come to the UK in a matter of weeks. Will the Minister take that to heart?

My Lords, I certainly sympathise with the sentiment of what the noble Lord says—nobody wants children to have to survive a winter in cold conditions. But there are several things that we have to consider. First, what is in the best interest of that child in terms of safeguarding? Secondly, there are laws that we have to abide by from various countries. For example, if the child is not in this country, we have to do those negotiations to get the child out.

My Lords, it cannot be in the best interests of any child to stay in Calais, in awful conditions with no proper safety or security apart from a few British NGOs. It is deplorable. If the Minister would come to Calais—I was there last Saturday—she would see what I am talking about.

I thank the noble Lord for bringing that up. Perhaps I can clarify what I said about negotiating with other countries and their laws and, certainly, the welfare interests of the child. While a child is in France, it is under the jurisdiction of France. Of course we work with France—and most children are out of the camps very quickly when they have relatives in the UK. But there are all those issues to consider. Of course, nobody has to stay in the camps. Reception centres have been made available; there are 130 of them for people to go to rather than stay in the camps.

My Lords, I, too, visited the Jungle with my noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lady Morris in July. We saw how desperate the situation is there and met some of the children. Can I press for them to be processed as quickly as possible? They are at risk in these camps. There may be reception centres, but for a child of 10 such as we met it is very hard to get to them. They are at risk all the time. So can the extra official who is going to France please connect with the children in the camp and get those who are entitled to come to the UK here as fast as possible?

I totally agree that no child should be in the camp and that they should be resettled as quickly as possible, but the reception centres will certainly give them some of the support that is needed for their welfare, education and resettlement. British assistance has been commendable throughout that process. We now have a £10 million refugee fund for Europe, for unaccompanied children and for children separated from their families.

My Lords, I have not seen these children but I have worked in childcare for more years, probably, than most Members of this House. It is appalling that our country and our Government leave these children in such conditions. Every day there are media reports clearly showing the terrible conditions. We know that there are children there of 10 and under and that there are children who have the right to come and be with their families. Local authorities were often accused of bureaucracy in their childcare. Surely the Government will not have a whole lot of bureaucracy to prevent children being saved from this coming winter.

My Lords, we all want the same thing for these children: for them to be safe and to be in an environment that is in their best interests, away from the Jungle in Calais. This Government are working tirelessly with the French Government to ensure that those processes are expedited as quickly as possible.

My Lords, the Question has been extremely specifically put about children who have families in this country; this is not about all unaccompanied children. My own diocese of Canterbury has taken on a staff member who is working in the Jungle, in co-ordination with a staff member taken on by the Catholic diocese of Arras. We are still having continual reports of delays for really quite young children who are not being brought across. Does the Minister not agree that where children—particularly young ones—have families in this country there is no reason why they should not be brought across within the day?

My Lords, many of the children are coming here very quickly, but if any child has to stay over in the camp for any longer than it should that is one child too many. I commend the most reverend Primate on the work that Lambeth Palace is doing in taking its first family. We are clear that refugees in Calais should first of all claim asylum in France and then come over here through the Dublin process. The good news is that 120 children have come here this year under the Dublin regulations, 70 of them from France.