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Calais Camp: Lone Children

Volume 774: debated on Monday 10 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many lone children in Calais with family links in the United Kingdom have been allowed into the United Kingdom in the past 12 months.

My Lords, under the Dublin regulation more than 80 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been accepted for transfer from France into the UK this year, most of whom have arrived in the UK. More arrive each week and we continue to work closely with France to consider and implement transfers.

That is a very disappointing figure. Does the Minister not recognise that what was an urgent issue is now a child protection crisis? According to the Red Cross, which contributed a report over the weekend, it is taking up to 11 months to process a single child to come to this country. With hundreds of children who have family links and legal rights to come here, why is it taking so long and why has the will of this House—the Dubs amendment was passed on 9 May with support from all sides of this House—not been properly implemented? Even the Daily Mail is championing this cause; why are the Government not?

My Lords, the Government are working very closely with the French Government to ensure that transfers are as speedy as possible. In fact, the Home Secretary is meeting today with Bernard Cazeneuve. In terms of children who meet the criteria under the Immigration Act, 50 of them have been accepted for transfer and 30 have arrived. We now have a dedicated team in the Home Office Dublin unit and we are working with the UNHCR, UNICEF and NGOs, together with Italy and Greece as well as France, to speed up the process.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the majority of the children under Dublin III have been identified not by Home Office officials but by British NGOs? Is it not a sad comment that we have to keep on, as it were, complaining to the Government that nothing is happening when they gave an undertaking that they would accept the letter and spirit of the amendment? They are neither doing that nor dealing with children who have long had a right to be here.

My Lords, I slightly dispute that. We are all working together in the best interests of these children to transfer those who meet the criteria under the Immigration Act as quickly as possible. That process has speeded up in recent weeks and we hope to speed it up further still.

My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s welcome reminder last week of the good that government can do, does the Minister not agree that at the top of the list for doing good should be traumatised children in Calais who are young and unaccompanied, who often have family already in the UK and who are increasingly endangered by criminal gangs as the demolition of the Calais camp draws near?

I totally agree with the right reverend Prelate; children are at the top of our agenda. It is not just the Prime Minister who thinks that; I think that we all agree that children, especially vulnerable children, are our top priority. That is why we are working together, by putting additional funding into this, speeding up the process and engaging with officials in the French Government on a daily basis.

My Lords, we are told that the French authorities are proposing to close the Calais Jungle camp some time in the next month or two, so the question of the children is extremely urgent. I fail to understand what is holding it up now. If there is a dedicated team and everybody else, who on earth is not pulling their finger out?

The noble and learned Baroness asks a very pertinent question. As we have heard, the camp closure will begin soon. We have put in place various processes—as I have just said, we are speeding up transfers. We are working with NGOs and others to make sure that the process is speeded up. No unaccompanied child—or any other child—should be in the Calais camp. That is why we are redoubling our efforts, together with the French, to get those children to safety.

While not wishing to dispute what my noble friend has just said in answer to another good friend on the Cross Benches, there is a need for the Home Office and other departments to put more staff on to this and not to leave it until there are complaints from Members of this House or another place, or from NGOs. I can envisage just how difficult this is, but you need the numbers to work through the papers as fast as possible—and I say that with a little experience.

I pay tribute to my noble friend’s experience; she has an awful lot in this area. We are putting more staff capacity into this. We are seconding a second asylum expert to France and we now have a dedicated team in the Home Office Dublin unit.

My Lords, I register my interest as patron of Help Refugees, an organisation working on the ground in Calais with these children. There is a dispute about the number of children who have arrived in this country. There is urgency about processing their cases before the Calais camp is closed. Last time, when part of the camp was destroyed, 129 children disappeared. Will the Minister undertake to provide the House with a list, with identities suitably concealed, of children who have been given entry to this country and placed under Dublin III, as opposed to those children whose cases are being processed under the Dubs amendment—the Dubs children, in honour of my noble friend?

My Lords, as I said earlier, since the beginning of 2016, 140 children have been accepted for transfer, 80 of whom are from France. Since the Immigration Act, I understand that 50 children have been accepted for transfer, 35 of whom have arrived. I will double-check that the figures are correct, as the noble Baroness seems to think they may not be, but, as I understand it, the figures are correct to date.