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Child Refugees

Volume 798: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many unaccompanied child refugees have entered the United Kingdom since the beginning of 2016 under (1) section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 or (2) the provisions of the Dublin III Regulation.

My Lords, over 220 children were transferred to the UK under Section 67 in late 2016. Since then, we have made continuous progress towards achieving our commitment to relocate 480 unaccompanied children. Between 2016 and 2018, 426 children were transferred to the UK under Article 8.1 and 8.2 of the Dublin regulation. Since the beginning of 2016 the UK has received 9,512 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and has separately resettled 9,212 children through our resettlement schemes.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the figures she has given. Is it not incredibly disappointing that the Government themselves set an artificial cap of 480 unaccompanied child refugees under Section 67 of the Immigration Act? So far we have taken 220; no progress is being made at all. Why are the Government so reluctant to do what Parliament agreed we should do?

My Lords, the Government are not reluctant to do what Parliament asked them to do: the 480 figure was based on local authorities’ abilities to take children. I know the noble Lord understands that. As to the 220, we can only move as fast as France, in particular, will allow us to in putting down children’s names for transfer to the UK. The broader picture, which I outlined in my Answer, is that we have been hugely generous to children who need our protection.

My Lords, I understand that, following the Sandhurst treaty, £3.6 million was allotted by the Government to help eligible children in France to come here. What has been the result of that? Has there been any success in tracing families here who could welcome such children?

Certainly, in terms of families who could welcome people here, we have the Gateway scheme, and the Mandate scheme more particularly, for people with family here. In addition, we have issued more than 26,000 family reunion visas in the past five years.

Have the Government satisfied themselves that they are doing everything possible to protect vulnerable unaccompanied children arriving at camps in Europe and, in particular—with our European partners—to protect them from traffickers, modern-day slavers, sexual abuse, rape and other horrific crimes that know no borders or boundaries?

I appreciate the noble Lord’s question because it goes to the heart of what we are trying to do—to protect vulnerable children and to ensure, so far as possible, that they come to this country through recognised routes. I spoke to him last week and he will know that we are now consolidating some of those routes to allow one route for vulnerable children and adults to come here. As to our commitment to resettling 20,000 vulnerable people from the MENA region under the VPRS and VCRS, by 2020 we will have resettled 23,000 of them, which is over the commitment we originally intended.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to ensure that refugee children are safeguarded once they are in the UK? There have been press reports that we could do more.

As my noble friend said, safeguarding is the prime concern for any local authority or anyone taking a child who has come from particularly traumatic circumstances anywhere in the world. It is the first priority for local authorities. That is why, when we agreed the 480 figure under Section 67, it was based on local authorities’ abilities to take children.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent report by the Church of England’s Children’s Society entitled Distress Signals, in which the mental health of unaccompanied children entering the UK for asylum was examined? The report notes that these children show a high risk of suicide and self-harm and find it extremely difficult to communicate their needs and fears to professionals. Does she recognise the value of these young people being assured and guaranteed access to a guardian—a respected, stable, safe and trained person—so that they can have the support they need?

I have not read the report but I totally appreciate what the right reverend Prelate is saying, because any child who finds themselves in strange circumstances may well be expected to have mental health problems arising from trauma. For children fleeing war-torn regions of the world, often without their families, that state is manifest by numerous factors. I agree that support systems should be and are in place to safeguard them. I also pay tribute to the Church of England for the role it has played in community sponsorship schemes.

Is it not possible to amend so that we can still open our gates to and welcome more of these refugee children? We also need to look at the consequences of the British Nationality Act 1981. Under that Act, in January 1983 the automatic acquisition of British citizenship by those born to Commonwealth parents was destroyed. Now people find themselves deported because of the mistakes made then. I would very happy if the Minister could meet me to discuss how on earth we can make it possible for those folk of an older generation to have settled status in the United Kingdom and thus remove their anxiety.

On the first part of the noble Lord’s question, I do not know what he is asking me specifically to amend. Of course, I am perfectly happy to meet him. The issue of settled status is incredibly important, particularly as we leave the European Union.