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Brexit: Child Refugees

Volume 788: debated on Monday 8 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what new arrangements they propose to introduce to support child refugees following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the UK has a proud history of providing international protection for those who need it, including child refugees. The UK resettles more refugees than any other EU member state. Our commitment to supporting refugees will not change when we leave the EU. In addition to our comprehensive national asylum framework, we expect co-operation with our European partners to continue. The exact nature of our co-operation will be a matter for negotiation.

I thank the Minister for those comments. She will remember the day when this Government opposed the admission of 3,000 refugee children into the United Kingdom and the whole situation then. I have received letters from 254 refugee organisations saying how sad they were about that. Are the Government intent on pursuing—if it happens—our distancing from the European Union, which will of course mean the end of the Dublin III agreement? What do they have in mind to replace that agreement, which has given hope to so many vulnerable people?

My Lords, as I outlined in my first Answer, our commitment to supporting refugees will not change when we leave the EU. The noble Lord has referred to 3,000 children. I do not know if he said he was happy or sad about that, but of course we are committed to resettling 3,000 vulnerable children under the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme, and, in addition, some 20,000 UNHCR-recognised refugees by 2020, 9,000 of whom have already arrived.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that several hundred unaccompanied child refugees are in the Calais area at the moment, along with perhaps a couple of thousand on the islands in Greece, many of them sleeping rough without any accommodation? Will she also confirm that we still have an obligation under the Dublin treaty and under Section 67 of the Immigration Act to take action? Surely what is holding things up is a lack of political will on the part of the Government.

I cannot confirm how many hundreds of unaccompanied children are in Calais, but what I can absolutely confirm is that this country, upon request, will take children referred to us, and we continue to work to do that. It is not lack of will on the part of the Government. As I have said, since 2010 around 42,000 children have been given some sort of leave to come to this country.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government have taken to prevent some of these very vulnerable children going missing once they are in this country?

I think that the noble Lord was pleased when we set out our safeguarding strategy for such children in this country because we have an absolute obligation not just to get them across here, but of course then to look after them when they are here. I am very pleased that the safeguarding strategy is up and running and is being implemented.

Can the Minister confirm that any new provision will be at least as generous as under the Dublin III regulations and that there will be even wider scope for child refugees to join not only parents in the UK but also other relatives such as uncles, aunts, grandparents and adult siblings? Will they also be given the support they need to live safely and in decent conditions?

I said in my first Answer that we will not change our commitment to supporting refugees when we leave the EU, so I fully expect that the UK will remain the generous country it has been for decades. On children joining wider family here, there are already provisions within the Immigration Rules to allow for that, and we expect those to continue.

Will the Government introduce a system of reconsideration before formally rejecting applications? Currently, rejections can be made on the basis of something as simple as a spelling mistake, which would involve the child starting all over again from scratch. A system of reconsideration would involve a great shortening of delays, as well as avoiding stress and distress for vulnerable children.

I understand the point the noble Baroness makes, and I will certainly look into it. We have tried to make the process less bureaucratic. I agree that something as simple as a spelling mistake should not debar someone from coming to this country.

My Lords, to follow up the question from my noble friend Lord Dubs, would the Minister agree that children in refugee camps and hot spots are suffering the most degrading conditions? They are living without separate toilets. They are living in dirt, without education or legal advice. Would she also agree that this problem is partly to do with lack of co-ordination between the nations of Europe to help these children to a better life? What are the British Government doing to help that co-ordination?

I certainly agree that the situation of children in camps is most undesirable. Children should be placed in a safe location where their welfare is met. We work with the French Government and other Governments to ensure that we meet any obligations that we have. During the Calais clearance we worked very closely with the authorities there to ensure children’s requests were processed.

My Lords, are the Government aware that it is not only the brightest and best who manage to survive the experience of migration? Also, for many of us the moral economy of kin demands that we not only look after our immediate family, but have a moral duty to look after our extended family. Therefore, many of these children rely on aunts, cousins and people who are not their immediate family. Perhaps the Government should consider and celebrate differences and allow them to join their extended family.

My Lords, there are provisions within the Immigration Rules for people to join their extended family. I totally agree with the noble Baroness that we have an obligation not just to our immediate children, but to other countries’ as well. This country has a very long and proud history of that.