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Children: Refugees

Volume 783: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they plan to implement their commitment to bring 480 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government are committed to transferring a specified number of eligible children to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 as part of our broader response to the migration crisis. All transfers need to take place in line with member states’ national laws. Last year, we transferred over 200 children under the scheme. We have accepted further referrals in recent weeks and we expect children to arrive in the UK in the coming weeks.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the figure of 200 to date is disappointing? If that is the fault of the Greek, Italian and French authorities, that is very disappointing. If it is the fault of the British Government, it is shocking. Which is it?

My Lords, first, I say to the noble Lord that we continue to work with our partners in Europe under the scheme to transfer children where we can. However, as he will know and as I have said to the House before, we cannot just go into countries and take children. It might be helpful to explain the broader context in which we operate. In 2016 the UK settled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU state. According to Eurostat figures, over a third of people resettled in the EU came to the UK. We have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 9,000 children in the past year—over 42,000 since 2010.

My Lords, what are the Government doing about children who have a right under the Dublin III agreement, particularly in the Calais and Dunkirk areas?

My Lords, we continue to work with the French Government to ensure that those children are also transferred.

My Lords, the UK’s homegrown family reunion rules, as it were, are much narrower than the Dublin III convention in that families are defined much more narrowly—limited to parents under the UK’s rules. What will happen to the Dublin III convention when we leave the EU?

My Lords, when we leave the EU the Dublin convention will need to be reassessed under our own laws. Noble Lords will appreciate that this country has been a welcoming and safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers over the years—I have just given the staggering figure of more than 42,000 children since 2010—and we will continue to meet our commitment to those who need our help.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there has been a major problem in Europe with unaccompanied children going missing, a subject about which I have written to her on numerous occasions? Does she also accept that, in the context of Dublin III and whatever may come next, we should at least look at the right of unaccompanied children to go to the nearest embassy or consulate in order to register their interest in reunification, rather than having to travel miles from anywhere in order to go through that process?

I agree with the noble Lord that we remain concerned about unaccompanied children across Europe. It is pleasing that in recent months, through our assistance, as well as financial assistance from across the EU, the EU relocation scheme has been far more firmly established. We will continue to work with our EU partners on the plight of children.

In considering applications for asylum, will the Government pay particular and sensitive attention to children from minority religious groups, such as Yazidis and Christians, who in many cases, regrettably, face as much threat of persecution within the camps as they did within the countries they were forced to leave?

The noble Lord raises an important point, as has my noble friend Lady Berridge in the past in regard to the Yazidis and the Christians. We have widened the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme in the region. Ultimately, the best way to safeguard these groups is to establish lasting peace in the region, and that means defeating Daesh, promoting a peaceful transition in Syria and helping to deliver political reform and reconciliation in Iraq.

My Lords, along with many others I met a group of young teenage boys who had survived the capsize of a boat in the Mediterranean and will live with the image—

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Government are to be congratulated on the large number of child refugees they have taken? Does she further agree that we need to proceed with care in that if we take refugee children who have already arrived in Europe, we will tempt other families to send their children off at great risk? It is a much better course to do what the Government are doing: take them from the region itself and deal with Christians in a fair and sensible way.

I totally agree with the noble Lord and I am very proud of what we have done. We have done better than any other EU state in taking people from outside Europe. In addition, the noble Lord referred to what I think he described as the pull factor to Europe. The sums involved in helping people in the region are staggering. For what it would cost to help 3,000 people here, we could help 800,000 in the region. Those figures are worth bearing in mind.