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Calais: Child Refugees

Volume 777: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of children formerly in the Calais camp who will be eligible for transfer to the United Kingdom under their recently published general criteria for eligibility under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.

My Lords, we are working closely with the French authorities to identify eligible children and transfer them as soon as possible. Since 10 October, we have transferred more than 750 children, including approximately 200 children who meet the criteria for Section 67 of the Immigration Act. More eligible children will be transferred from Europe, in line with the terms of the Immigration Act, and we will continue to meet our obligations under the Dublin regulation.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 requires the Secretary of State to safeguard the welfare of asylum-seeking children. Where a child is outside the UK, the spirit of the duty should be applied. Frankly, what I saw on my recent visit to French centres to which children from Calais have been moved makes a mockery of that duty. When will the Government finally transfer to the UK children whose eligibility they themselves established some time ago?

My Lords, while I appreciate that children have been dispersed to many parts of France from Calais, have all of them now been contacted by Home Office officials? Do they know their situation? If they have not all been contacted, by when does the Minister think they will be told what will happen to them?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we have been working closely with the French authorities in line with what they wish us to get involved with. We will continue to do that.

Will the Minister comment on media reports that some of the children who have already come to this country have disappeared? Is that at all accurate, and if it is—which would be very disturbing—what more can be done to prevent this happening to any other children?

I am pleased that the noble Lord, who is so concerned with safeguarding, has raised that question. Those concerns have not been raised with us, although I have seen them in the papers. We have not received specific details of any cases, but we will of course investigate any concerns fully. We are working closely with the LGA and would of course engage with any relevant agencies, should those stories be verified. We would do that in the same way as we would with our own children.

My Lords, are the Government providing any upstream funding to help with the welfare of these children when they come here?

As I think I have said in answer to previous Questions, the Government are certainly providing funding for the children when they come here. Local authorities will receive two bands of funding—for children under the age of 16 and for those between 16 and 17. We are also providing funding for English language learning and funding to local authorities experiencing high levels of immigration in their communities.

My Lords, would the Minister care to answer a question she failed to answer on another occasion: how long does the funding last? If a local authority takes in a child, is it a one-year payment or will it cover the full costs of that child’s education, housing and health?

My Lords, if a child is in local authority care, they will be looked after as if they were one of our own. As I said, the cost of that local authority care will be met. Regarding the other funding the noble Baroness referred to, I cannot speak for further budgetary rounds, but it is certainly being committed to for the moment.

Can my noble friend say whether all these children have family here, or are they looking to be adopted?

Children who meet the criteria under the Dublin regulation will have family here. Those who have come here under Section 67 of the Immigration Act will not necessarily have family and so will be unaccompanied.

My Lords, when this question about the government regulations concerning which children should come here last came before your Lordships’ House, on 16 November, my noble friend Lady Sheehan asked about the legality of the guidance, in that it appeared to change the definition of a child and restricted asylum applications on the basis of country. The Minister did not answer the question then; maybe she would like to take the opportunity to do so now.

I do not think that I did restrict the criteria with regard to country. I said that any child who was under 12, at risk of sexual exploitation or from a country with a high asylum grant rate would be eligible.

My Lords, given the fears that have been raised that some of the children who have disappeared may be in the hands of traffickers, should the Home Office not be more proactive and find out what is happening, rather than waiting for people to come to them?

The noble Baroness raises an important point—we certainly would not want these children, who have experienced terrible trauma in their lives, to go on to experience trafficking. Obviously, we have been concerned about safeguarding these children, and there is intelligence in the broader sense on trafficking, but I can let the noble Baroness know specifically what proactive work we are doing with regard to children who come here. We are meeting tomorrow, so perhaps we can have a further catch-up about that.