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Calais: Refugee Children

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will address the position of the refugee children in the Calais camps who are eligible to come to Britain.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a trustee of a charity that works in the Calais camp, among other places.

My Lords, we are already working closely with the French to help to identify and transfer children who are eligible and are about to second another UK expert to France to support that work. Over 70 children have been accepted already this year and more arrive almost every week. Transfer requests are now generally processed within 10 days, and children are transferred within weeks.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, and I read carefully her reply to my noble friend yesterday. However, as she said, some 70 children have been accepted this year, which is about two a week, and yesterday she asserted that her department is working very quickly. Is she satisfied that that is quick enough? Given that the French intend to dismantle the camp by Christmas and that at least 370 children are eligible, that should be more like 20 a week. Further, does she realise that young people seeing the camp dismantled will take greater and greater risks in trying to get on to vehicles coming to the UK? Can the Minister assure the House that her department will be able to up the capacity to at least nearer 20 a week?

My Lords, on the question of whether we are doing things quickly enough, in an ideal world we would move all the children tomorrow. However, we cannot just take a child out of a country—I tried to make that clear yesterday and I make it clear today. Following due process is in the best interests of any child whom we are concerned about. We have to take account of the laws of the country in question—that is, France. When the child is in France, he or she is under its jurisdiction. We are working very closely with that country to make sure that children are transferred as quickly as possible. The welfare of the child is utmost.

My Lords, first, will the Minister confirm that under the terms of the Immigration Act not a single child has yet reached this country? The ones who have arrived have relatives here and have come under Dublin III. Secondly, will she comment on the news this morning that the Government are apparently advocating the building of a wall in Calais, for reasons which nobody can understand? Is that true and, if so, why?

My Lords, I do not have the exact figures since the introduction of the Immigration Act but I would certainly like to provide them to the noble Lord. He is an absolute expert in this area, so I am very reluctant to contradict him. It is the case that 120 children have come from France under the Dublin regulations. In the whole of last year, the figure was only 20. However, I will confirm that for the noble Lord in writing.

I know that the wall has received press attention. The measure is intended to further protect the rocade from migrant attempts to disrupt, delay or even attack vehicles approaching the port. I hope that that provides the clarification that the noble Lord seeks.

My Lords, when these unfortunate children come to this country and are given refuge, will they subsequently be joined by their parents, grandparents and wider family, or will we have some system for keeping their parents out? It seems to me that a very large number of people could be involved.

Certainly the children who are being prioritised have family in the UK. I do not think that I can give a blanket response on whether they will be joined by their parents or other relatives, other than to say that cases will be considered on a family-by-family basis.

My Lords, what financial and other support is being provided to the local authorities that receive these children? I declare an interest as patron of a charity working with these children in Calais and in other camps across Europe. Many of these children are profoundly traumatised and will need expert care and help for some time so that they can settle with their families. What help are they receiving and who is paying for it?

The noble Baroness makes a very valid point in saying that the children who arrive in this country will be the most traumatised children that we can imagine. The local authorities which are very kindly receiving them will be fully funded. I expect—and I am sure noble Lords will agree—that these children will need support beyond what is usually required.

My Lords, will the Minister accompany me on a day trip to Calais, because the remark she made yesterday about there being 130 reception centres available to people in the camp if only they would take them up is way off the mark? The fact is that the reception centres are full and, therefore, only two buses a week come to the camp. People queue all night to get on those buses, and women and children find that very dangerous. Will the Government accept the sad fact that people are desperate to leave the camp but cannot?

As to whether I will go with the noble Baroness to Calais, I think that I might have to consult the department first. However, if it is allowable, I will certainly accompany her. I fully expect that the information I have been given on the number of reception centres is correct but I will double-check that and, if it is any different, I will let her know. There is some accommodation specifically for women and children at the Jules ferry centre and heated containers have been provided for up to 1,500 people. I also understand that alternative accommodation has been taken up by 5,000 people. However, I will look into the specific points that the noble Baroness makes about people not being able to get on to buses and having to queue at night.

Will my noble friend tell the House whether there is concern that of pupils entering schools at the moment, 16% have English as a second language compared with only 6% a year ago?