Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity. First, I will quote a friend who was there when the bulldozers came to demolish the camps in Dunkirk and Calais 12 months ago. He said that,
“after I visited the Calais refugee camp, I still have an image in my head, which I’m sure will be with me for the rest of my life. When I arrived at the camp, there were police in riot gear everywhere. There was a pastor standing, holding what was left of two religious buildings—a blue cross, which once stood atop the camp’s church. The look of complete despair. This was a man who had had the last bit of hope ripped away from him. To remove a religious symbol, a place of hope and prayer, from people who have only the clothes they are wearing and a shelter that is surrounded by mud, must be one of the worst, most inhumane things that I have ever witnessed”.
The demolition is not only of the camps, but of hope—replaced by despair. The refugees housed there were dispersed to different locations in France. The agreement was that the UK Home Office would go to all the “welcome centres”, as they were called, and do proper assessments of the young people and their claims. However, the evidence is that the interviews lasted no more than five minutes, and no interpreters were present. A few of the claimants were brought to the United Kingdom in the winter period, but those who qualified under the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, were ignored. Many who had a strong Dublin III claim were also overlooked. People who backed Brexit must realise that the Dublin EU regulations will no longer be there for the UK if we come out of the European Union. Another strand of hope will be gone.
There is evidence, reported by Professor Sue Clayton in her film, “Calais Children”, that in the welcome centres facilities were mixed. Some were good, but others not so, with no medical facilities, not enough food, opposition from local populations and many other problems. Hope was not rebuilt. Calais Action and other refugee organisations are still active in Calais; they are back there. Many refugees returned to Calais and, this very day, sleep in fields, forests and ditches. They dream of being physically present in the United Kingdom, where they have family—and they have the language. They gather at points of transit, in Calais itself, Dunkirk, Brussels and Zeebrugge. They risk their lives on illegal routes.
However, last March the French Government made it a “crime of solidarity” for citizens or aid workers to give food or shelter to a refugee, even a child. People who run a Catholic safe house say that of 600 lone children, less than 40 have a bed to sleep in at night. The recent report published by Human Rights Watch, Like Living in Hell, describes the abuse of child and adult migrants in Calais. We know that there are 85,000 unaccompanied minors in Europe. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which we supported, would have brought 3,000 youngsters into this country; but that was gradually reduced. The Government refused. I say to the House, especially Members opposite, that it was one of the saddest days of my life when I saw the Conservative Benches marching into the Not-Content Lobby, refusing to welcome these children. It was a very sad day.
In February, France closed the centres, leaving young people in limbo. They have gone back now. On 24 October, I received these numbers: there are now 750 refugees in Calais; 250 in Dunkirk; 400 in Brussels; 400 in Metz; and they tell me that as many as 1,500 are sleeping in Paris, seeking shelter wherever they can find it.
Over the centuries—not centuries, although it certainly seems like that sometimes; it must seem like that to the noble Baroness because we discuss it so often—over the years, we have pleaded with the Government to look again at our policy towards refugees, especially children. Some action has been taken, which we welcome, but we desperately need to look at the long-term, worldwide strategy. We must respond to need. We must bring hope. We know that David Cameron made a promise that 20,000 Syrian refugees would be received into the United Kingdom before 2020—which they presumed would be the end of the last Parliament. I would very much like to know the actual figures for how that is going on.
I will quote the words of a 15 year-old from Afghanistan, who is a member of our Citizens of the World Choir; I remember them singing at the Llangollen Eisteddfod. He said to me afterwards, “Do you know, that was the best day of my life, singing in this Eisteddfod”. We can either bring hope to the most vulnerable, or we can leave them in their present despair. So much that we take for granted is denied them. The United Kingdom should not be trying to create a hostile scenario toward immigrants—the Prime Minister said that was her aim. The Government seem intent on pulling up the drawbridge of hope and denying them what we take for granted.
We have not only a political but a moral responsibility as fellow citizens of the world, which is what we are. Mrs May once said that if you say you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. I prefer Socrates, who said, “I am not a citizen of Athens or of Greece. I am a citizen of the world”. We are citizens of the world. We need to take new initiatives. I am sure that other noble Lords will mention them as the debate continues. Then, many more people will be able to say, “These are the best days of our lives”.
Let us do something honourable and memorable. The opportunity is there. The Minister and her colleagues can move in this direction, even though the courts said differently this morning. We can have these 3,000 children here if we have the determination. I plead with the Government—I have argued with them for a long time and I plead with them this afternoon—to take new initiatives so that children like that little 15 year-old from Afghanistan will be able to say, “There is hope. These are the best days of our lives”.
My Lords, this is a time-limited debate with very little margin of safety, and a noble Lord has indicated that he would like to speak in the gap. I urge all noble Lords to follow the excellent example of the mover and to stick within the time limit.
In July 2016, like many noble Lords taking part in today’s debate, I travelled with my noble friends Lady Jenkin of Kennington and Lady Hodgson of Abinger to the old camp at Calais. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, for giving us the opportunity to speak on such a crucial subject. We went with UNICEF UK, of which I used to be a trustee, and we were hosted in the camp by Citizens UK volunteers operating as Safe Passage.
It was probably one of the most harrowing and troubling visits I have ever made, one which left its mark on me mentally and physically: physically because I picked up a virulent bacterial infection—I have never seen so many dead rats in my life—and mentally because, although I have visited many refugee camps over the years, I had never before in one place witnessed the shocking human cost of war, terrorism, economic instability and natural disaster. I pay tribute to the NGOs and volunteers who work with refugees for their resilience and their tireless work.
I will never forget the distressing story of one young man who had fled from Syria and had been one of only 30 survivors in a boat that had left Libya with more than 400 people on board. He said that if he could send one message it would be not to make the perilous journey to Europe. While deaths at sea have decreased this year, as at 30 September 2,655 people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. That is why I wholly support and applaud the Government’s policy of doing all they can to provide a safe refuge, clean water, education and training in and around countries experiencing strife, especially for victims of the brutal war in Syria. I remind noble Lords of my interest in helping to provide jobs for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
The reality is that thousands of refugees, many of them children, are still placing their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers and making the dangerous journey to Europe. I urge my noble friend the Minister to ensure that, where there is a legitimate claim, we are doing all we can to help charities working across Europe to reunite children with their family members in the United Kingdom to allow those children the safety and stability they so desperately need.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for making this debate possible. The cause of unaccompanied child refugees is one that commands all-party support, as evidenced by the debate that took place in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon. Whether it is under Section 67 or Dublin III, the Government are committed to bringing 480 unaccompanied child refugees to this country. So far, only 200 have come. Why can we not get a move on? Why should they lie there in Calais or Greece? Nothing seems to be happening, yet the Government have made that commitment. There must be some reason. Furthermore, many local authorities are willing to take more child refugees, whether in England, Scotland—which has hardly been tapped for this—Northern Ireland or Wales. We have evidence of local authorities in those areas that are willing to help.
I have been to Calais three times recently. The situation there is absolutely desperate. People are sleeping in the woods. Some wonderful NGOs and Safe Passage are helping refugees, but on the whole refugees depend on a food kitchen and the situation is pretty desperate. A temporary accommodation centre has been opened recently. It is much too small. People there need legal advice so that they know what their rights are. The long journey to Lille to have their application documented is pretty difficult, particularly since the office there is small and very little processing can take place.
There is a cut-off date of 20 March, which the Government devised of their own making. That date is very difficult because we know that the documentation on when young people arrive in Europe is never very clear-cut. I know, for example, that in Greece some of the children who arrived were not documented until after 20 March, although they had arrived some time before. There was a fire in a reception centre on one of the islands. The records were burned. The same probably goes for children in France as well. I urge the Government to be flexible about the cut-off date, otherwise it will be excessively rigid and children will be denied a decent situation.
When the children come to this country, many of them will do extremely well. I have heard of situations where young people do well and where they are getting on in school. I know of one young Syrian boy in Northern Ireland who was rejected by most of the schools in Belfast because his English was not good enough. He went to an integrated school and he got top marks in English after two or three years. There are real success stories that we need to talk about.
I believe public opinion is still on the side of our taking more child refugees. None of us is arguing that we should take the lot. None of us has said every child refugee in Europe should come here. But we should take our fair share. It is my contention that we are not doing that. I believe public opinion is behind us on this.
My Lords, a production at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, a diorama about two young refugees from Afghanistan, depicted the police in northern France as huge aggressive birds. It was very powerful. We must thank the big-hearted people who still present a human face in Calais, as the noble Baroness said. They come back from helping refugees, appalled that the French police pepper spray babies’ nappies, as one example. They ask for donations not of tents but blankets, because they can be salvaged in the face of wanton, “nonsensical”—as one of the NGOs put it—violence by the police.
Reports by Refugee Rights, the Human Trafficking Foundation and others make very grim reading. I hope the Minister can tell us what discussions British authorities are having with the French regarding what I describe as an international humanitarian issue in northern France. Will she also update us on the Government’s thinking about whether there is any evidence—I stress evidence—of a pull factor bringing refugees to northern France seeking to reach the UK, as distinct from the many significant push factors? Indeed, is it in anyone’s interest not to apply Dublin III except those of the traffickers, other abusers and criminals?
In the case of children without adult guardians, not enabling their reunion with family—“family” being rather wider than just parents—in the UK is exposing them to considerable dangers. It is a matter of the rules and of ensuring they have access to advice about the rules through facilities and outreach work. The current situation is not “safeguarding”. To ask the same question in different words: why not safe and legal routes that are managed and regular?
My Lords, I declare my interests, which are registered. I start by congratulating the Government on bringing a considerable number of children to this country. That is admirable, but the Government have a blind spot about Calais and Dunkirk. Last July, the former MP Fiona Mactaggart and I wrote and published a report, Nobody Deserves to Live This Way!, as a result of our visit to Calais in May and a great deal of evidence presented to us in two months. We set out there the parlous state of children in Calais and Dunkirk. What is so sad is that it has not improved, and the brutality of the police is as bad now as it was then. That is set out in our report and in other reports, including a number of French reports, in which French humanitarian organisations are said to be absolutely horrified. As has already been referred to by other noble Lords, the French have put in temporary accommodation for 20 children, but there are 200 in Calais, as I understand it, and some in Dunkirk. Those are unaccompanied children needing help. Many of them have the right to come to this country under Dublin III—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has made that point already, but it needs to be made again. For this reason, they are in Calais; they are in Dunkirk. The registration place is 100 km away. How does one expect a 15 or 16 year-old unaccompanied minor to travel 100 km to get registered? This is truly shocking.
There is the danger of exploitation, but I do not talk only about the danger. As someone involved in the issues of modern slavery and human trafficking, I know that many of those children have already been exploited, but they are in danger of being exploited again. What worries me is that so many of them have the right to be here, mainly under Dublin III but many under the wonderful Dubs amendment that, just for a moment, we thought would work; however, only 200 children have come. The Government have a duty at least to deal with Dublin III and to cast a sympathetic eye on the Dubs children. Nothing is being done, and I ask the Minister why not.
My Lords, I declare my interests as outlined in the register. This debate is tribute to the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on behalf of refugees. The conditions in Calais are part of a refugee system that is under strain like never before. Those conditions are undermining public confidence in the effectiveness and humanity of the system, but another factor undermining the system in the general public’s eyes is whether it is just.
In July, after much parliamentary lobbying, the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was expanded to allow non-Syrian nationals such as Yazidis to be selected to come to the UK. Despite much lobbying, inclusion in the scheme’s vulnerability criteria, set by the UK and given to UNHCR to apply, of religious identity or being at risk of religious persecution has been rejected.
The Home Office has recently released statistics on people from vulnerable religious groups recommended to the UK by UNHCR for resettlement. Of the 8,136 resettled in the UK in 2015-16, 70, or 0.8%, were Christians, 22, or 0.3%, were Yazidis, and 33, or 0.4%, were Shia Muslims. Therefore, only 1.5% were from vulnerable religious communities; yet 23% of the pre-war population of Syria were Christian, Shia, Alawite or Yazidi.
The violence experienced by smaller religious communities in Syria and Iraq is well known. The UN Security Council last month announced that it was establishing an international investigative team to explore the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS. Can my noble friend the Minister explain why members of Syrian and Iraqi religious minority communities are so under-represented in UK resettlement schemes, and why an individual’s religion or religious persecution has not been identified as a criterion of vulnerability?
I recognise that the devil may be in the detail and there may be an explanation for these figures, but there is a clearly a case to be answered by Her Majesty’s Government and, I might add—although it is of precious little comfort—by the United States Government. Will my noble friend the Minister and the Minister for Immigration in the other place meet interested parliamentarians to discuss UNHCR’s selection process and religious minority representation in the UK resettlement scheme? In particular, will the Minister invite the requisite senior officials from UNHCR who are in charge of delivering Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to take in 20,000 refugees during this Parliament?
It will not be possible fully to understand what is happening without Her Majesty’s Government sitting down with the UNHCR, which operationalises the policy for them. The system appears unjust, and stopping the confidence leaking out of it requires a lengthy meeting between Her Majesty’s Government and UNHCR sooner rather than later.
My Lords, we have all to thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for his courageous and constant vigilance on this issue. It has been good again to hear from my noble friend Lord Dubs, whose tireless work for practical results, however frustrating he finds it, is outstanding.
Three specific issues strike me concerning what my noble friend said. First, can we have an assurance from the Minister that the arrangements presently in place in the temporary centre in northern France will survive Brexit? How long can they be guaranteed? Secondly, can there be legal assistance for the young people at that centre? It is urgently needed. Thirdly, can proper transit arrangements rapidly be made to deal with the processing of documents?
We all know that whatever wonderful is work done by families, communities and local authorities in this country to provide a home for quite a number of refugees, the situation is still not satisfactory. In terms of the proportion of national wealth and national income for individual families, we in Britain still lag behind Europe in what we are doing. There is no reason for this. It is a tremendous challenge for us all.
Finally, I say simply that in our concern with the immediate situation in Europe, we must never lose sight of the fact that there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 22.5 million refugees and 10 million stateless people. How on earth can we have a stable world—never mind the humanitarian, moral challenges—unless we work flat out with our neighbours in Europe and the international community to have effective international strategies to tackle this? How can we tackle its source and ensure that young people who are without work or hope in their own communities have some opportunity of finding work and some kind of future?
My Lords, I want simply to support everything that has been said, and will no doubt be said by further speakers. I do not have anything specific to add, other than to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno for his dedication and persistence in pursuing these matters. We happen to share an office and I more than anyone else know just how much he puts into this day after day when he comes to work in this House.
My noble friend mentioned one of the projects that he launched, the Citizens of the World Choir, which is a remarkable project. It consists of 30 to 40 refugees living in this country, from 16 different countries—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, alphabetically. It has a wonderful conductor, Becky Dell. It has sung, as my noble friend said, at the Llangollen Eisteddfod. It has sung in Llandudno. It has even sung at Ronnie Scott’s. This is just one example of the hundreds of projects there are around this country working with, supporting and looking after the refugees who are already here, whether they are unaccompanied young people or families, like the refugees we have in my own patch in Pendle.
When the Government announced their vulnerable persons resettlement scheme of people from Syria, the leader of the council and I—I declare my interest as deputy leader—immediately said, “Right, we will take as many as we reasonably can. We will act as the host authority for the district”. We now have 20 families, who came in two lots, who are now suffering the climatic conditions of the Lancashire Pennines—for their sins—and who are being looked after and supported in our part of the world. We are very pleased to do it. We will take more if the Government will only bring more people over.
We set up an official co-ordinating committee of all the agencies and official bodies, which is run and clerked by the council. That is very successful but it was clear that it was not enough and a group of volunteers, who all wanted to help and provide support, set up a group called Pendle New Neighbours, which has a weekly drop-in meeting and has resulted in individual people making friends with individual families and building up those kinds of relationships, which are so important if people are going to live successfully in our community. The point is that we cannot do more unless the Government pull their weight and allow more people to come.
My Lords, in a disturbing report issued over the summer, which was referred to earlier, Human Rights Watch reported that nearly a year after the closure of the Calais Jungle, between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants were still living on the streets and in woods in and around Calais, with no place to eat or sleep and often treated like flotsam and jetsam. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, is right to shine a light on this shameful situation.
The report documents police abuse and harassment of aid workers, which it attributes ultimately to a desire to send a signal that this fate awaits you if you risk fleeing the horror and terror of countries such as Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan or Sudan. Scandalously, the report describes the routine use of pepper spray on child migrants, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This is done while they are sleeping, to disrupt their lives and, again, to try to prevent them coming in the first place.
The Refugee Rights Data Project corroborates those findings and describes the deplorable and appalling treatment of children. I was a signatory to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he has said today: the British public have a big heart and can tell the difference between people trying to arrive in this country illegally and vulnerable, defenceless children.
The RRDP report said that 98.9% of children interviewed were unaccompanied and that 93.6% reported that they had been subject to police violence, while 84.7% of respondents lacked access to information about their rights and opportunities to change their situation and 39.1% of children said they had family elsewhere in Europe, the majority of whom were said to live in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, in Calais, refugees and displaced people are sleeping rough in the area, with 82% of children saying that police had driven them away while sleeping and 89.2% describing such incidents as having been violent.
I recently wrote to the Minister to ask about a case of family reunification involving a Syrian-Armenian family who had become separated after some of them had fled from Aleppo. Can she tell us what progress she is making in looking at that case?
As I have told the House, Europol estimates that at least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared since arriving in Europe. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss said. What happens to those children who make it to the United Kingdom? The Times reported on 13 October, in a story entitled,
“Child trafficking victims vanish from council care and into the hands of criminals”,
that at least 150 Vietnamese children have disappeared from care in this country since 2015. I have sent the report to the Minister and told her of my intention to raise it today.
The Home Office can be proud of its modern-day slavery and trafficking legislation, which fundamentally recognises that these challenges require international solutions, but the plight of these children makes a mockery of the laws we have enacted. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us reassurance that the Government are acting on behalf of those children, who are desperately at risk.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Roberts for securing this timely debate. He and many of my noble friends in this House have done a great deal of commendable work on this issue. A year ago, when the Jungle in Calais was cleared, 750 children were transferred to the UK—200 of these under the Dubs scheme—and the rest reunited with family. Many of these children have gone on to flourish under this country’s protection and I am proud of that record. However, we are still failing a great number of children.
Children who find themselves unprotected by official channels are extremely vulnerable to traffickers and I am greatly concerned by the reports of children being trafficked illegally into this country. This is a devastating fate for a child, many of whom are desperately seeking to join family or simply seeking safety but find themselves trapped by traffickers. Some of these children—so far, around 170—have been recognised and referred to authorities. However, these same children are reportedly being failed again and we have no idea where more than 100 of them are. These children are at grave risk of being re-trafficked. They are greatly at risk of sexual and labour exploitation. The true number of trafficked children is likely to be far higher, with some hidden from authorities and many more at risk. I deeply value the steps that my noble friend the Minister has taken to ensure the safety of children but what action is being taken to bring them back into a safe environment? What is being done to ensure that there are legal, accountable channels to help refugee children in Calais and across Europe?
The reason for closing the Dubs channel for helping these children is still unclear. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that providing safe routes for children acts as or creates the pull factor that some fear. Closing legal routes, however, pushes young people into the hands of traffickers. When one thinks of the scale of the refugee challenge, we are hardly looking at a pull factor. There are 6.5 million people, including 2.8 million children, displaced within Syria itself; 2.7 million Syrian refugees have made their way to Turkey; Lebanon hosts approximately 1 million Syrian refugees, which amounts to around one in five people in that country. Only about 1 million out of that entire group have chosen to make the dangerous journey across Europe. These statistics tell us a story of families wanting to stay in the region, not to travel. This is not a pull factor that we are seeing.
My key question to my noble friend the Minister is: what is the Government’s strategy here? We are not faced with a huge challenge, in comparison to the size of the problem being picked up by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. If those countries are responding to the needs of their neighbours, surely we can do better to care for the 100 who have made it to Calais and the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to listen carefully to the NGOs working in northern France. By day and night, all year round, they provide food, clothing, bedding and first aid to refugees. I know of six British NGOs and at least two French ones. Their personnel have sometimes been harassed by the French security forces. They have seen refugees being teargassed and pepper sprayed, as has been mentioned. We must hope that the criticisms by the French courts and the French ombudsman will lead to less brutal policies. The number of refugees sleeping rough has already been given by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, so I shall not repeat it. It is not large.
The French Government could help by identifying unaccompanied children for the protection and shelter they deserve. France should consider providing refugee application points nearer to Calais and Dunkirk—that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Her Majesty’s Government could do more for unaccompanied children in Europe and Turkey. Our embassies and consulates could be welcoming reference points working with the UNHCR to identify children who may qualify for reasons of family reunion or extreme vulnerability to come to this country.
We need far better co-operation in this field between statutory and voluntary agencies, our two Governments and the UN agencies. We could make far better use of sponsorships by families here of other families or unaccompanied children who could come here. There is a Canadian model for this to work on. It is not sufficient for our Government to say that we have one or two liaison officers in certain European countries. That will not solve the problem.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Refugee Council. There are 17,000 unaccompanied children sleeping in camps in Italy tonight. There are 3,000 in Greece. Closer to home, more than 100 children will sleep rough in the Calais area tonight. As temperatures are dropping, the physical risks of that are growing. The moral risks are very clear. We have not yet taken a single child from any of the camps in Italy or Greece under the Dubs amendment. The world has forgotten Calais. Most of the great international NGOs have moved on to look at Bangladesh and at the horrible crises of today, but this one is going on and Help Refugees, the little, all-voluntary charity which brought today’s High Court case, has not forgotten them. It is still there helping these children. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I believe that the country wants these children helped, so I appeal to the Government to be a little more generous in their interpretation of the commitments they made in this House, to this House, at that Dispatch Box, at the conclusion of our Dubs amendment debates, and I appeal to the country to remain generous to Help Refugees, which does wonderful work for these children and is entirely supported by donors. The need is urgent.
My Lords, we are told that £36 million was given to the French Government on the condition that the Calais Jungle clearance operation is full and long-lasting. Is the Minister aware of the methods that the French police are using to meet the UK Government’s demands? It must be apparent to our Government that as in the townships in South Africa, homes may be destroyed but people do not vanish in a puff of smoke—they return. The Government must listen to the evidence in this debate from wonderful organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Refugee Rights Data Project, Safe Passage UK, the Human Trafficking Foundation and Help Refugees, a wonderful organisation staffed by the most fantastic young people you could ever hope to meet. I was in Calais this August for several days and can attest to their documentation of hundreds of asylum seekers sleeping rough in forests and parks around northern France in the most appalling conditions. Traffickers run rings around the police. Of the unaccompanied children spoken to by the Refugee Rights Data Project, 93.6% had experienced police violence. These are children, and this behaviour belittles both our nations.
Let me tell your Lordships about Ismail, from North Darfur in Sudan. I first met him in the Jungle, when he was 16. He had no shoes and I tried to get him a pair. He was not successful in getting to the UK in the 750, and was moved to a CAOMIE in Challuy, near Nevers in central France, with some of his friends. The centre had no heating—it was winter—and the food was bad. Their asylum claim was rejected by the Home Office. They were not told why and they were not told how to appeal—I saw the letter. The centre closed in February and they were told to leave. Since then, he has been wandering around France in Paris, Calais, Dunkirk—then to Belgium—Bordeaux and round again. He has suffered at the hands of the police, been imprisoned for four days and is sleeping under bridges and in parks.
I encouraged him and his friends to apply for asylum in France, but he says the French do not want them. They beat them up, teargas them and pepper spray their sleeping bags. Some friends who tried to claim asylum in France gave up in despair because there was no process for them to access in Calais. Getting to Lille, where there is a registration office, is hazardous because migrants are forbidden to use public transport and arrested. But even if they make it there, nothing happens. Not one of the people who tried to get asylum in France has started school—something they all desperately want.
Ismail’s story is the story of all the unaccompanied children who we have let down. They are being pushed out of France and have no choice but to try illegal and dangerous means to get to the UK. Leaving aside the ongoing legal process around the Dubs scheme, what excuse can the Government have for not meeting their own figure of 480? I know a few children have arrived in the last few weeks, but will the Minister give a commitment to your Lordships’ House today that this is the start of a meaningful process to reach the Government’s own figure of 480? Will the Minister also urge her counterparts in France, at the highest level, to stop their brutal methods? We are better than that.
I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on securing this debate. The Calais camp closed down a year ago, but reports suggest that some 500 asylum seekers and other migrants, some of whom are unaccompanied children, continue to be in and around Calais in appalling conditions, facing harassment from the authorities as well as from people traffickers.
The Government may say that what is happening now in Calais is a matter for the French. However, I do not think it is quite as simple as that. On 6 March this year, in answer to a Commons Oral Question, the then Minister for Immigration said:
“The UK Government are contributing up to £36 million to support the situation in Calais and ensure that the camp remains closed in the long term”.
The Minister went on to say:
“The site of the former Calais camp remains clear and there is ongoing work, supported by UK funding, permanently to remove all former camp infrastructure and accommodation and to restore the site to its natural state. That work will help to prevent any re-establishment of squats or camps in the area”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/17; cols. 556-57.]
Government involvement with the French authorities and the resultant present conditions in Calais would appear far from peripheral.
In this House, the Minister said on 29 June that,
“our doors are always open for local authorities to come to us and say that they can accommodate more children”.
How much money did the Government pay a local authority accommodating children under Section 67 of the Immigration Act in 2016-17, and for how many years following 2016-17 does that funding continue to apply in respect of those children accommodated in 2016-17, and at what level? How much money are the Government paying a local authority accommodating further children under Section 67 in the current year, 2017-18, and for how many years following this current financial year does that funding continue to apply in respect of those further children accommodated in 2017-18. and at what level?
On 29 June the Minister also said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 29/06/17; col. 551.]
How many of those currently in the Calais area in appalling conditions are children who would qualify or might well qualify to come to this country under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, and how many would qualify or might well qualify to come to this country under the Dublin III regulations? I would hope the Government know the answer to this question because some of the £36 million or so of our money being spent in and around Calais is for actively seeking out those, particularly children, who would qualify to come to this country and then ensuring that they do so.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, for securing a debate on this important issue, and I pay tribute to his tenacity on this subject. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part today.
The UK is a global leader in responding to the needs of those affected by conflict and persecution, and we have a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need of protection. Many noble Lords have talked about the figure of 480 children, but in the year ending 2017 the UK granted asylum or another form of leave to more than 9,000 children, and has done so for more than 42,000 children since 2010.
On the noble Lord’s question about the conflict in Syria, we have pledged £2.46 billion in aid and we will resettle 20,000 people to the UK by 2020 under our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. He asked how many so far. The answer is more than 8,500 individuals are already here, around half of whom are children. We will resettle 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their family members from the Middle East and north Africa region by 2020 under the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme. Further to that, Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state, and in total over one-third of all resettlement to the EU was actually to the UK.
Our efforts do not end there. In order to reduce suffering along the key migration routes, as my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out in her eloquent speech, we assist vulnerable people on the move, inform them about the risks of onward journeys and support alternatives, such as voluntary return or resettlement in a third country. Since October 2015 we have allocated more than £175 million in humanitarian assistance to the Mediterranean migration crisis. This support has provided lifesaving assistance such as shelter, water and sanitation, food, medical care, and protection for the most vulnerable migrants and refugees. It has helped to build the capacity of host Governments to manage migration so that it is safe and orderly.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about Calais. The UK provided comprehensive support, following a request from the French Government, for the clearance of the Calais camp last year. This included the safe transfer of more than 750 unaccompanied children from France to the UK, and a commitment of £36 million, as the noble Lord pointed out, to help to provide alternative accommodation elsewhere in France for migrants and to maintain the security of the border controls in Calais, which are a critical part of our national security.
One year on from the Calais camp clearance, the Government welcome ongoing French efforts to manage what continues to be a challenging situation in the area. We welcome the French Government’s recent decision to deploy more police to the region and to continue to provide alternative accommodation for migrants elsewhere in France. France has many of the same international obligations as the UK towards those on its territory, and migrants in France are the responsibility of the French Government. I know that noble Lords have become frustrated by me saying that time and again, but France is a democratic country and it is true that migrants in France are the responsibility of the French Government.
We also enjoy excellent law enforcement co-operation with the French authorities and other European partners. We have increased our intelligence sharing and operational co-operation with the French through the establishment of the joint centre for information and co-ordination in Calais. Through the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, we have deployed officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and Crown Prosecution Service to numerous European countries, including France, to work with law enforcement and criminal justice partners on tackling the organised crime groups that facilitate people smuggling. Just last week there were 11 arrests in the UK for people smuggling under Operation Halifax—a Europe-wide investigation into an international organised crime gang that was smuggling migrants across Europe and into the United Kingdom. Key to our co-operation with European partners is the intelligence exchanged through the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which leads Europol on organised immigration crime.
I want to be clear that there is no need for migrants to return to Calais and the surrounding areas in the hope of travelling illegally to the UK to claim asylum here. France is a safe country and those in need of protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity. In the Government’s regular engagement at ministerial—
My Lords, that is absolutely true, and there is regular support to that end in France. I assume the noble Lord is talking about France.
We have established additional welcome centres for people already in place across the country, and four new centres have recently opened away from the juxtaposed ports, where those wishing to claim asylum will be supported through the asylum process—I am guessing, with language help as well. Regular transportation is provided to these centres.
We are well aware of reports—noble Lords have mentioned this this afternoon—that unaccompanied children are among those who have returned to Calais. I would again emphasise that any children who are in the area should claim asylum or otherwise seek support from the French authorities. We continue to work closely with France and other member states to deliver the transfer of 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. A High Court ruling handed down today confirmed that the Government’s approach to implementing Section 67 was lawful. The focus for the Government, working together with local authorities and other partners, must be on transferring eligible children to the UK as quickly as possible, with their safety and best interests at the centre of all our decisions. Children have arrived in recent weeks from France and transfers are ongoing. We have been working closely with Greece to put in place the process for the safe transfer of eligible children to the UK, and expect to receive referrals in the coming weeks. That answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. This is in addition to our ongoing commitments under Dublin.
Here in the UK, for the year ending June 2017, I say again, we granted asylum or another form of leave to more than 9,000 children, and to more than 42,000 children since 2010. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and refugee children are safe and their welfare is promoted once they arrive in the UK. That is why the Government published yesterday a safeguarding strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in recognition of their increasing numbers and specific needs. The strategy includes commitments to increase the number of foster places, review the funding available to local authorities that support unaccompanied children, improve the information and advice available to children and their families, and prevent children going missing.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked about the Dublin regulations. The Home Office today published the Dublin III Regulation guidance, which covers decisions relating to the state responsible for examining an asylum claim and transfers between the UK and other European states in respect of adults and children. It is important that this House recognise that Dublin is a two-way co-operation measure which concerns adults as well as children. On the specific case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I will certainly respond to him about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, highlighted the local authority point. Local authorities, as he will know, have been tremendously generous in caring for migrant children, regardless of their circumstances. Every region in England is now participating in the national transfer scheme and, if we are to continue to make that scheme a success, we need more local authorities to come forward and offer places—a point I have made to the noble Lord on many occasions.
To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, last year we substantially increased funding to local authorities, which are responsible for supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. As of the start of July 2016, local authorities now receive £41,610 a year for each unaccompanied asylum-seeking child aged under 16, and £33,215 for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children aged 16 and 17. This represents a 20% and 28% increase in funding, respectively.
My noble friend Lady Berridge mentioned Christians and members of other religious groups. We are very clear that our scheme will prioritise the most vulnerable refugees and that is why, under the VPRS, UNHCR identifies refugees for resettlement using its vulnerability criteria. Membership of a minority religious group is not, in and of itself, one of the vulnerability criteria, but members of minority religious groups may qualify under one of the other criteria.
Finally, I will answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the pull factor, which my noble friend Lady Stroud also mentioned. We acknowledge that there are both push and pull factors affecting migratory flows. We know that the French authorities are concerned about Calais and the northern coast of France being a pull factor, and we share that concern. Those in France should claim asylum in France—that is the safest and fastest route to safety.
With that, I thank noble Lords for taking part and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for securing the debate.