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Migrants in France: UK Contribution

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what agreement they have made with the Government of France as to how the £17 million contribution of the United Kingdom towards the management of the migration situation in France, announced on 3 March, is to be deployed.

My Lords, the UK and France are committed to resolving the situation in northern France together. Our joint strategy, set out in the August 2015 joint declaration, includes measures to strengthen the border, move migrants away from Calais and provide protection in France for those who need it. The £17 million contribution announced on 3 March is being deployed over the financial year to drive progress against those priorities.

I hope to return to the question of money at a later date, as the urgent crisis in Calais at the moment is the demolition of the camp—which I have on excellent authority will take place on Monday 17 October. In the words of the police, it will be swift and it will be violent. This is a tragedy unfolding in slow motion before our very eyes and on our border. I fear for the safety not only of the people, especially the children, in the camp, but of the volunteers, the vast majority of whom are British. Will the Minister make urgent representations to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to urge the French to delay the destruction of the camp until people are safely accommodated elsewhere? I will make the same request of the French ambassador when I meet her later today.

I have not had the date of the demolition of the camp confirmed as next Monday but the noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is imminent. She will also know that the Home Secretary met the French Interior Minister on Monday. They agreed that the safety and security of the children is absolutely paramount and that all the children in the camp should be moved to places of safety during the clearance operation. The French are currently drawing up plans, working closely with the UK staff in Calais, on the provision of facilities in the camp during the clearance which will be specifically for children to guarantee their safety and allow those cases to be processed.

My Lords, the Question relates to the £17 million being spent. I understand that a large proportion of that will be spent on a massive wall. We have all heard about walls being put up. What consultation has taken place with the road hauliers who have been suffering from the actions of those trying to push people into this country illegally? What consultation has taken place with them? Building this wall might simply move the problem down the road.

The £17 million is for priority security infrastructure work, alternative accommodation outside Calais and returning people to their home countries. One of the reasons for the renewed emphasis on building the wall is to prevent people such as hauliers being attacked by people on the other side, in France, on the roads and in the camps.

My Lords, can we send a note of gratitude to the volunteers and organisations that have manned the camps in Calais, without whom life would have been impossible for the refugees there? Can we also remember that it has taken us a long time to consider welcoming 387 child refugees? Does the Minister have confidence that by 2020 we will have accommodated 20,000 Syrian refugees, as was pledged?

On the latter point, yes, I am confident. I also join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the volunteers who have given their time to help in a dire situation in Calais. I am sure we all pay tribute to them.

My Lords, I hope my noble friend will say nothing to the French authorities to delay the clearance of the camps. The attacks on British subjects who are using the roads nearby are intolerable.

My noble friend makes a valid point about these camps not being a suitable place for anybody to be. Therefore the renewed effort by the British Government and the French authorities to get people away from the camps, and either back to their countries or to reception centres where they will be safe and able to proceed with asylum claims or access other areas of support that they might need, is definitely the right approach.

My Lords, would the Minister tell me how the Government calculate what age children are when it comes to government policy for resettling them? I have heard that the Government may be limiting children to those aged eight and under, but children over the age of eight are extremely vulnerable.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Children under the age of eight—in fact, I think the Home Secretary referred on Monday to children under the age of 12—are extremely vulnerable. It can be very difficult to determine what age a child is, as they may not have papers and there may be communication problems. It can be difficult, but we have to take what people, including perhaps their supporters and some of the people who are giving them care, say about exactly what age they might be.

My Lords, friends who have been working in the Calais camp who have just returned are telling me that not only is there no protection for children but there is absolutely no understanding and no appreciation of the rafts of children who disappear every day as the camps continue. They are not protected, they are not recognised and it seems that at the moment there is an argument between France and England as to which is going to be the least helpful to these children. Can we please consider the lives of these youngsters, who are being thrown every which way and who do not know where they are?

My Lords, all the questions that have come to me in this House have been on the protection of children. The top priority, certainly of this Government and I hope of the French Government, should be to protect the vulnerable. We have put £10 million into a child refugee fund solely dedicated to separated and unaccompanied children. I pay tribute to the work of the FTDA in France, to which we have also contributed, in identifying victims of exploitation and trafficking, because that is a particularly vulnerable area at this point in time.