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Family Reunification: Europe

Volume 614: debated on Monday 5 September 2016

2. What steps the Government have taken to increase the speed of family reunification for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. (906080)

6. What steps the Government are taking to accelerate the family reunification process for unaccompanied children in Europe. (906084)

We continue to work with the French, Greek and Italian authorities and others to improve family reunification processes for unaccompanied children. We have seconded a UK official to Greece, we have a long-standing secondee working in Italy, and we will shortly be seconding another official to the French Interior Ministry. Transfer requests under the Dublin obligation are now generally processed within 10 days and children transferred within weeks. More than 120 children have been accepted for transfer this year from Europe.

As we speak today, there are hundreds of children in Calais who have a legal right to be reunited with their families in this country. Those children are putting their lives at risk by jumping on trains and lorries. What, specifically, are the Government doing to help those children in Calais?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that under the Dublin obligation we have an obligation, which we are acting on, to work with the authorities in France to remove the children who have a family representative in the UK. We are working on that. Since the passage of the Immigration Act 2016 in May, we have agreed to take 30, of whom we have taken approximately half, and we have taken 120 this year. He should not underestimate the difficulty in making sure that we always do what is lawful under French law and EU law at the same time.

The Home Secretary will be aware of significant concern about this issue in humanitarian organisations. With the onset of winter just a couple of months away, and given the time that it is taking, will she commit to additional resources and to coming back to the House within the next month to tell us how many children she will take?

I am always keen to update the House on the latest results from what my Department is doing. We are aware of the humanitarian need and that is why the Government are so committed to ensuring that we work in the best interests of the children. We will always work in the best interest of those children and we will always ensure that that is within French and EU law.

I welcome any sense of urgency from the Home Secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and I visited Calais just two weeks ago and were disappointed yet again to find young, vulnerable children with no one to support or look after them. What can the Secretary of State tell me about whether we can put safeguarding in place in Calais when we have identified those children and had take charge requests to look after them there? May we also have a Home Office official based there, and not in Paris?

I met my French counterpart last week as well as our representatives, who attend the camp. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, like many other Members of the House who have visited the camp, that there is a fine line between wanting to ensure that we help and safeguard those children and ensuring that we do not encourage the traffickers to bring more children to the camp, thereby making more children more vulnerable. We are doing our best to tread that fine line and ensure that we always support those vulnerable children, but it is not as simple as my hon. Friend tries to pretend.

Order. I understand the natural inclination to look at one’s interlocutor, but if the Home Secretary and other Ministers could address the House, that would be greatly appreciated.

The situation in the “jungle”, which I visited recently, is truly horrific. I invite the Home Secretary to join me on a visit to Dover and Calais to see the situation in the “jungle” and the evil activities of the people traffickers. Will she work with me to do our best between Britain and France to end the evil trade of modern slavery that these people traffickers are pursuing?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work to keep me informed and to support what the Government do, to ensure not only smooth traffic between Dover and Calais but that we are always well informed of what is happening there. I will work with him to ensure that we do our best. The real criminals in this are the traffickers, who do such terrible, violent work and take advantage of families.

25. Children arriving in Greece seeking to be reunited with families in the UK are forced into immigration detention, which is a breach of their human rights. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that she is in discussion with her Greek counterparts about dealing with that, as it would prevent more children from having to come to Calais in the first place? (906103)

We have a secondee in Greece, we are working closely with the Greek Government and we have identified some children whom we think we can assist, so they will not need to come to Calais. We anticipate that the first arrivals in the UK will be this month.

May I take the Home Secretary back to those young people for whom take charge requests have been accepted? They have family here waiting for them to arrive. When we talk about fine lines, surely in the case of these young people, when we have accepted the responsibility and when they are at risk of attack, as we saw, or of exploitation and trafficking, the line has been crossed and we have a responsibility to ensure that they get back to their family and that they avoid situations that are not safe. Let us make them safe rather than putting them at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the fine line and to the fact that the camp is a place of terror and danger. We will follow up on our obligations, and as I said in answer to an earlier question, we are now managing to move more quickly. I ask him not to underestimate the difficulty sometimes of dealing with French law and EU law. We cannot simply move in and take action; we must act within the law, which is always in the best interests of the child.

I welcome the Home Secretary to her new role. I was in Calais at the weekend for the second time this summer. Both times I met some of the 800 young unaccompanied children in that camp—children who told me that in the many months they have been there they have not spoken to a single Government official. I met a pregnant woman who said that she had tried to claim asylum in France, but the system is so broken that she was told it would be months before they would even begin to process her application. These people are living in hell because of a lack of bureaucracy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is absolutely right. They need our safeguarding, because they are sleeping in tents with strange men. Will the Home Secretary meet me and other MPs affected by this issue and concerned about it to discuss how we can change that?

I would point out to the hon. Lady that the French have already dispersed 5,000 people from the camp. The Interior Minister has already said that he has plans to make sure, by the end of the year, that the camp is phased out so that everybody can be rehoused. It is important for the children to know, as the adults know, that they are not forced to come to the UK to find a bed; they can claim asylum in France, and the French Government are willing to do that. The hon. Lady should have a care not to encourage unwittingly the traffickers to bring more children to the camps.