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Child Refugees

Volume 795: debated on Monday 11 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many refugee children have arrived in the United Kingdom from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey under the Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme, since its launch in April 2016.

My Lords, as of September 2018 a total of 1,075 refugees have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. Over half of those resettled were children. Most refugees settled have been from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, although—following UNHCR’s urgent appeal— we have accepted approximately 50 unaccompanied children from Libya via Niger.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. Will she agree that while the conditions in the camps in Jordan, say, are physically better than in the camps on the Greek islands or in northern France, there are still many people there who are stuck and have no hope of any future unless countries such as Britain show a bit of humanity and bring more of them here. Could we not speed up the process?

My Lords, this country is not just bringing people here. We are also helping people out in the region, as the noble Lord will know. He will also know that the then Prime Minister significantly increased our contribution to help those people out in the region, many of whom could not actually make the journey over here. I think that is to be commended. It is also much more efficient to help people out in the region when hopefully peace will come at some point soon.

Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House how many of the children who have come to the United Kingdom have gone missing in the care system and what steps will be taken to find them, bring them back into care and ensure they are not further exploited?

I thank my noble friend for asking a very important question. Those children are particularly vulnerable when they come here, and people who would wish to exploit children have an ideal opportunity to do so when those children arrive. I can assure my noble friend that local authorities—which are, of course, the corporate parents of these children—are doing all they can to ensure that they do not go missing and, when they do, to ensure their safe return. I cannot give her numbers, but I will try to write to her if I have those numbers.

My Lords, Christian refugees from the region, including children, face a double handicap: first, as refugees, and, secondly, because they are not welcome as Christians in the camp. In spite of the warm words of the Foreign Secretary just before Christmas, we received no Christian refugees from the region in the first six months of last year. Has the situation improved?

In assessing whether refugees need our help, we do not do so by what religion they are but by where their vulnerability lies. I do not know whether the situation has improved—it is probably over to my noble friend to follow that up. However, I hope the situation has improved. As I said, we do not differentiate by religion.

The youngsters who have made the journey across Europe are among the most courageous young people in the world. You do not leave home unless you live in the mouth of a shark. What are the Government doing with those who arrive and, as the Minister said, are vulnerable? The Children’s Society recently published evidence of a high level of self-harm and suicide among these people. What is happening with the introduction of independent guardians, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland? What other provisions can be made? What can be done for these young people to have permanent leave to remain when they reach adult age?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: any child who makes that journey is in an incredibly vulnerable position from the moment they leave their country of origin to the moment they arrive here, whether it is to people traffickers who bring them across dangerous seas, the dangerous seas themselves or the exploitation they might face during the journey or when they arrive here. Local authorities will provide wraparound care through the various agencies that might be involved with these children. The right reverend Prelate is right to say that psychological trauma is one of the main things that these children suffer. The message is that children should not be sent across these dangerous regions and across the sea to get here. They should be helped in the region or become refugees, at which point this country will give them the security that they need.

My Lords, 1,075 is a drop in the ocean given the appalling situation in the region. Last week, the Minister assured the House that the Home Office takes very seriously the importance of quality assurance, and that must include efficiency. To give just one example, in October, the Court of Appeal described as patently inadequate the Home Office’s dealing with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Is the Minister satisfied that quality assurance really is embedded in the Home Office?

My Lords, 1,075 is not the definitive number: it is 1,075 who have been settled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. In addition, there is the vulnerable persons settlement scheme, under which we have resettled almost 14,000 people, half of whom were children. I am confident that quality assurance is in place, and I expect it to be in place given that we are dealing with probably the most vulnerable children who settle in this country.

My Lords, on trafficking and those who the Government quite rightly say should be deterred from travelling to the Mediterranean if at all possible, the reality is that thousands of people are still being trafficked and sent—not necessarily voluntarily. They then go on to boats on the Mediterranean and make that most dangerous of crossings. There are now no rescue boats whatever available on the Mediterranean because of the actions of the Italian Government, supported by the European Union and others. When people do find themselves in the sea, they are drowning. What actions are the Government taking to put pressure on the Italian authorities and the European Union, in these last few weeks of our membership, to rectify the situation?

Whether we are a member of the European Union or not, we will take seriously our responsibilities to help those people in need. The noble Lord will appreciate that there is a fine balance to be struck between encouraging people to make dangerous journeys and wanting to help them take refuge from some of the terrible situations they have come from.