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Refugees: Age Identification

Volume 616: debated on Monday 31 October 2016

11. What steps she has taken to ensure that young adult refugees are not entering the UK as children; and what checks she plans to put in place to improve age identification of such refugees. (906887)

Where clear and credible documentary evidence of age is not available, criteria including physical appearance and demeanour are used as part of the interview process to assess whether a person is under 18. That can be followed, where necessary, by a local authority assessment in line with case law and approved by two social workers.

Does the Minister agree that this country has always been very compassionate and understanding towards children fleeing persecution? Does he also agree, however, that every young adult over 18 whom we admit means one fewer child in desperate need being allowed in, and that we could extend checks to social media and university records, for example, to ensure that our generosity is not abused?

Or that my generosity is not abused by a Member asking two questions, rather than one. It seems a bit rum.

It is essential that a safe, lawful and efficient process to transfer eligible children is in place, but we must also ensure that the right safeguarding and security checks are carried out. Our focus remains to ensure that the minors who are eligible to come here arrive safely. This must be done through a proper process, with the agreement of the French in the case of the Calais children. The French have agreed to support the children in safe places in France while we carry out essential checks.

The charities working with the children in Calais are reporting, first, that the UK assessment and transfer process has paused and, secondly, that there are 1,500 children and teenagers being held in the container camp, without proper water or food and without enough adults, social workers or youth workers to look after them and to prevent tensions and violence from rising. Will the Minister look into this urgently and make sure that the UK transfer system is restarted very quickly, and that the French urgently provide proper protection and support for these very vulnerable young people?

I echo the points that the right hon. Lady makes. These are exactly the representations that I have received from many NGOs which are working very hard to assist us, and our own people are on the ground to ensure that that is done. It is very important indeed that, as we continue to process those children who are eligible to come here, that is done safely, and the French are determined to help us with that.

On the subject of refugees, may we focus on the real issue of the safety of children? As children are being transferred from the containers to specialist centres across France, can the Minister confirm that Dubs and Dublin children have all been identified, that they will be transferred as soon as possible to the UK, and that they will be kept safe under the close supervision of NGOs and Home Office officials?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we are working hard to identify children who would qualify under Dubs and Dublin. It is very important indeed that we ensure that the most vulnerable, particularly the children under 13 and those who may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation, are prioritised under the Dubs amendment procedure.

Bashir Naderi, who is 19, was trafficked to the UK at the age of 10 from Afghanistan after his father was murdered by the Taliban. I understand that this afternoon he was on his way to Gatwick to be removed from the country but that that has now been stopped. Will the Home Secretary accept my plea and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), whose constituent Bashir is, to intervene urgently to stop this removal?

Although it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual cases, I am aware of this case. It is on my desk at present.

I thank the Home Secretary and the Minister for their dedication to the issue in recent weeks. I understand that children are now being moved from the containers to resettlement camps around France. When might we see all the Dublin and Dubs children being extracted from there and brought here?

We are assisting with that transfer process, and once those children are in a place of safety away from the people traffickers who would seek to exploit them, we will be able to carry out that work in a more methodical way. We hope to have the process completed within weeks.

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), we know that there are currently 30 young girls, some as young as under 12, in the container camp in Calais. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office staff left the site on Saturday? If so, when will they go back and restart the rescue of those children and their transfer to the UK?

We must remember at all times that the camp is in France. We must work closely with our colleagues in the French authorities to ensure that children are removed from the container camp and taken to a place of safety where they can be processed in a more orderly way.

Although the House is raising so many genuinely felt concerns about the children in Calais, may I remind the Minister that by far and away the largest crisis involving children in the world at present is that in and around Syria?

Which is precisely why the Government are determined to relocate 20,000 of the most vulnerable people from the camps in Syria and 3,000 vulnerable children from the region, which removes the pull factor that, of course, has meant that so many people have taken that hazardous journey across the Mediterranean or the Aegean.

Instead of treating refugees as if they were broken-mouthed ewes, surely we should be working with the authorities and the Government in France to ensure that we never again see the shambolic and shameful treatment that we saw last week.

I reassure the Minister that the Opposition do know that the camp is in France, but we are weary of French and British officials trying to pass the buck, even at this late stage, when desperate children’s lives are at stake. We know that there are more than 1,000 young people in the container compound at Calais without proper supervision and the help that they need. The Minister says that the assessment and transfer process has paused. Can he share with the House when it will begin again?

The transfer process has been paused at the request of the French so that the relocation can take place and the children are not in the container camp, which so many people are critical of. We continue to work closely with our French colleagues to actually resolve this situation.