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Child Refugees: Turkey and Greece

Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to offer places to child refugees currently (1) on the border between Turkey and Greece, or (2) on Greek islands.

My Lords, the Government currently transfer eligible children located in Greece under the Dublin regulation, and will continue to do so during the transition period. The UK will also continue to transfer unaccompanied children in Greece through Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 until we fulfil this important obligation.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who will be as aware as anybody of the terrible conditions affecting refugees, especially child refugees, on the Greek islands. She will also be aware of the request made not long ago by the Greek Government that other countries should help in resettling some of the child refugees who have reached the Greek islands. Can the Minister confirm that the global resettlement scheme, which was referred to yesterday by Ministers in both Houses, will apply to children who are currently in Greece and on the Greek islands, and not just to those elsewhere in the region?

I understand what the noble Lord is saying, in the sense that those children are now in a European country as opposed to coming from whatever region in the world they come from. We will absolutely stand by our commitment to helping children from around the world who need our help. We are in dialogue with Greece and we will work closely with UNHCR, which both identifies and refers children who may need our resettlement.

My Lords, it is likely that some of the children in this situation have relatives in the UK and therefore have a right to be reunited with their family in this country. What proactive—I stress that word—steps are the Government taking to help them exercise their right? Secondly, when do the Government expect to publish the Statement on family reunification, as required by legislation?

In terms of proactivity, clearly, we engage with our European counterparts. We are still engaged in the Dublin process, which goes both ways; in fact, we take more children than we transfer back. On the Statement, we will lay an Act Paper by 22 March on our policy regarding future arrangements between the UK and the EU for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Greek Government have suspended the processing of asylum applications for a month under emergency legislation, as permitted by the EU. Are the Government having any conversations with the Greek Government to see whether they can assist them in not prolonging this situation and in fulfilling their international obligations—because they are international obligations, irrespective of the get-out clause given by the EU? Also, are they doing anything to facilitate taking the children, as other noble Lords have suggested?

We stand ready to take any children the UNHCR in Greece identifies and for whom it requests transferral to the UK. The fact that the Greeks are currently suspending those transfers because of the coronavirus is of course a matter for the Greek authorities, but we stand ready to receive those children who are identified and referred to us.

My Lords, in a previous question the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, stressed the need to be proactive. A number of other European countries have volunteered to take batches of unaccompanied children newly trapped in Greece. Have we done so, and if not, why not?

In terms of our obligations, under the national resettlement schemes we have taken more than 42,000 children since 2010—more than any other state in the EU. That is a record of which I am very proud.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the charity Safe Passage has identified more than 1,400 places for child refugees being offered by local authorities that are willing and able to take children from the Greek islands and other emergency zones? Does the Minister agree that it would be an outrage if those places were to go unfilled? Will she ask the Government to start the transfer of children from Greece as a matter of urgency?

My Lords, I am just not going to accept the statement that there are places available in local authorities but they are refusing to take children. We constantly engage with local authorities and currently, they are housing some 5,000 unaccompanied children. If they will take any more, we will be most grateful.

My Lords, will the Government pass on a firm message to the Greek authorities that they should adopt acceptable humanitarian standards and refrain from the use of live ammunition and gas at the border?

I agree with the noble Viscount that some of the footage we have seen is really quite disturbing. On the other hand, Greece is a democracy and we respect its rule of law. However, I totally take the point he is making.

My Lords, given the tragedy of Idlib, what action are we taking to bring about some sort of resolution to the terrible situation that we have known in Syria for so many years? Are we taking an active lead there?

I am proud, the generous country that we are, that we are providing £89 million in humanitarian aid to address the situation in Idlib and to help those people in the truly dreadful situation they find themselves in.

My Lords, as we sit here, there are some 70 million displaced people or refugees worldwide. Could Her Majesty’s Government do more to try to convene a conference of the great powers to discuss what can be done to respond to the massive numbers of people who are migrating purely because of conflict or war?

My Lords, I have outlined just how generous this country is and has been over our history. We are a small island and we are doing what we can. As I have said, under the national resettlement schemes we have taken in more people than any other state in the EU, and we continue to extend that generosity. As the Prime Minister has outlined, in the coming year he will make available 5,000 more places for resettlement.