Skip to main content

Greece: Migrant and Refugee Support

Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what, if any, support they are providing to the government of Greece, the UNHCR or Greek or international non-governmental organisations to help meet the challenges of winter for migrants and refugees in hotspots in the Greek islands.

My Lords, the UK is supporting the European Union, which, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organisations, is working tirelessly with the Greek Government to improve the conditions for refugees. The EU has allocated more than €1 billion in emergency funding to Greece.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and I know that he is genuinely interested in this issue. Perhaps I may focus on unaccompanied children in these hotspots. How many unaccompanied minors are in hotspots and what are the UK Government doing to liaise with organisations which support and protect these children?

The Government are very concerned about the reports of conditions in the camps on the five hotspot islands which currently operate as receiving centres. The current numbers are 394, of whom 299 are unaccompanied children and 95 are separated children. The greatest number of unaccompanied children are on Lesbos island, where there are 168, along with 66 separated children.

My Lords, the Minister and I have been in correspondence about this precise situation and I thank him for his replies. Can he confirm, first, that the emergency aid which he mentioned will be concentrated on dealing with the worst camps on the islands? Secondly, does he agree that there should be no compulsory returns of refugees to Turkey but that, on the other hand, those who can voluntarily return to their countries of origin should be given all possible help?

Following the intervention of the European Commission—we are working through the commission and the UNHCR in this regard—a number of urgent steps have been taken. The first is to speed up the rate at which assessments are taken; the second, to address the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is to identify vulnerable children and make sure that they are moved out of the camps and on to the mainland as soon as possible; the third point is to ensure that new accommodation is built and opened up. Those steps will go some way towards addressing what is obviously a horrific situation for the people who are living there and experiencing it.

My Lords, one issue is the policy of containment on the islands. The conditions are deteriorating, particularly over the winter. Oxfam and many NGOs have been calling on the Greek Government to move people to the mainland, so that facilities can be improved. Have the Government had any discussions with the Greek Government about that, including giving financial support?

In all these things, we work through our European partners to address these situations and they have been very involved. We also have people from the Home Office in the UK seconded on to the islands. They are acting as camp security and liaison managers, and helping to identify and register young people. But exactly those types of efforts are part of the prioritisation that I referred to in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, by ensuring that winter accommodation and heating are there for them now. The number currently on the islands is 14,000 and there are 48,000 on the mainland; that is 62,000 people in this position and we need real urgency to improve the humanitarian response.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the rumour that the Home Office has closed the Dubs scheme is given credence by the fact that the majority of Dubs places remain unfilled, yet just one lone and very traumatised child has been transferred to the UK from Greece, and that only after litigation? If he does not agree, can he say how many lone children we can expect to arrive within the next six months under the Dubs scheme?

The scheme to which the noble Baroness refers under Section 67 of the Immigration Act, after an amendment, ably proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, requires other member countries to make referrals to us. What has been established under it is a facility for 480 children to come to this country. Two hundred have already come, although I accept that they were categorised under the 900 as part of the agreement with France for the clearance of the site referred to as the Jungle. But that scheme remains open and is an important factor, along with four or five other schemes that are helping the most vulnerable people to get access to the help and security they need.

My Lords, what steps are being taken to pressure the EU to accelerate family reunification processes? Our colleagues in the Anglican communion in Europe have noted that applications made for family members in Greece to come to this country are currently taking well over a year and that the processes have, sadly, slowed in the past 18 months.

I am sorry to hear that. Our records show that some 24,000 people have come to this country through the Dublin regulations. That is an important part of the facility. However I say to the right reverend Prelate that we are talking about tens of thousands of refugees. Let us not forget that there are 13.1 million people in Syria who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, 5.4 million refugees from Syria still in the region and 6.1 million internally displaced people. That is why we are one of the largest donors, donating £2.46 billion, to those people in need. We need to keep both sets of people in our mind.

Is there any reason why the children in terrible conditions in Greece, particularly on the islands, cannot be brought over here under Section 67? The Government have said that the limit is 480 children. So far, we have had 204 children, I think. Why can we not do that now?

Under the mechanism of the rules to which the noble Lord referred, they need to be referred to us by the Greek Government once they have applied for asylum and their application has been proceeded with. That is part of the EU/Turkey agreement. Those are the rules. We have other schemes, such as the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which brought in 9,394 people last year, and the vulnerable children resettlement scheme, which brought in 412 children. These are all substantial steps to address that issue while at the same time remembering the great humanitarian issue in the region, which is children who are living in a war zone. We need to make sure that they get the help and support they need.