Refugees

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th April 2016.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 12:00 am, 11th April 2016

What plans she has to relocate or offer asylum in the UK to refugees in mainland Europe.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

What plans she has to relocate or offer asylum in the UK to refugees in mainland Europe.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

The Government are opposed to EU relocation proposals, which do nothing to address the underlying issues the EU is facing and simply move the problem around Europe. Our focus should be on securing the external border, returning those with no right to be in the EU and addressing the underlying issues in source and transit countries, so that people no longer feel that they have no choice but to travel to Europe.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

At the weekend, it was reported that the Children’s Commissioner had written to the French Government urging action to speed up asylum claims to help lone children in the Calais refugee camps to reach relatives in the UK. These children must be absolutely petrified and feeling completely isolated and vulnerable—a situation that we would not countenance for our own loved ones. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with her French counterparts in order to stress the critical need to get these poor children safely reunited with their families in the UK?

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

Charity workers at Calais have deep concerns about the 129 missing children, following the dismantling of parts of the jungle. Does the Home Secretary agree that the authorities must do more, and will she make representations to the French authorities urgently to seek these children out and, in particular, to determine with haste which of these children are eligible to come to Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Does the Minister agree that, far from lagging behind the European Union on this issue, the UK is actually doing far more than any other country in Europe through its massive support for the camps and the refugees in the region, while also resettling the most vulnerable refugees from the camps to the UK?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government believe that relocating children around Europe is not the answer. Under our scheme to relocate the most vulnerable people from Syria and the countries around it, 51% of the people being brought over here are children. I hope that Members on both sides of the House would accept that this is a well measured and well carried-out scheme, which has led to significant improvement in many children’s lives.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Nevertheless, thousands of children are still waiting to be resettled. We have been having this debate for weeks and months. I am ashamed when I listen to debates in the European Parliament about this issue and hear concern and compassion—something that seems to be singularly lacking in this place.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

The right hon. Lady will be aware, I am sure, that under our resettlement scheme many children have been resettled—more than 50% of those coming here are children, as I have said. I remind her and other Members that the policy of UNHCR is to keep children in the areas around Syria, and it has been very successful in identifying children with the greater families to make sure that they have a good chance of a better life in the future.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Will the Government expand the current definition of the family unit to include de facto family members and simplify the system so that vulnerable children can come here much more quickly than is currently the case

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

I was at the Geneva conference on behalf of the Government, and I wish to place on the record that the British Government were congratulated by many other Governments on the work that they have done in relocating Syrian refugees. Our programme for resettling them has been significantly greater than those of all the other countries in the European Union put together.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

At Easter, along with three other SNP Members, I spent several days visiting the camps at Calais and Dunkirk. During our visit, we met many refugees with strong ties to the United Kingdom. Why is the Government’s record on “take charge” requests under the Dublin convention for those with strong ties to the UK so poor, and what exactly will the Government do to ensure that there is greater awareness of, and a faster process for, such requests?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

The hon. and learned Lady has rightly mentioned the Dublin convention and its effect. It is our Government’s policy to ensure that the convention works properly. With that in mind, we have seconded officials not just to France, including Calais, but to other parts of Europe—Athens, Rome and Germany—to ensure that what she has asked for happens and that the process is speeded up significantly.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I am afraid that the Minister’s answer is not good enough. There was no evidence of any Home Office presence in any of those camps, and what is happening to children in the camps is utterly disgraceful. In the Grande-Synthe camp—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight is chuntering, from a sedentary position, “It is up to the French.” The hon. Gentleman is welcome to his opinion, but his opinion is not enhanced by his suddenly winking at me as though in self-justification. The hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished advocate, and she must be heard. Even if she were not a distinguished advocate, she would still be heard.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

This is not a laughing matter, and it is not “up to the French” when those children have connections with the United Kingdom. That is my point.

In the Grande-Synthe camp, I met a 16-year-old girl who was working hard for exams in a pop-up school in a tent. She had made the journey to northern France on her own. Her father is in the United Kingdom, but owing to the absence of guidance from the French authorities and the failure of our Government to act, she was stuck in limbo and uncertain about her future. Children like her are very vulnerable in the camps. It is time for the Home Secretary to show leadership. Will she give us a commitment that her Department will ensure that those with a legal right to join their families in the United Kingdom are granted that right as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under Secretary for Home Office (Jointly with Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for Communities and Local Government (Jointly with Home Office and Department for International Development), Parliamentary Under Secretary for Department for International Development (Jointly with Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government)

I shall try to avoid repeating what the chunterers were saying earlier, because the hon. and learned Lady has made a serious point. However, I must reiterate that those children are in France and are predominantly the responsibility of the French Government, with whom we are working very closely by placing officials with them.

The children in question have a clear path. They should claim asylum under the Dublin convention, which they are perfectly allowed to do. It is then the responsibility of the Home Office—the British Government —to ensure that their asylum claims are processed speedily and effectively. If they do have the relationships with families in the United Kingdom that the hon. and learned Lady has been told that they have, I can assure her that the process is very much speedier and more efficient than it used to be.