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Calais Camps: Unaccompanied Minors

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the planned demolition of the refugee camps in Calais by 31 October, what steps they are taking to ensure that all unaccompanied minors are registered and considered for settlement in the United Kingdom before that date.

No date for completing the demolition of the camps has been specified. However, Home Office teams have been deployed to France to speed up the identification process. We will transfer as many as possible of the children who qualify under the Dublin regulations before the start of the clearance, and in the coming weeks we will start to transfer other unaccompanied refugee children under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure we all welcome the 14 children who were received here two or three days ago, but I am told that that currently leaves 1,020 unaccompanied children in Calais. Fourteen have come here, so there are only 1,006 left to accommodate. Is there a plan to ensure that every one of those 1,006 will be registered and given the opportunity to apply to enter the UK under the Dubs amendment? With the coming winter, surely we cannot leave any children open to exploitation, hunger and homelessness when we have the opportunity to fulfil their needs.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1,300 children in the camps in Calais and that about a third of that number may be eligible to come here under either Dubs or Dublin. As I have said to the House on previous occasions, since the beginning of the year 140 children have qualified under the Dublin regulations and most of them have been transferred. In addition, this week 14 children were transferred on Monday, 13 on Tuesday and 12 today, so the actual number is estimated to be around three times the number that the noble Lord has stated. However, whether under Dubs or Dublin, we are absolutely determined to get those children here. The noble Lord will know—because I have stated it previously—that the Home Secretary regularly presses for those children, first, to be brought here and, secondly, if they are not here, to be put in places of safety before the camp is cleared.

My Lords, a lot of dissatisfaction has been expressed in the paper today with people saying that these are adults rather than children. The paper went on to say that the best way of identifying age is through a dental examination, as wisdom teeth are highly significant, and that is why I am asking this question. It also said that a dental examination could not be done without parental consent, although of course various X-rays can be done without even opening a child’s mouth. There is something very strange about that. I wonder why it has not been possible to come to an agreement whereby, if you want to come in, you are obliged to give consent to be checked regarding your age.

My Lords, I confess to being 49 years of age and still not having wisdom teeth, but that probably says something about me. We are working very closely with the French authorities and their partner agencies to ensure that all those who come to the UK from the camps are eligible under the Dublin regulations. All individuals referred to the UK authorities by the FTDA are interviewed by French and UK officials and, where credible and clear documentary evidence of age is not available, criteria including physical appearance and demeanour are used as part of the interview process to assess age. That is the process in France and I want noble Lords to be quite clear that we are bound by the French system of assessing age in France. When those children come to the UK, we do not use dental X-rays to confirm the ages of those seeking asylum. The British Dental Association is vigorously opposed to them and has described them as inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical.

Will the Minister assure the House that no minors are being treated illiberally or will be in the future?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to ask that. We are primarily seeking to ensure that no minor is made more vulnerable in France, and that when they come here they are properly looked after in accordance with the safeguarding laws in this country, which are very stringent. That is exactly what we seek to do.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that there is only one British official permanently in Calais for liaison with the French authorities, and only one official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Surely that is inadequate, and surely the need for competent interpreters must be properly addressed. Does the Minister agree?

What I can agree is that the number of officials in France is changing in accordance with the numbers needed in various roles. We have a permanent dedicated Dublin unit in the Home Office. In addition, on Monday, we sent nine officials to France to assist. I repeat again: we are guided by the French and by French law; we cannot do any more than that. We would not seek to usurp French law in trying to make the situation better for those children who we seek to help.

May I do something that I do not think I have ever done before and welcome what the Government have said today? It is good news that child refugees are coming to Britain. I wish that we had had these statements several months ago, but it is happening now. I simply ask the Minister to assure us that all pressure is being brought to bear on the French Government, because I understand that they have a part to play in assessing the other children who come under the Immigration Act.

I thank the noble Lord for his words and for the time that we spend regularly now speaking to each other about the situation in Calais and elsewhere in Europe. Not only is every pressure being brought to bear, but we are trying very hard to work with the French and not against French law.