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Child Migrants: Italy

Volume 778: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of recent analysis by UNICEF of the growth in the number of unaccompanied child migrants to Italy, what measures they are taking under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 to relocate child refugees from Italy to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, in 2016 we transferred more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe. More children will be transferred under the Immigration Act and we will continue to meet our obligations under the Dublin regulation. We have a long-standing secondee in Italy, who is based in the Italian Dublin unit. We will announce in due course the process and criteria for transferring more children to the UK from Europe.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. During 2016, 25,800 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Italy. The UK took only three from Italy during 2016. Would the Minister confirm that, in future, the vulnerability of the child, and in particular the danger of exploitation and trafficking, will continue to be the central criteria, and that there will be a strong enough team in both Italy and Greece for future transfers?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to raise the issue of vulnerability, which has always been paramount in the Government’s consideration of children, particularly unaccompanied children, who are travelling to this country—and not only that but their vulnerability when they arrive here. As he will know, the Government, through a Written Ministerial Statement, are committed to publishing a strategy for safeguarding unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in England.

On the capacity in Italy that the right reverend Prelate asked about, yes, we have a long-standing secondee there—and NGOs such as the UNHCR and IOM are present there. In addition to that, they are part of the EU relocation scheme.

My Lords, given that the Minister has said that vulnerability is the paramount question in the Government’s mind, what progress has been made on the 10,000 children that Europol said had disappeared on the continent and the reports in the British press that some 360 children had disappeared here—as the right reverend Prelate said, almost certainly into the hands of traffickers and people who will use them for the purposes of exploitation?

My Lords, the question of children who have disappeared here has been brought up previously in your Lordships’ House and, if we ever get any information or reports of such things, obviously we will follow them up. To date we have not had representation from local authorities or the police that this is the case. As for intervening in other countries where children may have disappeared, as I have said before at this Dispatch Box, while a child is in another country they are the responsibility of that jurisdiction. We are there to help and we will help when asked, but we cannot unilaterally take these things into our hands.

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate in pursuit of this issue, about which there is concern right across this House. I remind the Minister that Italy is where the largest number of refugee and unaccompanied children are, together with Greece. These are children who, last summer, had their faces disfigured by mosquito bites and who now have to deal with intolerable and freezing conditions. So the situation is urgent.

In a helpful Written Answer to me on 23 November, the Minister drew on the Home Secretary’s reference to many hundreds of children coming to this country in the following few weeks—and she has updated us on that today. Will she give us further information on the number of children in Italy and Greece who are being assessed, and will she also make it clear to the House that there is no question that, at the end of this financial year, support for these children will cease?

There are several questions there. The noble Baroness continued the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He spoke of children whom we would dearly like to assist who are living in conditions that are less than satisfactory in European countries. I cannot stress enough that we can help only when the country in question gives us leave to come and help. We have got a long-standing secondee in Italy. There are also NGOs in Italy such as UNHCR.

As to specifying the number, the Government have committed to transferring a specified number of refugee children to the UK from within Europe. They will specify that number in due course.

My Lords, unaccompanied child migrants are likely to have been subjected to significant trauma. Can the Minister tell the House what assistance the Government are giving to ensure that accompanied child migrants receive appropriate psychological support, whether they are in Europe or in the UK?

I think I touched on this in my response to the right reverend Prelate, but the noble Lord is absolutely right to raise this subject. He will know that the Government already have in place a comprehensive strategy for safeguarding children, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children, who arrive here severely traumatised and in some cases require a package of care. The Immigration Minister’s joint Written Statement with the Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families on 1 November committed the Government to publishing a strategy for the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in England, and the children who have been identified for transfer from Europe.

The good news is that we have already been working with local authorities, charities and other organisations to make sure that plans are in place to give these children the immediate support they need—which I think was what the noble Lord was alluding to.

My Lords, will my noble friend update the House on the agreement made with Turkey to take unaccompanied children and other refugees from Greece? Could this be extended to Italy?

My noble friend has got me on an update on the position on Turkey. If she does not mind, I will write to her.