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Child Refugees

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 29 June 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many unaccompanied child refugees have entered the United Kingdom under (1) section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, or (2) the Dublin III regulations.

My Lords, in 2016, we transferred over 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe. The Government are fully committed to implementing Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, and more than 200 children are already here under that scheme. We are working closely with EU partners to implement Section 67 of the Immigration Act and ensure that children with qualifying family in the UK can be transferred quickly and safely under the Dublin III regulations.

My Lords, if I have heard correctly, am I right in thinking that the Government have changed their policy from before the election when they set a cap on Section 67 children coming here, which was going to be 480 in total? Will the Minister confirm that that cap no longer applies?

My Lords, the figure that we set before the election was based on the capacity of local authorities to accommodate those children through Section 67. As the noble Lord knows, and I have apologised for this, there was an administrative error and that number is now 480. I do apologise. It was not so much a cap as the ability of local authorities to accommodate these children. I have said before at this Dispatch Box that our doors are always open for local authorities to come to us and say that they can accommodate more children.

My Lords, when the Minister comes to look again at the Dublin regulations with a view to replacing them, will she look to see if there are ways of setting aside the regulations that require unaccompanied children to travel very long distances from places such as Greece so that they can be reunited with their families? Given the evidence that I sent her previously from Europol about the 10,000 unaccompanied children who went missing on the continent and the more than 360, according to the Independent, who have gone missing in the United Kingdom, can the Minister tell us what has been the fate and what is her speculation about the fate of those unaccompanied minors?

The noble Lord asked first about Dublin III and what those regulations might look like in the future. We will always co-operate with our European partners in terms of taking unaccompanied children and asylum seekers into this country. It is important to note—the noble Lord alluded to this—that some of these children have to travel many miles. The work that we do in the regions is in many ways more beneficial to these children. There is a huge economy of scale both in financial terms and in the welfare of these children—as well as adults—for them to be helped in the region.

The noble Lord has brought up the issue of missing children before. Of course we work with Europol. When a child is in a European country, that child or adult is the responsibility of that country and we cannot intervene in countries without abiding by the laws and processes of those countries.

My Lords, the chaotic demolition of the Jungle camp in Calais last October culminated in hundreds of unaccompanied minors being dispersed to hastily knocked-up centres in France. Those centres were closed in February and to my certain knowledge a good number of those children, with legal rights to come to the UK, are nevertheless still wandering around France living a hand-to- mouth existence. Will the Minister see to it that the Home Office completes the assessment process which was started but never concluded in respect of these children?

My Lords, I do not decry what the noble Baroness is saying, but as I have just said to the noble Lord, if a child is in France, that child is the responsibility of the French authorities. I have said this many times and I reiterate it now. But I would also say to her that this Government stand willing to help in the process of resettling children. On the point about the demolition of the camps and children wandering around France, I would love the noble Baroness to give me any evidence she has of that. She knows that I respond to and follow up on the emails she sends to me, and I am happy to do that, but evidence is what we need. We can then work with our counterparts. However, we cannot just go into France and start moving and removing children as we would want.

My Lords, I have been to Calais and have talked to priests there who on a daily basis are being teargassed along with children aged under 18, and some of them as young as 12. Do the Government understand that that is happening? I also understand that Northern Ireland has not been asked to take any of these children but I gather has expressed a willingness to do so.

My Lords, if children are being teargassed, that is very regrettable and I will certainly follow up the point made by the noble and learned Baroness because we would not want that to be happening. Obviously the latter point is a matter for Northern Ireland and we are grateful for any resettlement activity which takes place there. Some 440 people have been resettled in Northern Ireland under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme. Clearly that is voluntary but we would welcome anything in addition to it.

My Lords, recalling the answer that the noble Baroness gave me before the election and bearing in mind that some of the most vulnerable of these children are those with physical or learning disabilities, can she indicate whether any children in this category have been welcomed here so far?

The noble Lord has raised an important question, and in fact I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned it the other day in his speech in response to the Queen’s Speech. I should like to state categorically that there are no restrictions on children with mental health or physical disabilities from coming here. The category is obviously that of children who are vulnerable and in need of our protection and we would not in any way exclude those with mental or physical disabilities. What might be a restriction, and I will look into this for the noble Lord, is where a local authority does not have the capacity to take such a child. However, we would not discriminate against any child on the grounds of mental or physical disability.