With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Calais.
The French Government today began the clearance of the migrant camp. I am clear that that is in the national interests of both the UK and France. It is the start of a challenging but necessary humanitarian operation and an important step in bringing to an end the difficult situation.
Our priorities are to keep our border secure, to tackle the criminal gangs that profit from the lives of the vulnerable, and to ensure that those in the camp in need of protection are moved to places of safety. Today’s camp clearance supports all those objectives.
On 10 October, I updated the House, having just met my French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve. We had discussed, among other things, the importance of keeping all children safe during the camp clearance operation. My officials have been working with the French authorities to ensure that that protection is provided, and UK personnel are taking an active role on the ground today, helping to move all children to a place of safety. They will continue to do so for as long as necessary.
That meeting with Monsieur Cazeneuve was one of many over the past few months, and we have made good progress to speed up the process for transferring children with a close family link to the UK. More than 80 children with a family link to the UK were transferred from France in the first nine months of this year under the Dublin regulation, but I have been pressing to go even further. The House will recall that on 10 October I stated my absolute commitment to bring to the UK as many children as possible with close family links before the closure of the camp. I also made clear my intention to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Calais who meet the criteria of the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016.
Since my statement, working in partnership with the French, we have transferred almost 200 children, including more than 60 girls, many of whom had been identified as at high risk of sexual exploitation. They are receiving the care and support they need in the UK. I want to make it clear to the House that the Government have sought every opportunity to expedite the process to transfer children to the UK. My officials were given access to the camp to interview children only in the past week and, similarly, we have only recently received agreement from the French Government that we could bring Dubs cases to the UK. Before that, we worked closely with the French behind the scenes, but without their agreement it was not possible to make progress on taking non-family cases from Calais.
In the past seven days, my officials have interviewed 800 children in the camp claiming to have close family in the UK, working in conjunction with non-governmental organisations and charities. Every child who presented in the past week has been interviewed by UK staff. Much of this work has been carried out in difficult conditions, and on a number of occasions interviews have been paused and UK staff have withdrawn for safety reasons. I would like to thank the French authorities for the additional protection they have provided throughout and to put on record my gratitude for the work done by my staff in what have been pretty challenging conditions.
Until a few weeks ago, the French Government requested that we did not transfer children outside of the Dublin regulation process. Again, that was due to their concerns that it might encourage more children to come to Calais. That is why, until recently, we focused our efforts under the Dubs amendment on children in Greece and Italy, where we have 50 cases in progress. It is only in recent weeks that that has changed. Looking ahead, we will bring more children from Calais to the UK in the coming days and weeks. As well as the remaining children with close family in the UK, we will continue to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Calais under the wider criteria of the Dubs amendment. We will follow three guiding principles in determining whom we bring to the UK from Calais under the Dubs amendment. We will prioritise those likely to be granted refugee status in the UK; we will also prioritise those 12 years old or under; and we will consider those assessed as being at a high risk of sexual exploitation. In doing that, we will also establish whether it is in each child’s best interests to come here.
Throughout this process it is important that we do not encourage more children to head to Calais, risking their lives in the hands of traffickers. That is why we will consider only those present in the camps before the start of the clearance operation today. We will continue to do that quickly, but it is essential that we carry out the proper safeguarding, age assessment and security checks, working closely with local authorities and social workers in the UK to ensure that the children are eligible and that it is in their best interests to come.
I am pleased that my French counterpart has agreed to support minors in safe facilities in France during the weeks in which we need to carry out those important checks. It is important that on arrival in the UK the identity of those children is not compromised, and they are allowed to begin their life here with the support that they need. It is crucial that we ensure that local authorities can manage the numbers coming here. As part of our commitments under the Dubs amendment we have consulted local authorities on capacity. It is clear that there is capacity to support the children we intend to take from Calais, as well as continuing to meet our other commitments. The key now is to make sure that we get those places up and running as soon as possible. I pay tribute to the work and generosity of local authorities so far in providing both the temporary and permanent support that the children arriving require. However, as more children arrive in the coming weeks we will need to identify further places, and we will work with local authorities over the coming days to ensure that that happens.
While responsibility for Calais lies with the French Government, the juxtaposed controls are a vital part of the UK’s border security, and are a valuable economic link. That is why the UK Government will contribute up to £36 million to maintain the security of the controls, to support the camp clearance and to ensure in the long term that the camp is kept closed. The funding will also be used to help to keep children safe in France. That contribution is not made unconditionally and we will continue to work with the French Government to ensure that the clearance operation is full and lasting.
Work in Calais is important, but the situation there is a symptom of a wider migration crisis. We are clear about our moral responsibility to assist those who are suffering, including by providing support in conflict regions, development work upstream and protection to those who need it.
The French authorities face a huge challenge over the coming days and weeks to move people out of the camp in Calais, but let me be clear—neither Government is prepared to allow people to continue to live in those conditions, and neither Government is prepared to allow people smugglers to continue to profit from risking the lives of the people there. We will continue to support the French Government in the operation and we will continue with our progress in bringing those children with a right to come to the UK as quickly and safely as possible.
Clearing the camp is not just about our legal and moral obligations; it is also in our national interest. The rise in the number of people in the camp has led some in France to question the Le Touquet agreement. That agreement has helped us better protect our borders and ensured strong trade links between Britain and France. By clearing the camp, we can help to secure the future of the juxtaposed controls, as well as playing our part to help those most in need in Calais. I commend this statement to the House.
As we speak, thousands of men and women are being bussed out of Calais—one more leg in a desperate odyssey that has taken some of them half way around the world. It is worth noting that the situation in Calais represents everything that is wrong about Europe’s response to the refugee crisis. There was not enough co-operation. The French claimed that, because the migrants said they wanted to go to the UK, they were somehow not their responsibility, whereas we refused, for far too long, to go into the camp and identify those who might have a legal right to come to the UK.
The men, women and children in the Calais camp were treated by the French and the UK like pawns, but these are real people fleeing war and economic devastation, living in appalling conditions. In addition, in the absence of any proactive action by either the British or the French, those people were at the mercy of people smugglers and criminal gangs, who were in and out of the camp, as I discovered when I visited the camp in January.
It was left to charities, church groups and individual volunteers to go across and provide basic support and services in the Calais camp. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those selfless volunteers. I thank the UK staff now working in the camp in difficult and dangerous conditions and I congratulate the local authorities that are providing temporary and permanent support.
I accept that the Home Office has accelerated the processing of child refugees in recent weeks, but it has known for months that the camp was to close. More should have been done to persuade the French either to process all the children themselves, or allow us in. The truth is that we should have made it clear to the French that the camp should not be demolished until we had processed all the children.
The media are in uproar about the supposed failings in the processing, and commentators are in a lather about whether some of these children are seventeen and a half, eighteen and a half or, God forbid, nineteen and a half—as if being a year over the legal definition of childhood makes them miraculously immune to illness caused by freezing temperatures and raw sewage in front of their tent, fear caused by violence and the deadly attentions of sex traffickers. If the commentators who are now suggesting that these young people should be treated like cattle and have their teeth tested had made as much noise about the Government’s slowness in processing these child refugees in the first place, we would not be in the situation we are in. We know that the last time there was an eviction, more than 100 children went missing because that eviction began before their safety was guaranteed. If children go missing this time, the fear must be that they will disappear into the hands of people smugglers and sex traffickers. Can the Home Secretary give the estimated timings for processing the remaining 1,000 children left in the camp? Will she note that the Opposition regret that any new children arriving at the Calais camp will not be able to access family reunion and Dubs transfers?
I am glad to hear that work is being done in Greece and Italy, because Calais is not the only refugee camp. I have visited the camps in Lesbos in Greece. I have seen the traumatised men, women and children there. They had already risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean. These children will have seen others, perhaps family members or friends, perish at sea. These children should not feel that they have no option but to make their way across France and attempt the dangerous journey to the UK. Will the Home Secretary therefore say more about her plans to create similar expedited family reunion and Dubs transfers in countries such as Greece and Italy? How long does the Home Secretary estimate the Dubs and Dublin children will be held in the temporary accommodation centres in the UK before being reunited with their families or placed into the transfer scheme? Will there be funding and support for the local authorities that are stepping up to play their part in helping these traumatised child refugees?
This House knows that from 1999 to 2002 there was a migrant camp near Calais at Sangatte. More than 2,000 men, women and children were living in appalling conditions. The camp was closed with great fanfare 14 years ago, but this new encampment that the French are attempting to close had four times as many people and the conditions were even worse. The French might be closing this camp now, but there is an urgent need for more co-operation Europe-wide on migration issues and, as the Home Secretary noted, unless we deal with the underlying issues of poverty, civil war and ill-conceived foreign interventions, this will not be the last time that this House has to debate encampments of desperate people in appalling conditions in Calais.
I am glad that we are moving to help the child refugees. I think more could have been done earlier, despite the Home Secretary’s attempts to hide behind the French, but let us remember that all those people in that camp—which I have visited—are human beings. We will do what we can do for the children, but we need a more considered and Europe-wide strategy to deal with the tragedy of refugees moving across Europe.
The hon. Lady has raised some important points. I draw her attention to some of the comments that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made about the important work that the European Union is doing, some of which we are leading on, on upstream funding to ensure that the terrible tragedy of refugees moving, quite often from east and west African countries, is stopped. We do that by being one of the largest donors and by working in partnership arrangements, and I share her view that if we can stop the scale of movement, that deals with the most important element of why people come over to Europe and then make their way across France.
I do not need reminding by the hon. Lady about the scale of misery in the camp in Calais. That is why I have made it such a priority to work with my French counterpart to see the end of that camp and, I believe, the end of the misery that has taken place there. Protecting children has always been at the forefront of what we are doing.
The hon. Lady referred to the Dubs amendment and what else we are doing to take children according to Dubs, and I can tell her that we are continuing to interview to ensure that over the next three weeks—she asked particularly about the time frame—we continue to take several hundred more children in addition to the 200 we have already taken. Yes, we are continuing to work on the Dubs children who will be eligible in Greece and Italy, and we will bring some of them over soon. There is a funding arrangement with local authorities for each child who is given a place as they arrive.
The hon. Lady specifically mentioned Sangatte in 2002. She is right that the camp was closed. There were approximately 2,000 people there. At that time, the UK agreed to take half of the adults. We have not put in place such an agreement this time. Instead, we are taking some of the most vulnerable people, who will mainly be children. However, lessons have been learned from the closure of the Sangatte camp, because camps grew up swiftly afterwards, particularly the Calais camp. As she points out, this camp is several—four and possibly even five—times larger than Sangatte ever was. I refer her to my earlier comment that part of our funding commitment to the French is based on securing the camp as it is—in other words, once it has been closed. We want to make sure that we work closely with them so that no future camp is erected there.
I believe that if there is no camp for people to come to, that will stop the dreadful passage of people across France and the dreadful endeavours that people put themselves through, such as throwing themselves on to lorries and trucks, in trying to get to the UK. I believe that that will go some way to stopping them being easy prey to the traffickers, whom the hon. Lady and I both abhor.
What success have the various authorities had in arresting or stopping the people traffickers? What more can be done to do that, and how can we dissuade any adult from committing money and a child to these dreadful people?
The National Crime Agency works closely with the French border force and the UK Border Force, and we have had success in arresting traffickers. However, there is so much more that we can do, which is one of the reasons why we want to protect the Le Touquet agreement, which allows us to work together to intervene to stop the traffickers plying their trade.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, and the news that the UK Government have now brought unaccompanied children from the camp at Calais to the UK both under the Dublin regulations and under Lord Dubs’s scheme. I also welcome her confirmation that they will continue to do so.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on the fact that she has certainly got things moving in the last couple of weeks. There has been some delay in the past, but credit where credit is due—things are moving now. I thank her for keeping me informed of what she has been doing. I am very grateful to her for her acknowledgment of the contribution made to the preparations for the children by local authorities in Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
I join the Home Secretary in thanking the staff who are in the camp at the moment doing difficult work. I want to add my thanks and the thanks of the Scottish National party to all the NGOs and British and Irish volunteers who have worked in the camp during the past few years, when there were no official staff there.
A number of concerns remain. There have been reports today that the Calais police commissioner has told migrants there are not enough buses to transport them to the town, which is worrying. That points to a lack of adequate planning and preparation for the evacuation on the part of the French, which does not bode well for the vulnerable people and children in the camps, who are at serious risk of getting lost in the chaos.
May I press the Home Secretary to confirm what plans the UK and French Governments have made to ensure that unaccompanied children do not get lost in the chaos and are protected from falling prey to smugglers or going missing, as we know happened last time round? May I also press her to give estimates of the timings for processing the remaining children left in the camp?
Finally, removing the camp does not remove the need for a long-term solution to the migrant and refugee crisis. What plans does the Home Secretary have to create similar expedited family reunion and Dubs transfers from other EU countries, such as Greece and Italy, to stop children feeling forced to make the journey across Europe to try to get to the UK?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her questions. I agree that we should thank the NGOs and the volunteers, who have done great work in the camp to protect vulnerable children. They will be integral to protecting the children during the closure of the camp over the next few days and weeks, because there is sometimes a great lack of trust between Government agencies and the refugees or asylum seekers there. Their role will therefore be critical in trying to reach a resolution.
The hon. and learned Lady mentioned reports from Calais. I had not heard the particular report she raised. In this sort of environment, a lot of reports and counter-news go around. We are very clear that we try to keep everyone informed about what is going on when we are there. I respectfully point out that it is a pretty tricky situation. We are dealing with volatile people in some cases, and there is a lot of misinformation. Our staff are doing their best to make sure that everyone is kept informed.
On protecting children, I have repeatedly stated to the French that our priority is to ensure that those children are kept safe. They have agreed to transfer all the children into a secure area as the camp is cleared. Once the children are in that secure area we should be able to expedite our interviewing process and make sure that we can keep track of the children whom we would like to transfer to the UK; frankly, over the past few days, having agreed to transfer children, it has then sometimes been difficult to find them on the day to make sure that they get on the buses. I hope that, with the children held securely in that area of the camp, that situation will improve.
On other Dubs transfers, we have learned a lot and I hope we can speed up in other areas of the world, such as Italy and Greece.
Those relatively few Members of the House who have in the past accommodated young asylum seekers in their own homes are in a position to confirm to my right hon. Friend that that cannot be undertaken lightly and proper preparation needs to be made. If this humanitarian exercise is not to end in tears it is vital that the Home Secretary sticks to her guns. Will she reassure the House that before any child is admitted, every receiving family will be properly screened, and that, in the interests of national security, every young adult admitted to the United Kingdom will be screened before they are allowed to come into the country?
I know that my hon. Friend has housed asylum seekers in the past, and I value his experience in this area. I reassure him that we will always make the correct safeguarding checks and will always make sure that the families are prepared. We will not take any risks, either in terms of national security or on behalf of the children who are moving here.
I also welcome the progress that the Home Secretary has made since her last statement, and her commitment to take several hundred more child refugees. I join the tributes to all those, including charities and local councils, who are making it possible for Britain to do what it has always done and help those who are most vulnerable. She will know my concern that this has started so late, and that there are therefore risks of trafficking and of those left in the camp disappearing. Will she confirm that up to 1,000 children and teenagers are expected to stay in container camps overnight tonight and that Help Refugees has warned that it is concerned that there will be no youth workers or social workers staying with those children? Will she urgently make representations to the French Government to make sure that there is enough support to keep those children safe and in particular that there are additional arrangements for the girls and young women in the camp tonight?
The right hon. Lady has done much to raise this issue so often in the House, and is right to do so. I can tell her that the plan is—this is what the French have said they will do—to maintain the 1,000-plus children and minors in the secure area of the camp. As I said earlier, we think this will help us in expediting the process of bringing some of them over here in the next few weeks. We expect there to be a three-week period, but we will be moving straightaway, although no children are moving today. I have not followed up with the French on the support offered to the children there, but I will make sure that I do.
Order. I imagine colleagues will want to congratulate the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on her election as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
One of the classic routes of trafficking is to bring teenage children—young girls, in particular—into the country and put them into local government care; then, within weeks, they are disappeared back into trafficking. Will the Home Secretary assure us that on this occasion every single child admitted to this country will be monitored? May we have a written statement each month to confirm that those children are still being looked after and have not been retrafficked?
My hon. Friend raises such an important point. I know he has done a lot of work in this area. He is absolutely right that there is always a risk to accepting these young women, but it is because they are at risk that we have been so keen to prioritise them. That is why, to protect them from the sort of dangers he sets out, of the nearly 200 people we have taken over the past weekend, nearly a third have been young women. I can reassure him that we will be making constant safeguarding checks. I will write to him more fully to set out exactly what we are doing.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and advance sight of it, and for her work in recent days in trying to expedite the response to this crisis. However, we should step up to the mark and challenge the suggestion that human trafficking is the cause and the source of the crisis. Human traffickers are wicked people who exploit a crisis that is global and European.
Specific to Calais, many of the vulnerable children being brought to the UK will have family somewhere, even if they are currently separated. I understand that the United Kingdom is the only European Union country that does not allow unaccompanied children with refugee status the right to sponsor immediate family, including parents, to join them. Given the importance of keeping families together, will the Home Secretary ensure that unaccompanied refugee children are able to sponsor their parents, for the purpose of refugee family reunion, if and when they are found?
The hon. Gentleman is right that traffickers are a part of the problem, not the whole problem. He and I know, as the whole House does, that there are many reasons why this takes place. It starts with the upstream problem that we are trying to address, supporting African countries where a lot of these refugees are coming from, with other countries internationally. On our immigration policy on asylum, there are no plans to change it.
I would like to add my thanks to the Home Secretary for her statement. In working to transfer eligible children from Calais to the UK, will she confirm that this is being done through a proper process with the agreement of the French, and that all the children coming over will undergo appropriate security checks?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are initially making proper checks on every individual—every child or minor—who is brought across. We have to ensure that there is safeguarding and the interest of the child is served first before bringing them over to the UK. Those checks are always being done.
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on her election as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee? She will do an excellent job.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the primary responsibility for the disturbing scenes we are seeing lies with the French Government? This is happening in France. I do not believe that we in this country would have allowed the development of the camp in this way. We want this to end as quickly as possible. My concern, while welcoming her strong commitments on child protection, is that the problem will be displaced to the Hook of Holland and to Denmark. There is already evidence that the people traffickers are moving away from Calais and into other areas. Can she assure the House that our small ports and airports will receive the security back-up they need to protect them from this activity?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that this is taking place in France and is largely a problem for the French to address. It is, however, in the UK’s interests that it is addressed, that the camp is dealt with in this way, that Le Touquet is maintained and that we play an active role. He is also right to point out the danger of displacement. We are alive to that. We are talking with our French counterparts, and with intelligence services, border forces and police forces, to make sure that we keep an eye on where that might happen. We will of course support our ports to address that.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and her Department on the fact that 800 interviews have taken place so swiftly, in difficult circumstances. What is being done to prioritise the most vulnerable children?
My hon. Friend is right that we are committed to prioritising the most vulnerable, which means the youngest and minors at risk of sexual exploitation. We will always make sure that we do that. We are putting them at the front of the queue in terms of interviewing. Frankly, these are the ones who are most likely to qualify under the Dubs amendment, where it becomes clear that they are better served by being in the UK.
I associate myself with the comments of the new Home Affairs Committee Chair about the progress being made. I want to pick up what the Home Secretary said about the reports from the camp today and the chaos that we are seeing there as it is being closed. I have details with me of 49 children under the age of 13 who the voluntary agencies say could not register at the warehouse today. I would be happy to share those details directly with the Home Secretary and her officials. Will she give me a personal assurance that she will investigate the fate of those 49, including three who are under the age of 11? Will she give an assurance that any child brought here under this legal process will not be put in a detention centre here in the UK?
I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady talk about a detention centre. We are making sure that all the children who come over here are looked after in a way that we, as a proud and compassionate nation, can rightly call the best way. If she has any additional information, she is welcome to send it to me or to hand it to the Minister for Immigration at the end of this statement. We have 36 staff on the ground who have gone over during the past few weeks specifically to do this. They are engaged with the NGOs as well. There is no “them and us” feeling in the camp. We all have the same aims, and I would ask her to bear that in mind. We want to get the youngest children and the most vulnerable out. There is nothing but good will and good intent on this side to make sure that we can achieve that.
I thank the Home Secretary for her comprehensive statement. It will not have gone unnoticed from media reports that a number of the children coming into the UK appear to be mature young men. Can she confirm how many people the Home Office has rejected on the grounds of age?
My hon. Friend is right that there have been reports about some of the children turning out to be older than 17. We do checks as thoroughly as we can—highly professional checks—on the ground in an environment that is incredibly challenging. I ask my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to bear with us while we try to deliver the best for the young people who need, sometimes in the interest of safety, to come to the UK. But no one should be in any doubt: we take all assessments very seriously, and we will continue to make sure that we prioritise the most vulnerable, which will always be the youngest.
I listened carefully to the Home Secretary and I am grateful for her comments about frustrating the misdeeds of the criminal gangs that prey on the most vulnerable. Le Touquet and displacement in Belgium or Denmark have been mentioned. Are we not dealing with the consequences of those people’s actions rather than frustrating them in the first place? Rather than talk about Europol or the relations between this country and France, will the Home Secretary tell us what work has gone on with Interpol outside or across the Mediterranean to stop people sending folk here in the first place rather than dealing with the consequences of their misdeeds?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. More work needs to be done upstream to stop people coming here in the first place, to stop these dreadful scenes where we see people arriving and not being able to get over to the UK, and to stop the dreadful scenes of people drowning in the Mediterranean as well. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred earlier to our work with the UN under UN Security Council mandate. We are working under Operation Sophia, with HMS Enterprise in place at the moment. That makes sure that we do our bit—play our leading role—in trying to stop the dreadful smuggling of people across from Libya.
I commend the Home Secretary for her statement. Notwithstanding the obduracy of the French, the situation is not being improved by the catastrophic decision of the German Government last year to disregard the Dublin protocol in respect of processing refugees. That said, I believe that the decision to close the camp is absolutely right, because it will save lives by stymying the evil work of people traffickers. Specifically, children aside, what efforts is the Home Office making to assist the 10% of the camp who are vulnerable women?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. He is absolutely right: the ending of that camp is in the interests of everyone in this country as well as in France. We believe that, as he said, only 10% of those in the camp are women, and we are prioritising them because they are the most likely people to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Currently, about a third of our intake are women, which is a positive result by comparison with the 10% figure.
I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary send a clear message about the recent media practice of photographing migrants who are coming into this country through Calais, whether they are children or young adults. Will she send that message and loud and clear, emphasising that this is reckless behaviour that puts people at risk? Will she also deplore the current media practice that appears to be identifying temporary reception centres for people coming from Calais, thus raising both security and safeguarding risks? Will she please urge caution and care in the reporting of these affairs?
The hon. Lady is quite right. It is essential that we maintain, as far as possible, the anonymity of the young people who are coming over here. One reason for that, which was pointed out to me, is that it is claimed by smugglers and traffickers that some of those young people—particularly the young women—owe them money, and if they see the pictures, they may come after them. We must keep them safe by keeping their faces discreet and their locations secret.
When I raised the question of returns with President Ghani in May, he told me bluntly that his priority was his people who were taking the fight to the Taliban, and that only after considering them could he turn to the needs of those who had given up on his country and gone away. They were hard words, but will my right hon. Friend reflect on them when she attaches priority to the most vulnerable and the most deserving?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that returns are an important part of a strong immigration policy. We are constantly working with other countries to ensure that consent can be established, and demonstrating that that is in their interest as well as ours.
Much of what the Home Secretary has said is very welcome, but what has she instructed her officials to do if an unaccompanied English-speaking 12-year-old girl appears in Calais next week, a child whose best interests are clearly served by being resettled in the United Kingdom? In such circumstances, will her officials be permitted to be flexible with the cut-off date?
I would expect the girl, in all likelihood, to claim asylum in France, but of course I hope that that event never comes to pass.
I welcome the news that the French are closing the camp now, given that many months ago, in the Home Affairs Committee, we challenged the Calais mayor and other French officials to deliver comprehensive plans to clear it. No doubt my right hon. Friend will confirm that it is not possible for the British Government to do anything in Calais without French agreement, but I hope she will accept that we can take the lead in tackling the people traffickers. Can she tell me how many criminal gangs have been stopped thanks to the hard work of the UK security forces?
My hon. Friend is right. We have been urging the French to take action for a while, and we have been working closely with them, but only in the past few weeks and days have we been able to really engage with them, and conduct interviews in a way that is quick and effective and has yielded results. My hon. Friend is also right in suggesting that that allows us to make more progress in arresting criminal gangs.
In one of her earlier answers, the Home Secretary gave assurances about the importance of the safety of children. She said that the tracking of those children was paramount, whether the Dublin or the Dubs process was involved. I have learned of worrying allegations that the Home Office was aware that a number of children had gone missing. Will the Home Secretary commit herself to investigating the cases of those whom the Home Office had expected to take on, but who are now missing? Will she also commit herself to investigating and tracking down what has happened to those young people, particularly if their safety has been put at risk?
The hon. Gentleman is welcome to send me any information that he has. However, over the past few days there have been cases in which we have expected children to be available to board the bus to come to the UK, and sometimes non-governmental organisations themselves have been surprised not to have been able to find them. The position is not quite as straightforward as we wish it were; but I hope that, following the changes in the camp whereby all the children will be in one secure area, it will be more straightforward, when we have made a commitment to bring a child here, for us to do so without its being impossible to find them on the day.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Will she tell us how much money the Government have invested in reinforcing the border at Calais?
The total package is £36 million, of which approximately £14 million is for security. The existence of security in Calais is very much in the UK’s interest. We need to ensure that we can protect tourists and enable truckers to maintain their economy and go about their normal business, which I hope will be much improved after the camp has been cleared.
Can the Home Secretary reassure us that local authorities will be adequately funded, and will she tell us exactly who will fund them and provide compensation? More importantly, will she reassure us that adequate accommodation will be provided for the children, and that they will not be institutionalised?
As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Dubs amendment can be implemented only if local authorities come forward and volunteer to take the children. We are fortunate in that enough local authorities have offered places, but we shall need more over the next few weeks, so if any Members wish to urge their local authorities to volunteer, they are most welcome to do so. Authorities are aware of the costs and the rate that the Government pay, and I hope they will consider the compensation adequate and volunteer to take the children.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the robustness of the process of checking that children are eligible to be relocated to the United Kingdom, because there are legitimate concerns about that. One of the reception centres is in West Sussex. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the county council—which is the social care authority—will be given support, given that there are already pressures on its budget, to ensure that the process will be beneficial to the children without being detrimental to others in West Sussex?
We are always grateful for the generous way in which local authorities come forward, and for their positive response to our call for their support. I particularly thank West Sussex County Council for the good work that it has been doing, notably in hosting one of the dispersal centres. We will of course work closely with the council to ensure that that good relationship continues.
I have listened carefully to the Home Secretary’s statement and the answers that she has given to a number of very serious questions about safeguarding. A social worker contacted me this week to say that for the children who have started to enter Britain, it has been a “bureaucratic shambles”: those are her words, not mine. She says that the social services have been given wrong addresses, wrong family contacts, and no forms or pro formas. How will the Home Secretary and her Department, as a matter of urgency, ensure that the correct provisions are in place to help social services throughout the country to ensure that once children are here, they do not fall through the cracks?
We do not always have all the information that we need. One of the reasons why the full cohort of nearly 200 “Dublin” children has not yet been brought over is that we have not been able to establish where their close family members are. It is possible—this is an issue to which the hon. Lady has particularly drawn attention—that the close family members who have been claimed, and have been contacted before the children have been brought over, are no longer quite as contactable once the local authority is trying to address the situation. As I have said to other Members, this can be a complicated process, and it is not always straightforward to follow up the contacts that we have been given. However, if the hon. Lady wants to send me a particular example, I will of course look at it.
I thank the Home Secretary for her close attention to and compassion towards child refugees in Calais, and for her talk of a humanitarian operation. When I was there in February witnessing the partial demolition, it was far from humanitarian. Can the Home Secretary confirm again that the camp shelter will be sufficient to accommodate all child refugees if the French authorities do not accept the French Red Cross offer of a child centre? Will she truly be able to ensure that children who are dispersed across child accommodation centres across France will be accommodated, particularly those in respect of whom we have a legal duty under Dubs and Dublin?
The only reassurance that I can give my hon. Friend is the reassurance that I have been given by the French. We have particularly asked them to ensure that the children are kept in a secure area, and our request was that it should be, potentially, outside the camp. They chose to keep the children inside the camp, reassuring us that they could keep them secure there. We are in close contact: we now have a large number of Home Office representatives in the camp, as well as the hundreds of Border Force staff who are in the area. We are hopeful that we will be able to work closely with them to keep the children safe. Ultimately, however, this is a French responsibility, although we are giving the French all the support that we can.
I very much welcome what the Home Secretary has said today about children, but we should remind ourselves that it is not only children who require international protection. When I visited Calais with colleagues at Easter, we met Afghans who had interpreted for members of our armed forces and Kurds who had previously been granted asylum in the United Kingdom before returning home, who had had to flee for a second time and ended up at Calais. Will the Home Office look at cases such as theirs when considering who it is appropriate for the UK to take responsibility for?
In this case, while the camps are being demolished, we have made a commitment to take the most vulnerable children, and within that cohort of children, the ones who are youngest and those who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. On the question of other people who might be vulnerable, there might be one or two who qualify under the Dublin amendment, but otherwise people will need to apply for asylum in the normal way in France. We must stick to the generally accepted principle, which the UK supports, of applying for asylum in the first country of safety.
A number of my constituents have got in touch with me to express their compassion for those in the Jungle camp, but a number are also worried about the age of those who we are being seen to take. Can the Home Secretary tell us a little more about the numbers that we are rejecting on the grounds of age, and also about the comprehensive security package relating to those we take in the first place?
I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that the best way to assess age is by using experienced social workers. That is what we are doing in order to assess people’s age on the ground. Most of the young people we are talking to—children, minors, whatever we care to call them—are teenagers. We are prioritising those under 12, but most of them are teenagers and most are young boys. I still think that this is the right thing to do, and I ask my hon. Friend to reassure his constituents that we will always do the proper safeguarding checks to ensure that people are indeed who they say they are.
I commend the Home Secretary and her staff for the efforts they are making to accelerate the process of bringing unaccompanied minors, in particular, to this country. May I just press her on the challenges that local authorities are facing? My understanding is that local authorities that do not have sufficient foster places of their own are all calling the same limited number of independent agencies. Does she see a more central role for the Government in co-ordinating the availability of places in the independent sector?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and if that were the case, it would not be a successful outcome. Our information is that a lot of the local authorities are choosing to work together, and we have a lot of examples of good practice in which four or five local authorities are getting together to make a joint offer rather than competing with each other.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Prior to my election to this place, I regularly defended the Home Office in immigration and asylum cases. It is widely accepted by many judges and practitioners that age assessment of undocumented children is notoriously difficult and not an exact science. Indeed, the rise in the number of cases in the administrative court reflects that fact. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that dental checks are not an appropriate method of age assessment? Does she agree that considerable guidance exists in case law and as a result of the practices of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Hillingdon, which have now been adopted throughout the country, which suggests that listening to a child’s history, observing their behaviour and hearing their live evidence are much better indicators than physical maturity?
I know that my hon. Friend has substantial experience in this field, having acted as an immigration lawyer before coming into Parliament. She is absolutely right to say that the best way to assess age is to use experienced assessors, and we will continue to do that. The British Dental Association has said that dental checks are not the way to go, because they are ineffective and unreliable. The best way is to use the type of assessment that we are using, which is based on experience.
Would it not be in the best interests of the asylum seekers and local authorities if the asylum seekers, especially the children, were located more evenly throughout the country? My local authority copes with 500 each year, yet the constituencies of the present Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer take none at all. My local authority is doing very well, but there are inevitably strains on local services, including the schools and the health service. The new asylum seekers will be especially vulnerable, and many will have lifelong health problems, so will the Home Secretary ensure that the money given to local authorities is adequate for the long years for which it will be required?
The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that there is a national transfer scheme to ensure that unaccompanied children are fairly shared around the country. We are urging local authorities to step up, and we are getting a very strong response. This has gone to the heart of people in this country and of local authorities, who want to participate and help, and who believe in this as an endeavour to try to address the problem. However, we will always need more, and I again urge any Members of Parliament who think that their local authority could help to please urge it to step forward and do so.
I know that the situation is fluid and fast moving, and the Home Secretary has said that her officials have been hard at work in the past week. She says that they have conducted 800 interviews and that 200 children have been admitted to the UK. First, how far through the process are we, and how many more applications does she expect her staff to process? Secondly, is that ratio of one acceptance for every four applications a ratio that we are likely to see continue? [Interruption.]
Somebody is chuntering about the fact that the hon. Gentleman has had two questions, but I have to say, in fairness to him, that it takes him less time to ask two questions than it takes a lot of people to ask one.
I have to say to my hon. Friend that that is not quite how it is working out. The 200 are largely made up of the Dublin regulation children, which means that they have a strong family tie in the UK. About a quarter of them are Dubs children. The balance of the additional children we will take will also be Dubs children. Not all of the 800 who have been interviewed will be coming to the UK; we are just processing their claims. There will be another 200 to 300 to interview, and we hope to reach a figure of a few hundred more over the next two to three weeks while the camp is being cleared. We will then have fulfilled our commitment to the French, which we hope will involve approximately half the children who were there.