With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 88 to 101.
Lords amendment 60, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 84, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 85, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 86.
Lords amendments 183 to 215.
As you have set out, Mr Speaker, there is a range of Lords amendments in this first group. I will first speak to Lords amendment 60, relating to overseas domestic workers, and then to the Lords amendments relating to detention before moving on to Lords amendment 87, relating to refugee children.
I set out the Government’s response to James Ewins’ review in my written statement of
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the alternative proposal is that, if someone leaves the employ of an exploitive employer, they should notify the Home Office of that change. That creates an opportunity to investigate the reasons for the departure and therefore to have a successful prosecution for the exploitation of an overseas domestic worker, which has not happened over recent years.
I respect what the right hon. Lady says, and we have considered the matter carefully. As she will know, Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, has set out a clear view on the time period that should apply to the duration of the visa. He said that allowing annual extensions to all overseas domestic workers will significantly increase the risk of exploitation and possibly create an environment in which criminals could operate. Such cases had been happening prior to the 2012 change in visa rules.
We have already amended the immigration rules so that overseas domestic workers are admitted on conditions of stay that permit them, during the six-month period for which they are admitted, to change employer. They do not need to apply to the Home Office to do so. We have also already amended the immigration rules so that overseas domestic workers who obtain a positive conclusive grounds decision can obtain a two-year extension of stay. We have considered the concern that overseas domestic workers may not readily be able to secure alternative employment as a domestic worker if, even when they are referred into the national referral mechanism, their permission to work ends when the six-month period of their admission expires.
We will make a further change to address that, using the powers in section 4(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 to ensure that when an overseas domestic worker has been referred into the national referral mechanism during their initial six-month stay, their permission to take employment will continue while their case is assessed, and without the worker having to make an application. With that additional change, the measures will ensure that, when a worker arrives in an abusive employment relationship, they can leave it with the certainty that they will be able to continue working, while also ensuring that they are encouraged to report the abuse early. The Lords amendment is therefore unnecessary.
It is essential that overseas domestic workers properly understand the protections available to them and are provided with a safe space in which concerns about employment conditions can be raised at an early stage. It is not, however, clear that the Lords amendment’s provisions in respect of information meetings quite work. It does not appear sufficient to specify a requirement to attend such meetings in guidance issued to immigration staff if they are to be binding on the workers themselves, nor is it clear how we could require attendance to take place within the 42-day period, as the amendment provides, if the requirement to do so is triggered only at the end of that period.
We have already committed to implementing Mr Ewins’ recommendations concerning information meetings, so further legislative provision is not required. It would be sensible to preserve flexibility to decide whether the requirement to attend should be triggered at 42 days, as Mr Ewins’ originally proposed, or sooner, as the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner has suggested. We also intend to link the requirement to attend such meetings to a registration scheme for employers, as part of a wider refocusing of our checks on employers, and to ensure that we are better able to prevent employers from bringing more workers to the UK when they have not complied with our requirements. We will do so through further changes to the immigration rules later this year. We will keep the position under review and have sufficient legislative powers to make any additional changes to protect overseas domestic workers. The Lords amendment is unnecessary, will not be effective in practice, and risks increasing the possibility of exploitation and creating an environment in which criminals can operate with impunity.
I turn now to Lords amendments 84 and 85. It is a well-established principle that there must be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time period for an individual to be detained pending removal. Our current published policy in respect of immigration detention is that there is a presumption of liberty. Depriving someone of their liberty must be subject to careful consideration and scrutiny, taking into account an individual’s circumstances.
On these broad issues, I have appreciated the input of many colleagues from across the House. I take particular note of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, led by Sarah Teather in the previous Parliament, which carefully considered the issues and made several important recommendations. I also value the opportunities that I have had to speak to a number of colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman, on several such issues. The Government take the matter seriously and announced a wide package of reforms, which is already under way, in response to the Shaw review.
The new adults at risk policy, due to be published in May, will recognise the dynamic nature of vulnerability and introduce a new focus on decision making with regard to immigration detention. Building on the current legal framework, it will strengthen the existing presumption against the detention of those who are particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. Individuals determined to be at risk will generally be considered as unsuitable for detention unless there is compelling evidence that other factors relating to immigration abuse and the integrity of the system are of such significance to outweigh the vulnerability factors. A new gatekeeper function will provide additional oversight and scrutiny to ensure that detention is the appropriate option for those entering the detention estate. That will be further strengthened by a new approach to case management, with a clear focus on case progression via a removal plan and a process for a panel to review cases on at least a quarterly basis. The Government’s proposed motion is another important safeguard that will complement the wider reform, providing additional judicial oversight.
The proposal is that individuals will be automatically referred to the tribunal for a bail hearing six months after the point of detention, or if they have already applied for a bail hearing in the first six months, six months after that hearing. They will then receive further referrals at six-monthly intervals from the point of the last hearing. The referral requirement will act as a safeguard, ensuring that individuals who do not make an application themselves, for whatever reason, will have independent judicial oversight of their ongoing detention. Individuals will still be able to make an application themselves at any point. The package of reforms should result in fewer people being detained and for the minimum time possible.
I welcome the diligence and care that the Minister has afforded colleagues from across the House in relation to the package that was announced last week. It was also indicated that Stephen Shaw, who provided a helpful report, will undertake a further short review. Will the Minister provide some details about the timing of that report and whether its remit will include an assessment of the reforms that the Minister outlines, such as the additional judicial oversight and the impact that that has on length of time in detention?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, his insights and his work on the issue over an extended period. We want Stephen Shaw to evaluate the effect and operation of the reforms that we implemented in response to his review. Along with the various measures that we have outlined, they form part of our overarching package of reform to immigration detention.
On the timing, it is right that the system can be implemented and can run for a certain period. I therefore anticipate Stephen Shaw carrying out this short review towards the end of next year. That is an appropriate timescale, allowing us to implement the changes through to the end of this year and then see them run for the best part of a year, to ensure that his consideration is informed by a system that has bedded in.
I spoke to the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities and was told that its major problem was making sure procedures were followed. So when we look at the comments in a year’s time and review this, will we make sure that procedures are being properly followed and that we concentrate on that just as much?
I am sure Stephen Shaw took an overarching, wide-ranging approach in his initial report and will do so in his subsequent review. We want that to be in short form; we do not want it to extend into months, because it is about testing whether the reforms we have put in place—there are still more to come, with the adults at risk policy in May—had the effect we intended and therefore give effect to his key recommendations. I am sure he will be focusing on the practical implementation of the steps that we have implemented.
Like others, I welcome and await the guidelines in the light of the Shaw report, but does the Minister accept that all the reports on this matter, including the Shaw review, the inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group and the review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, have asked for a much shorter period in respect of automatic judicial oversight, at nearer one month than six months? What does the Minister have to say about that?
This needs to be seen in the context of the reforms we are putting in place in the system, which is why I made reference to the quarterly reviews. This is about having a separate function whereby the removal plans will be subject to that internal scrutiny and then there is this automaticity in relation to bail hearings. It should be noted that the vast majority of those in immigration detention are there for only short periods—fewer than four months. We therefore think this is a right step to put in place, reflecting that desire to have that external arrangement. Indeed, it is open to anybody to apply for bail at any point, but we think there is a need for a further safeguard, which is why we have acted in the way we have, in terms of the amendments before the House this evening.
I have two quick points for the Minister. On the adults at risk policy and guidance he is putting together in May, will he confirm whether he will take input and advice from independent groups that have been working with people in detention over the past few years? Before a pregnant woman is detained, will an independent assessment be made, as is the case for children who are detained, following the changes we made in the previous Parliament?
We intend to publish the adults at risk policy in May and I am sure we will seek input from external parties. I appreciate that various stakeholders and organisations take an understandably keen interest in this area and in many ways have helped to frame and develop the policies we are bringing before the House this evening. Let me come back to my hon. Friend’s point about the detention of pregnant women later, because it may help the House if I set the position out and allow a further intervention then.
I welcome the amendments that the Government have brought in to address the concerns raised in another place. When the Minister responds on the detention of pregnant women and the very reduced period that the Government are now proposing, will he assure the House that these women will still have access to full healthcare and that consideration will be given not just to where they are detained, but the way in which they are transported?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting this issue, which we consider carefully. I assure her that we will continue to look at those specific issues as we develop implementation of the policy. Important steps forward have been taken on the healthcare linkages at Yarl’s Wood and in the Bedfordshire healthcare system so that appropriate care and support is provided to pregnant women. I will reflect further on what she has said, particularly on her additional points about transportation.
I was pleased that the amendment to put the adults at risk policy on a statutory footing was accepted in the other place. However, on Third Reading it was amended further by the addition of a subsection placing an absolute exclusion on the detention of pregnant women. The Government do not agree that there should be an outright exclusion of pregnant women from detention. We must retain the ability to detain in certain limited circumstances—for example, where a pregnant woman who does not have the right to enter the UK is identified at the border and can be returned quickly, or where a pregnant woman presents a public risk or has a poor compliance history and the safe and most manageable way forward is a short period of detention prior to removal.
For some time now, I have listened carefully to concerns on the issue of detaining pregnant women pending removal. We had a wide-ranging Backbench Business Committee debate a few months back, and I have listened carefully to the representations made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford and for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. Hon. Members will have noted that the Government’s written ministerial statement of
It is important that we are very clear about whom we are detaining, particularly when it comes to detaining pregnant women. We know that the vast majority of people in Yarl’s Wood are victims of rape and sexual torture, and they come to us for sanctuary. The Minister talks about carrying out a review, but will he explicitly consider whether being a victim or a suspected victim of rape and sexual torture can be grounds for denying detention? It is the 21st century, and it is humiliating and not cost effective for us as a nation that we lock these women up, rather than set them free.
It is important to recognise that the majority of people in our immigration removal centres are not asylum seekers; some people will claim asylum when they have been taken into an IRC. The point the hon. Lady makes about vulnerability is powerful and important, which was why we commissioned Stephen Shaw to make the recommendations he did on these matters of vulnerability. I hope she will see when we publish the adults at risk strategy and those various points that weigh the relevant factors that we are taking precisely those elements into account and that the presumption should not be to detain unless there are overwhelming factors that support detention and mean it is appropriate. I ask her to hold fire perhaps until she sees that policy, and I look forward to engaging with her further once she has had that opportunity.
The feedback we have received from a range of different organisations is that the facilities and support at Yarl’s Wood, and its links with the health service in Bedfordshire, provide an effective join-up to ensure that those needs are best met, but obviously we keep such matters under close and careful review. The right hon. Gentleman will recall our debates in the previous Parliament on the detention of children. The coalition Government were proud to introduce measures that pragmatically and practically ended the general detention of children, and we are using precisely that model and approach for pregnant women. We are learning from our experiences regarding the detention of children, but we recognise that there may be limited circumstances in which detention might be necessary, either to facilitate removal, or because a young person has been met at the border and the time during which they are held is still technically detention.
I remember those debates well. They started from the presumption that Yarl’s Wood was not an appropriate place to detain children any more than Dungavel would be. Why are the Government now taking a different position?
The right hon. Gentleman will probably know that Yarl’s Wood is the only immigration removal centre that specifically detains women, so when we review it we must ensure that the best facilities for pregnant women are in place. This is not just about what happens in the centre; it is about how that links up to the broader health service. That is why we judge Yarl’s Wood to be the most appropriate place, but we keep such issues under careful review, including the continuing improvements that we want to see.
I promised that I would return to the point raised earlier about assessments. The family removals process operates removal plans for children, and as I said, we are taking a new approach to the use of detention, with focus on a removal plan. Therefore, when anyone goes into detention, that removal plan will need to be considered. As that work develops, there will be detailed consideration of the appropriateness of detention as part of a removal plan, and we are now implementing a number of reforms to detention.
I thank the Minister for acknowledging the work done across the House in changing the detention of pregnant women, and for coming before the Home Affairs Committee and responding so openly to the questions from me and my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes. In the debate in Westminster Hall I mentioned the midwifery unit in my constituency. Will the Minister shed light on what midwifery support will be available for women who will now be detained for a much shorter period?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her searching questioning and desire to bring about change, and I am pleased that we are considering these amendments this evening. As I have explained, there is a link between health services in Yarl’s Wood and the way that extends and links into midwifery services provided through the Bedfordshire healthcare system. We believe that that arrangement is right to provide joined-up care, with nurses and other health professionals coming from Bedfordshire into Yarl’s Wood to provide support for pregnant women.
I do not wish to underestimate the significant change in direction on immigration detention policy that my right hon. Friend outlined today and last week, but he will understand that there scepticism remains about Home Office procedures and policies when they are put into practice—hence the request for an independent point of oversight. In the steps that he is outlining, will there be scope for independent oversight prior to the detention of a pregnant woman?
The best way to approach this is to implement the changes that I have outlined to the House this evening. Stephen Shaw will review those measures in 12 to 18 months, and I suspect that he will examine how the implementation, policies and procedures will have effect. I will continue to examine how best we can provide greater transparency. Although we have recently created more management information, this is about how we provide reassurance and greater clarity about this procedure. I will continue to reflect on how we do that, so as to give my hon. Friend—and others—greater assurance on what are sensitive matters.
I thank the Minister for being so generous in taking interventions. I welcome the adults at risk strategy and look forward to scrutinising it. Will there be access to legal aid for women who have specific removal plans, so that that is as lawful as possible?
Let me move on to the broader issue of Lords amendment 87. In opposing the amendment, I do not in any way question the motivation of those who tabled it in the other place, or the desire to see this country do more in the region, on the shores of the Mediterranean, and within Europe. The conflict in Syria continues to have a devastating effect on the lives of many men, women and children who have been displaced from their homes, their country, and their futures. The stories they tell of lives that have been uprooted, and the distressing images that we see of people fleeing in search of a better, safer life, are moving and compelling in equal measure.
I know that many Members have travelled to the region, or to the Greek islands or the camps in northern France, and they have been deeply moved by their experiences. I have appreciated the opportunity to listen to colleagues such as my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), and for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell), following their visit to the Greek islands, and my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate, and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), following their visits to Calais. They set out the practical issues on the ground, and the need for this country to do more.
The Government wholeheartedly share the intentions of the noble Lords to protect and support vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children, but the challenge is how we most effectively harness our strong sense of compassion and moral duty. As my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer put it to me recently, this is about how we use both head and heart.
Our starting principle is that we must put the best interests of children first, and avoid any policy that places children at additional risk or encourages them to place their lives in the hands of people traffickers and criminal gangs. In any response, we need to be careful not inadvertently to create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, alone and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by making them attempt treacherous sea crossings to Europe. As the horrendous events in the Mediterranean last week demonstrated, that would be the worst of all outcomes.
The Minister specifically mentions the horrific events in the Mediterranean last week. I have heard from a number of constituents who, through their family connections, knew of people fleeing. He mentioned Syria, but people are fleeing not just Syria but conflicts all across the horn of Africa and elsewhere. I have heard some absolutely harrowing stories from those who have survived those terrible crossings—people trying to travel from Alexandria being abused by people traffickers. Does he not agree that, when children survive such horrific tragedies, we need to do our bit in taking some of them here for protection in this country?
I will come on to the broader issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights. Clear judgments have to be made on how the UK most effectively provides support. I will come on to how we can help in Europe and to look at those issues that he highlights, which include: the trafficking gangs that exploit people across Africa and the broader regions; how we are playing our role in the Khartoum process to work with African Union countries to take action; and finding that common sense of engaging and working against the people trafficking and smuggling networks.
I will if I may finish this point. As I have shown so far, I plan to be generous to all Members during the course of this debate.
No one should be in any doubt about the Government’s clear, ongoing commitment to help those most affected by the migration crisis. The doubling of our aid for the Syrian crisis to £2.3 billion—the largest ever response by this country to a single humanitarian crisis—underlines not just that commitment, but our commitment to act in practical ways to improve the lives of as many people as possible. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt are receiving food, shelter, medical treatment and support as a consequence of the actions of the UK. It is also about hope and opportunity and creating a strong sense of how we can quickly rebuild the lives of those torn apart by the war in Syria. The London conference in February galvanised commitments to create an estimated 1.1 million jobs for those in the region by 2018, and quality education for 1.7 million refugee and vulnerable children by the end of the 2016-17 school year, with equal access for girls and boys.
The Minister is being very generous. He makes the point that action to help those who are stranded in Europe would somehow act as a pull factor. With respect, I think that that view is bogus, not least when we consider that there are four times more refugees in the region. The idea that Europe is the only place to which they are heading is nonsense. Even if one were to accept that, his decision not to accept the Dubs amendment is to ignore the tens of thousands of children who are in Europe now. The reality is that 10,000 have gone missing in the past year. They are in the hands of traffickers now. What will he do to help those children who are here on this continent now?
I was going to come on to that very point. Let me just say that it is about supporting those front-line member states and our other European partners to stand by their responsibilities. In essence, Europe should be a safe space; it is not a conflict zone. Therefore, we judge that the best way to make a difference and to help the greatest numbers of those in need is to support the majority of refugees to enable them to stay safely in their home region, which is why I made those points about aid and assistance. Where people have made that journey to Europe, we should help our European partners to fulfil their duties to them and to provide support on this issue of family reunification.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way; he has indeed been generous with his time. May I point him to what the Home Secretary said in her speech to the Tory conference last October? She said:
“We’ll develop a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly.”
I have met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and many of the groups that she mentioned in that speech. They are ready to do it, and they have the systems in place, but the thing that is stopping them is the Government.
I was just talking to the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, and he made it clear that that is not true. We will come forward very shortly with proposals on the issue of sponsorship, which is important and which we do want to take forward, but it is important that we get it right. That is precisely what my hon. Friend is doing as part of the vulnerable person resettlement scheme.
The Minister’s point was effectively that the children who are alone in Greece now are Greece’s problem, but Save the Children has said that 2,000 children are alone in northern Greece and there are fewer than 500 child shelter places for them, and those are full. What does he really want those children to do when they are sleeping rough, being targeted by traffickers and smuggling gangs, and subjected to abuse? Does he really think that that is just Greece’s problem and that we should not do our bit too?
No, I do not. That is why it is right that we are providing financial aid and assistance in that area. I will come on and deal specifically with that support to underline the important commitment that this country is giving.
A few minutes ago, my right hon. Friend mentioned the actions of our European partners. Can he give the House an indication of how this Government’s actions compare with those of our European neighbours?
When we look at all these different aspects of our involvement—our aid assistance, the work of our resettlement programmes, which I will come on to shortly, the support we are giving in Europe, and the steps we are taking against smugglers and people trafficking networks with the taskforces that we have set up—we see that we can take very great credit in terms of the work that this country has done and continues to do. It is that focus that we will continue to bring to this issue. We know that the vulnerable and those most in need and most at risk may be best helped here in the UK. We launched the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme to resettle 20,000 people over the course of this Parliament. Well over 1,000 people have been resettled to date, around half of whom are children. That means that, in the next four years, several thousand more children will be resettled in the UK under the Syrian scheme, but as I said in my statement of
We have worked closely with the UNHCR to design a scheme that will protect the most vulnerable children, resettling up to 3,000 people over the lifetime of this Parliament, the majority of whom will be children if the UNHCR deems it to be in their best interests. Children who are identified as at risk will be resettled with their family members or carers where appropriate. The scheme will not be limited to any particular nationality or group, which will allow us to assist the most vulnerable children whoever they are.
The UNHCR is fully supportive of the launch of this new initiative and the UK’s commitment to assist vulnerable refugee children at risk through further resettlement efforts that uphold the principles of child protection.
After being at the Council of Europe last week and hearing representations in relation to the claims made by Save the Children that 26,000 children have gone missing, and hearing other countries talk about what they are doing in regard to those children, I can say that we are not doing as much as we should be doing. To say that we will not pass this amendment will be embarrassing for us as a country.
I am afraid that I disagree with the hon. Lady.
I will now move on to the support we are providing in Europe, which I think it is important the House recognises. Although our judgment is that the UK can make the biggest difference in the region, and that children in Europe should benefit from support from countries with legal obligations similar to our own, it is right that we should provide assistance in Europe where there are vulnerable children in need of support, and the Government are taking action. The UK is the largest bilateral contributor to the humanitarian response to the crisis in Europe and the Balkans, with a total contribution of £65 million. That includes nearly £46 million to provide life-saving aid to migrants and refugees, including food, water, hygiene kits, infant packs and protection for the most vulnerable, as well as support to organisations helping Governments to build their capacity to manage arrivals in Greece and the Balkans.
On top of our significant support to front-line member states, the Department for International Development has created a £10 million refugee children fund specifically to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe. The fund will be used to support the UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee to work with host authorities to care for and assist unaccompanied or separated children in Europe. That includes identifying vulnerable children, providing for their immediate support, referring to specialist care and helping to find solutions, such as family reunification. On that last point, I am clear that it is important to help children reunite with family wherever possible.
The Minister has said that one reason why the British Government will not take children from the continent of Europe is that it might encourage people smuggling from the middle east to Europe and unsafe journeys. However, when I was in Calais at Easter, I was told by aid workers that, as a result of the British Government’s refusal to take children from northern France, children are being trafficked into the United Kingdom and are attempting unsafe journeys by jumping on to or under lorries bound for the United Kingdom. Indeed, I have learned that one girl I met in one of the camps, alone and unaccompanied, has since entered the UK by trafficking methods. Will the Minister not take on board the fact that, by failing to take children from Europe, he is actually encouraging trafficking and unsafe methods of travel from France to Britain?
I am very happy to address that point head-on, because I think that there are a number of important ways in which we can take, and are taking, action. That is why I made the point about reuniting children with their families. The hon. and learned Lady will know that we have seconded additional resources into the European Asylum Support Office for Italy and Greece to implement and streamline the processes under the Dublin regulations, including to identify quickly children who qualify for family reunion.
On the specific point about Calais and northern France, I take these issues extremely seriously. I am personally committed to improving and speeding up our family reunification processes so that young people there who have families with refugee claims here can be reunited. That is why we had the recent secondment of a senior asylum expert to the French Interior Ministry to improve the process for family reunion, which I think has had an impact on the number of children being reunited with family in the UK. In the past six weeks over 50 cases have been identified, 24 of which have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France under the Dublin family unity provisions, and more than half of them have already arrived in the UK. I think that we have demonstrated that once an asylum claim has been lodged, transfers can take place within a matter of weeks.
Those who want us to do more on this can help us to do so by encouraging and supporting children to use the processes that are in place to help them be reunited with their family. I know that one of the biggest barriers at the moment is persuading these children to claim asylum so that they can be considered for transfer to the UK under the family unity conventions in the Dublin regulations.
I do not feel that we are taking responsibility; at the moment, it is British citizens who are taking responsibility. I am afraid that seconding one person is not good enough. When I visited, with Yvette Cooper, we saw a similar example of a child who had gone missing pitching up in Kent a week later. This is happening on a daily basis. One person is not enough. Can we please try to get more resources there?
As I think I have indicated, we are already providing support to the French Government, as the non-governmental organisation France Terre d’Asile has responsibility for identifying children in and around the camps at Calais and to make sure that they go into the system so that we can do the child safeguarding, make those connections and see that they are reunited with family. That is why I underline the need to give a clear message to those who have connections to identify and support children so that they go into the French system, because we will act. I think that we have the systems and processes in place now to be able to act effectively. That is why it is important to see that operationalised, so that we are doing what we can, alongside the French Government, our Border Force officers and France Terre d’Asile, to ensure that when children are identified, they are immediately pointed to how they can get into the French system so that we can then act.
I thank the Minister for giving way once again. On that point, Citizens UK has identified 157 live cases that have been put into the system, but he is saying that only 24 have in fact been accepted, and only half of those have actually made it to Britain. Why are they not all brought here straight away? Why are they still stuck in Calais, cold, living in tents in the mud and at huge risk, when he has accepted that they should be here with family who can care for them?
We are processing 50 cases, 24 of which we have accepted, but a number of those cases are complicated. It is a question of the safeguarding measures that need to be put in place for the children to be reunited with the families who are here. It is therefore more complex than it is sometimes presented to be. That is not in any way a desire on the part of the Government, or anyone else, to encourage delay. Rather, it is about the normal child safeguarding measures that I think are appropriate. I say to the right hon. Lady and to Citizens UK that if there are cases that can be linked to families here in the UK, get them into the French system. I make that point again and again, because we stand ready to act and to take charge where there are those links, and to see that if there are children in northern France who are separated from family in the UK, action is taken.
Those processes for family reunion are of course in addition to the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who make their claims in this country. With over 3,000 asylum applications from unaccompanied children last year, I pay tribute to all those local authorities that, despite the unprecedented pressure on their services, are providing support to those young people. At the same time, we need to shut down the illegal migration routes to Europe that are exploited by human traffickers, who encourage people to risk their lives to make perilous journeys. The Government remain of the view that relocation schemes within Europe risk creating unintended consequences or perverse incentives for people to put their lives into the hands of traffickers. Instead, we are committed to providing safe and legal routes for the most vulnerable refugees to resettle in the UK.
The success of the EU-Turkey migration agreement is a vital opportunity to end the misery and lethal risk that smugglers and organised criminals are causing on a daily basis. We have made an offer of UK support to help implement the EU-Turkey migration agreement. We need to close down illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece and tackle migrant flows upstream. We are offering 75 expert personnel to help with the processing and administration of migrants in Greek reception centres, to act as interpreters, to provide medical support and to bolster our existing team assisting the Commission to ensure that there is effective and efficient co-ordination.
Those teams, which are ready to be deployed, will include experts in supporting vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and those trained to tackle people trafficking. That will help to ensure that vulnerable people, including children, are identified and can access asylum and support procedures as quickly as possible. That is in addition to the work undertaken by the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit hotspots and assess what more can be done to ensure that unaccompanied children are protected from traffickers.
I want to challenge the notion that the EU-Turkey deal is a success. I was at the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border a fortnight ago. The camp is meant to host 300 or 400 people as they pass north towards northern Europe, but there were 25,000 people—there were children there as well—crammed into that small space, and they were absolutely desperate. The reason they are not moving from that place is that they have no trust whatever in the system or in the fact that wherever they are moved to next will not mean deportation out of Europe. The EU-Turkey deal may be great in principle, but in practice it has been stitched up for the benefit and convenience of politicians, not of those desperate people rotting in the camps.
I attended last week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg and I spoke to the Greek Minister. He has welcomed the offer of support that I have just set out, in terms of its practical operationalisation to help make things happen at the front end—in the Greek islands and in Greece. I have highlighted the financial and other support we are giving Greece and others to deal with some of these difficult and challenging issues, and we are playing our absolute part to address this issue and to see that the parts of the EU-Turkey deal happen and have the effect we would all want them to.
The Minister stands there and says we are playing our absolute part, but he told us two minutes ago that we have in fact offered only 75 members of staff, when the Commission itself tells us it needs 4,000. How is that doing our absolute part?
The contribution we are making stands in very positive terms compared with what other European partners are doing. This is about identifying the right people to deploy so that we have the best effect, and that is precisely what we are doing.
I am conscious that I have spoken for an extended period, and I want other right hon. and hon. Members to get into the debate. For the reasons I have given, the approach proposed in amendment 87 is not the right one. As the selection of amendments notes, the amendment engages financial privilege, and the Speaker identified some of the issues that that raises in terms of the reasons we give the House of Lords.
Under amendment 87, we could end up relieving pressure on developed countries in Europe that have the means to support children, instead of helping developing countries that are under real pressure and that do not have the capacity to support them. The best answer is upstream intervention before children at risk try to come to Europe.
The Government are committed to making a full contribution to the global refugee crisis, particularly by helping children at risk. We strongly believe that our approach of resettling children at risk and their families directly from the region will have most impact on safeguarding vulnerable children. The significant aid package in Europe, and our practical and logistical assistance to front-line member states to ensure vulnerable children are properly protected wherever they are in Europe, are the correct way to approach this issue.
The UK can be proud of the contribution we are making, which stands comparison with any. We are doing everything we said we would to provide aid and to resettle vulnerable refugees. We are already making a real difference to hundreds of thousands of lives.
I recognise the sincere feelings of those who support amendment 87. We share the objective of identifying and protecting children at risk, but I firmly believe that the approach I have set out provides the best way to support our European partners, help vulnerable refugee children and provide the biggest impact for the contribution this country can make.
I thank the Labour Peers and the many Cross Benchers who brought these amendments before the House today. The amendments raise important issues, and none more so than amendment 87.
Amendment 87—the so-called Alf Dubs amendment—was tabled by Lord Dubs. As many people know, Lord Dubs arrived in this country in 1939 as an unaccompanied child under the Kindertransport system, so he speaks with particular authority. The vote in the House of Lords was won by 100 votes, reflecting the long campaign that has gone on to change the position on unaccompanied children in Europe. That campaign has been supported by Members of this House, along with non-governmental organisations and charities. The matter was first raised by my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, who put it to the Prime Minister in September 2015. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has continually raised it, and I pay tribute to her work. I also pay tribute to Save the Children for raising this issue so much over the last year.
The issue is comparatively simple to state: hundreds of thousands of families across the world—millions of people in total—are fleeing their homes. The refugee crisis we are witnessing is of a scale we have not seen since the second world war. The Minister spoke of the devastating effect of war on so many people. We have become familiar with the images of families making treacherous journeys—often across the Mediterranean—but I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say we are all still shocked every time we see footage and images of desperate families making those desperate, treacherous journeys.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, given the emails and anguish-filled letters we receive as constituency MPs, there seems to be a lack of urgency among Government Members, which, to me, reflects the fact that they are out of touch with how the country really feels about this issue?
The number of constituents who have contacted me and other Members—I am sure that this is true across the House—about the plight of refugees in the last 12 months has been considerable. Many of those communications—again, I am sure that this is the same for many Members—are individual, rather than part of mass campaigns. These people have real concerns, and they usually say, “What can I do? I don’t think the Government are doing enough. Can I send money or clothes?” Many have said, “Can I take somebody in?” or even, “Can I adopt?” There is therefore a very powerful feeling out there that more needs to be done about refugees.
I have spoken of the hundreds of thousands of families —the millions of people—fleeing their homes.
My hon. and learned Friend is exactly right. He has been to the camps in France, and I have been to the Calais camp. Much of the help there is given by individual British people who make the journey over or who organise trips, often providing substantial amounts of aid. Our constituents’ view is clear, and the Government would be wise to listen to it this evening.
I have been to the camps in Calais and Dunkirk, and, like many other people, I was shocked. I have discussed that with the Minister and with the Minister with responsibility for refugees, and what I have tried to get across—this is important in relation to the amendment—is that when I went to Dunkirk, there were 3,000 individuals, including many children, living in a swamp in flimsy tents in the freezing cold. There were eight volunteers doing their level best to help in the camp, but there was not an official in sight, apart from two gendarmes on the gate, and all they were doing was preventing pallets from being brought in. I know things have changed—I did say that when I went, and I have never been slow to acknowledge when steps have been taken—but there needs to be a reality check about the ability of children in those camps and elsewhere to access the advice and help they need to make a claim.
I have similarly visited Dunkirk, where I was appalled by the inhumane conditions, and no one should walk by. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman have any details about deliverability if the Dubs amendment is passed? How many unaccompanied minors will come to this country, and when? How will that operate?
As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the amendment proposes a scheme for taking children, and that is important. I accept that there needs to be a proper scheme and that things need to be done properly. As with any other scheme, accommodation, schools, health and so on have to be put in place for anybody who arrives. The proposal is therefore for a scheme, rather than just a set number of children without a scheme.
I want to move on. I have described the hundreds of thousands—
I will make some progress, if I may, and then I will of course take further interventions.
I have described the situation for millions of families travelling across the world, but we are now dealing with children making such treacherous journeys on their own. It is estimated that there are 26,000 of them in Europe. I met four of them in Glasgow when I visited there. The children—two girls and two boys—were from Iran, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They told me their very powerful stories about their trip across to Europe.
One of the boys described to me how, aged 14, he had to get into a boat intended for 60, but in which there were 100 adults who were strangers to him. He was ordered to dispose of all his personal items, or he would not have been allowed on the boat. That 14-year-old arrived in Europe, with no personal belongings at all, with stranger adults, and he made the rest of his journey on his own. That is a typical example.
I would put it this way: in this country, we recognise that children cannot access their rights without significant help and the position is exactly the same in Europe, but such help is not in place and that is not happening. The stories that I heard from the four children in Glasgow were typical of those of the thousands of children who are arriving alone, frightened and with absolutely nothing.
There is the chilling statistic—from my point of view, this is a telling statistic—that 10,000 of those children are thought to be missing. That figure comes from Europol. I have done a lot of work, as I recognise have a lot of other people in the House, to try to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking. There is a shared concern that many of these children will become, if they are not already, victims of sexual exploitation or trafficking. That is the real concern driving Lords amendment 87. It is a small but important contribution to dealing with the refugee crisis, which is testing our humanitarianism.
For my part, I have applauded the Government’s resettlement scheme—I have spent time, both in Glasgow and in Colchester, with Syrian families who have arrived under the scheme—but we simply cannot ignore the children who have arrived in Europe. As has been said, they are right here, right now, and they are in a desperate and vulnerable position. The Government are not saying that nothing needs to be done, or that they are perfectly catered for and are not at risk. The Government recognise that something needs to be done and that they are at risk, but the Government are still resisting Lords amendment 87.
The Minister put this in terms of risk and of not encouraging children to take risks. I want to address what is sometimes expressed as the pull factor absolutely fairly and squarely. The first thing to say is that, on analysis, there is flimsy evidence to support the pull factor one way or the other. The other thing is that any discussion of a pull factor should be held in a vacuum. We have been here before in relation to rescues in the Mediterranean. On one view, people argue that such rescues are a pull factor, but we all recognise that it would be abhorrent to leave people to their fate in the Mediterranean on the simple proposition that that might encourage others to cross the sea.
We therefore have to be absolutely honest with ourselves about what we are saying about the pull factor in relation to the 26,000 children, of whom 10,000 are missing. The pull factor argument is that we must abandon them to their fate on the basis of an unproven theory that if we did something by taking them, others might be encouraged to come. In stark terms, that is the pull factor. I reject it, many Members of the House reject it and we should all, rightly, reject it.
I hesitate to intervene on my hon. and learned Friend’s excellent speech, but does he wonder why we did not hear about the pull factor when this country took in 50,000 Ugandans, 30,000 Cypriots or 20,000 Vietnamese? We now have such a situation in Europe. A child died at the Piraeus camp in Greece when I visited just a few weeks. It was absolutely awful. That this Government are really doing what they are doing for the sake of immigration issues is a scandal. Is that not really why we are discussing the pull factor?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his very powerful intervention, which puts the pull factor in its proper context. The pull factor argument that has been deployed is not attractive in a country that has been as tolerant as this country has in providing support for those fleeing persecution. In the end, the argument boils down to saying that we will leave people to their fate for fear of encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. The Minister talked about distressed people fleeing from war-torn zones. That is the context in which the argument is being applied, but this case is worse because the pull factor is being applied to children. The boy I met in Glasgow was 14 when he made his journey, and he is typical of many in that respect.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. On the pull factor, I agree with him that the evidence is at best mixed. In the sense that I found any kind of pull factor in the camps I visited in northern Greece, in the islands or in Calais and in meeting refugees who have been settled in Cologne, it was that Europe is a peaceful, decent, stable place where people can raise their children without fear of their being killed. We should be proud of such a pull factor.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. I know that he has been very supportive of the campaigns in that respect. Certainly, several people I talked to in Calais and Dunkirk—stuck in camps that were appalling when I saw them—spoke in glowing terms about the rule of law and human rights, and our proud tradition in relation to refugees.
I have listened to the Minister. Not only on this occasion but on every time that we have debated this, I have applauded and acknowledged the steps that the Government have taken. I accept that any steps taken must be proper steps within a proper scheme so that they work properly. However, not taking the vulnerable children who are in Europe—right here, right now—is simply not good enough.
This afternoon, an email pinged into my inbox from a rabbi in Kentish Town, one of my constituents, which I want to read to the House:
“As the Jewish community celebrates the…Passover, we remember not only our own journey to freedom, but all those who are not free.”
He urged me to support Lords amendment 87 and other amendments. He certainly speaks for many of my other constituents, as I am sure he does for those of many hon. Members from across the House.
Among those on the Opposition Benches, there is strong support for Lords amendment 87. I know and acknowledge the fact that Conservative Members have real concerns, which they have raised repeatedly, about our not taking in this group of vulnerable children who need our help now.
I was particularly moved by yesterday’s article by the former Archbishop, Rowan Williams. He compared the action being taken now with how we responded to the plight of children during the second world war. Does my hon. and learned Friend not agree with him that supporting the Dubs amendment
“is an opportunity for us to live up to the best of our tradition in Britain of reaching out a hand to help the most vulnerable”?
I speak for Members from across the whole House when I say that history will judge how we respond to this historic crisis, which is of proportions that have not been seen since the second world war. This is the challenge of our time, and whether we rise to it or not will be the measure of us. We have the clear evidence of thousands of vulnerable children, and we now need to act to take 3,000, as proposed in the amendment. I say to Conservative Members who have campaigned and spoken out on this that now is the moment to do something about it to make a real difference by voting with us on amendment 87. I urge all Members to do so.
We have talked a lot about pull factors, but it is worth remembering for a moment the push factors: the children as young as seven who are being forced on to the frontline in Syria, or the children raped in conflicts that are so horrific that aid workers I have worked with over 10 years are telling me that the situation is the most horrendous they have ever witnessed. These are children in Europe right now. I applaud the Government’s record on the humanitarian support they have given to Syrian civilians in the region—in Syria—and some of the efforts we have made in Europe, but tonight is surely the moment that we have to go just that little bit further. I hope my hon. and learned Friend agrees with that point.
I am grateful for that intervention. It reminds us that applying the “pull factor” argument in relation to refugees is inappropriate because they are, by definition, people who are fleeing persecution across borders and taking journeys that are treacherous and dangerous. When we see families or children making those journeys, we all think of our own families, and think of the circumstances and the desperation that lies behind those desperate acts. In those circumstances, it is of course very important to take into account the push factors.
The hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware of the Minister’s statement that we will take more children from in and around Syria. He has been arguing, as have others, about the 3,000 children to be taken from within Europe. Clearly, all of us in this House care very strongly about all vulnerable children caught up in these awful situations. Does he believe that there is a choice between taking one category before the other? Should we be taking more from Syria as well as the 3,000? How would we decide, given our ability properly to look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children?
I support the statement that was made last week about up to 3,000 children being taken from the region. However, it should not be an either/or when we have a refugee crisis of a scale not seen since the second world war. This is a limited and proportionate number—3,000 children who are in desperate need in Europe right now. I, for my part, do not subscribe to the categorisation of vulnerability. I think that any child alone, fleeing across a border having made a treacherous journey, is vulnerable wherever they have found themselves. Certainly all the children I have spoken to—those in the camps and those who had made it to this country—were very vulnerable, not only when they started those journeys but when they made them. It is not an either/or.
This is a very sensitive and difficult issue. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned vulnerability. Surely the most vulnerable children, families and communities are not those in Europe but those closest to conflicts.
I am sorry, but I really do not want to go down this path. One of the 10,000 who has disappeared and may be subject to sexual exploitation or trafficking right now is extremely vulnerable, and I am not going to categorise him or her as being any more or any less vulnerable than a child who may be in a camp elsewhere, vulnerable though they are. Hon. Members across the House have approached this with principle and with humanity, and there has been a shared cause of concern in many of the debates we have had. The “pull factor” argument whereby we leave people to their fate lest others follow, or the idea that we categorise the vulnerability of children, are not points well made in a debate that is usually conducted in a framework of real principle.
Amendments 84 and 85 deal with indefinite detention and immigration detention of pregnant women. They reflect a growing concern about immigration detention per se and of pregnant women in particular. That concern has been expressed in this House, in all-party parliamentary groups, in non-governmental organisations, and in charities. From the Labour party point of view, we had a manifesto commitment to end indefinite immigration detention. This matter has been raised throughout the passage of the Bill, and I am proud to rise to speak on it today. The solution in amendment 84 is simple: 28 days’ immigration detention with the possibility of judicial extension on exceptional grounds. That strikes the right balance while managing risk. I commend the amendment to the House.
Pregnant women are an especially vulnerable group, as everybody appreciates. Stephen Shaw was tasked to look particularly at vulnerability and, within that category, the position of vulnerable women. He made four very powerful findings. First, he said that it is obvious that detention harms both mother and baby. We start from that reminder of the obvious. Secondly, he said that the current regime for detention in exceptional circumstances is clearly not working. Thirdly, he pointed out that the vast majority of pregnant women in immigration detention are not removed. The idea that immigration detention is for those where there is a realistic prospect of removal is therefore at odds with the evidence as regards pregnant women. That drove Stephen Shaw to the conclusion that the only proper way forward was an absolute ban. I recognise that the Secretary of State has moved on this issue, but it is not enough. I urge all Members to support amendments 84 and 85.
On the absolute ban on the detention of pregnant women, which I support, I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman recognises the tremendous change that the Government have made, and are making. Will he reassure me and others that if pregnant women are made a category for exclusion from detention, that will not create a precedent for other groups to have a similar level of exclusion?
I hope that I made it clear that I support the Government’s changed position and recognise how far they have gone; I simply said that it is not enough. I do not think this sets a precedent. We are talking about a particular group. All those in immigration detention are vulnerable in one way or another, but it has long been recognised that pregnant women are a particularly vulnerable group within that group. This amendment speaks only to them, and therefore should be taken in those terms.
Amendment 60 deals with overseas domestic workers. This is a very important matter because it concerns another very vulnerable group, many of whom are abused by the households who employ them and find it very difficult to escape that abuse. When the Bill that became the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was going through this House, the Government, under pressure, commissioned the Ewins report. That report was clear in its conclusion that overseas domestic workers should be able to change employer and to apply for further leave for up to 30 months, and that they should be informed of their rights. The basis of the amendment is to support the Ewins conclusions. The driving theme behind the report in putting forward those proposals is that Ewins said that they are the only practical way out of abuse for this very vulnerable category of workers. There is more to be done on overseas domestic workers, and amendment 60 addresses a very thin slice of the problems they face. However, I urge all Members to support it.
For me, as a parent, the decision on whether to support the amendment made to the Bill in the other place on the resettlement of unaccompanied children in Europe reduces itself to simple questions. If I were separated from my children—if they were destitute in a foreign country, cold, hungry and far away from home—what would I want for them? Would I be content for them to be at risk of violence and exploitation, often sexual in nature, or would I want them to be offered safe haven with the desire that they be looked after and reunited with family members in due course? Those questions are, to my mind, rhetorical. They admit of sure and certain answers. I greatly regret that those are not answers that—with the best of motives, I accept—the Government appear to be willing to give.
Let us, for a moment, leave out of the equation what seems to me to be the grave inconsistency between arguing, on one hand, that the country has a role at the heart of the EU, and yet refusing, on the other, to shoulder the burden of the fact that Europol estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children went missing in Europe last year after they had been registered with the authorities in the countries in which they found themselves. Let us leave out of the equation the fact that the true number of minors subjected to abuse, exploitation and violence is, self-evidently, far higher. Let us even leave out of the equation the fact that, as the former Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in a national newspaper over the weekend, doctors report that as many as half of unaccompanied African boys in the EU require treatment for sexually transmitted diseases—diseases almost certainly acquired from sexual exploitation during their passage to Europe. Let us also forget about those children we do not know about who have died cold and lonely deaths in Europe or the Mediterranean, driven from their homes and separated from their parents and loved ones, usually through no fault of their own.
Let the House instead reflect on our history in this, the greatest migration challenge in my lifetime, and on how we have behaved in the past. In that respect, the contribution that the country has always made to doing the right thing—to providing a home for children who have been driven from theirs by war and conflict—is unmatched. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures. That was the case with the Kindertransport programme, which benefited those who would undoubtedly have lost their lives in the holocaust had this country not acted in the run-up to the second world war. It was the case with those who fled Uganda after Idi Amin decided to expel them. It was the case with those who fled Vietnam and Iran in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. But now, apparently, either we should not act or we cannot act, using our heads as well as our hearts; to do so would simply encourage more children to make the dangerous journey to Europe. So says the Minister, and I accept that he has a point. That point does not, however, answer the question that these children are already in Europe, and that they are at risk as I stand here and speak to the House.
I do not doubt for a moment the Minister’s desire, and that of the Government, to do the right thing. I do doubt, based on what I have heard in the House this evening, that that is what we are proposing to do. As I have said, these children are already in Europe. They are alone, and far from their families. They are cold, frightened, hungry and frequently without help or access to those who might help or protect them. Their lives are miserable and brutish, and at least half of them have experienced or seen violence that we can only dream of in our nightmares—or, rather, hope that we do not.
Of course, the announcement last week, welcome as it is, that we will take 3,000 children from Syria and elsewhere who have not already made the dangerous journey to Europe was a good one, in the best traditions of recognising the obligations that this country enjoys in times such as the present—obligations that were recognised in January, and to which the announcement adds. That is no comfort to the children who are already in Europe, who have fled from war and conflict that have torn apart their lives, and who need our help now. Those children are in Calais; they are on the Greek-Macedonian border; they are at the Gare du Nord in Paris and Midi station in Brussels; and they are sleeping rough in Berlin, Rome, Skopje and Vienna. Tonight they will sleep in fear, and tomorrow they will wake to the hopelessness to which their position exposes them. Today, in this House, we can do something. We cannot solve all their problems, remove all their troubles, or take from their consciousness the memory of the horrors that they have witnessed and endured, but we can do something.
That something is not to disagree with their Lordships on this amendment. That is the something that I can and will do, by joining Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer in the Opposition Lobby this evening. This is not an easy decision, or one that I have taken lightly, but it is the right decision, made of a conviction that I have reached after searching my conscience, as I pray other right hon. and hon. Members will search theirs. The House should support the Lords in their amendment and vote against the motion to disagree.
I thank hon. Members throughout the House for their generous support as I make a phased return to parliamentary life. I rise to speak to Alf Dubs’s amendment 87 to bring to the UK just 3,000 of the 26,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Although I also support Lords amendments to provide other protections for asylum seekers, others will speak on those.
I speak on behalf of many hundreds of people in Bristol West who have written to me, urging me to help refugees. Many have also donated time, money and practical help in camps and in Bristol, which is a city of sanctuary. I am standing up to speak tonight because this matters more to me than I can possibly say—more than obeying the instructions of my doctor to take more rest.
I understand that there has been uproar in some quarters about a speech made in Saturday’s “Shakespeare Live!” by Sir Ian McKellen. To my mind, it was the high point of the night. Nothing else came close to the potency of the language, the power and the feeling of the delivery and the relevance today of Shakespeare’s message, written 400 or so years ago. It was given as a speech by Sir Thomas More, sheriff of London during Henry VIII’s reign, addressing rioters who protested against foreigners. He called on them to
“Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage,
Plodding to th’ ports and coasts for transportation”—
I am no Ian McKellen. That is a vivid description of the current situation for so many children, young people and adults fleeing war today. He asks them to consider what they would do if they were refugees, which country would give them harbour, whether they would go
“to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal”, and how they would feel if they were met there by
“a nation of such barbarous temper”.
If the worst happened and our children were alone, fleeing war and persecution, would not every one of us hope that our children would receive safe harbour in France or Flanders, Germany, Spain or Portugal? We must support amendment 87 to protect other people’s children.
In Bristol West, my caseworkers and I are dealing with many of today’s families torn apart by war—with children who are scarred and parents who are desperate. This is one such story. Mrs Djane’s family home in Mali was attacked al-Qaeda in December 2012 because her husband was a Christian. Her husband and daughter were shot dead in front of her sons. She was beaten and left unconscious. Her sons believed that she was dead and fled the family home, taking nothing. When she recovered consciousness, her sons were gone and her husband and daughter were dead. She assumed that her sons had been killed or kidnapped by al-Qaeda, and she fled to the UK. On arrival, she was taken from the airport by a man who imprisoned and raped her repeatedly until she escaped from him approximately 20 days later. The police took her to the trafficking charity Unseen, which put her in touch with the Red Cross to see whether her sons could be traced.
Mrs Djane claimed asylum and was granted refugee status, but she spent the next two years searching for her sons. She finally found them in a border town between Mali and Guinea. They are living with strangers who have been kind enough to take them, but who do not have the means to care for them. Her youngest son tragically died last year from an infected snake bite. That death, the murder of her husband and daughter, the loss of her sons and her own imprisonment and rapes devastated Mrs Djane. She suffers from severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks. We are supporting her with applications for her sons to join her, and I hope for a decision soon.
The amendment we can pass tonight will help other children who are separated from their parents and fleeing war and persecution. We must help them before it is too late. Vulnerable children are going missing now from camps across Europe. I dread to think what they are suffering, whether alone or in the hands of traffickers. We would be failing in our duties if we did not show our leadership, and meet our legal obligations and moral imperatives to those refugees and asylum seekers.
Many people concerned about immigration say that it is out of control, and that they feel its impact but their concerns are not being heard. They must be heard, but it may be that they do not differentiate between refugees and other migrants. I have had hundreds of emails from people in my constituency urging me to do more for refugees, but there are also worries. Everyone here needs to be concerned about how child refugees are protected on their way to the UK and when they arrive.
The Minister seems to see helping refugees as a pull factor; he then uses that as an argument against bringing children here. That so-called pull factor is often attributed to the assistance given to refugees, but that is misleading. First, it associates them with taking rather than giving. Secondly, it often inflates the numbers to ones vastly above the reality, with headlines about “floods” or “hordes” of migrants in general and refugees in particular.
Let us have a few facts. Refugee children are already on their way. They may have survived a dangerous journey when, tragically, their parents have not. They may have become separated from their parents. There are children in camps in northern France. Sadly, more than 100 have already gone missing, as other hon. Members have said. If we had only taken them, they would be safe. It may already be too late.
The World Bank’s 2016 Migration and Remittances Factbook identifies the benefits of migration, including migration of refugees. They fill labour shortages in dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs, or those that others cannot do for other reasons. Migration helps our economy to grow, and helps our country in so many ways. Migrants add skills and knowledge, spend money locally and pay taxes. They are less likely than people born in this country to claim state welfare. Many, including refugees, set up their own businesses or help to run others, creating jobs for local people. They send money back home, £306 billion of it to developing countries—three times as much as state aid. That helps developing countries’ economies, and, in turn, benefits us as they trade with us, buy our goods, visit us as tourists or students and further help our economy.
Indeed, the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal sustainability report estimates that, as a consequence of the effects I have described, projected levels of immigration will actually help us to reduce Government debt as a proportion of GDP, steadily, and by one third by the middle of this century. Refugees are people, who have skills they want to use, and who have demonstrated their determination, resilience and courage in ways that we can only imagine. Unaccompanied children demonstrate those things even more, but need our protection, love and care to be able to recover.
Many people may feel compassion for refugees, but may also want to know where all the extra public services are going to come from. They may not know the true numbers, or the long-term benefits. They may fear change. That is reasonable.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, although the Government’s position sounds tough, the fairest and most humanitarian thing to do is to take children from Syria, which is a thoroughly unsafe country, but not from a safe country like France, as that would simply encourage the people traffickers and smugglers, and so lead to more and more misery? The Government’s position is fair, humanitarian and right.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, but frankly the situation is just not safe. It is only fair to say that we can do both—we can take children from those countries and the children who are already on their way. They are at risk. I urge us to imagine how we would feel if they were our children.
We need to do more to prepare the welcome for refugees so that they are not put in a situation where their neighbours resent them. But the time is right for a better informed public debate about how we treat refugees and asylum seekers overall. That debate should include consideration of allowing asylum seekers to work sooner and of how we can prepare local communities and public services for new arrivals. It will be difficult, and there will be strong feelings and major challenges, but we cannot let what is difficult be the enemy of what is right. Protecting refugees, and child refugees in particular, is right. It is a human right that we would expect if we or our children were fleeing conflict or persecution. It is a human rights obligation that we should be proud to honour, and in the best ways we possibly can. It says something wonderful about our place in the world when we do that. That is why I am pleased to announce this evening, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, that we will be holding a public inquiry into this issue later this year.
I also believe that there needs to be a wider, enlightened and respectful debate about how we manage migration in general. That debate needs to take place in our parties and in the public sphere. I will be active in my own party, and wherever else I can be, to listen to and respect people’s concerns, but also to help to develop well-informed policy and practice, so that we can give refugees, and children in particular, the welcome that they deserve.
I return to Shakespeare’s words, and the decision that hon. Members will make tonight. We can do our part for 3,000 unaccompanied children. We can help to protect those children, who are the same age as our own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. These are children who have struggled across the continent unprotected, and perhaps been abused along the way, who are hungry and in desperate need of our protection. Our leadership in our own constituencies can help to ensure that they are not met with the “barbarous temper” that Shakespeare describes and that I fear many of those children are already meeting along their way from people traffickers and others seeking to exploit them. We can welcome them with warmth and care. They will need more, and we must plan, but I hope and believe that we have it in us to manage that. Three thousand children is fewer than five per constituency. Surely we in this House can manage to support our local authorities to find foster carers, psychological support and education for five children in each of our constituencies.
As each hon. Member goes through the Lobby, I urge them to think of this. Today, they could be helping the child they have not met but who in 20 years’ time may be the doctor who saves their own child’s life, the midwife who helps deliver their grandchild, the teacher who fires up that grandchild’s ambition, the scientist who helps to find a cure for asthma, diabetes or even cancer, the engineer who finds better ways to make vehicles run on clean energy sources, the mechanic who keeps trains going, or the care assistant who will look after one of us when we are old. All of those people are children today. Some are our own children, or our children’s friends, but some are waiting in a refugee camp or the back of a lorry, or living in a ditch or worse. They are waiting for us to help them with our vote tonight.
When we are first elected, every one of us hopes that we will make a difference—that our presence here will mean something and be a force for good. Tonight we get to do all that by showing our support for Lords amendment 87, the Alf Dubs amendment to protect unaccompanied child refugees.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind Members that we have to conclude the debate at 9.26 pm, and there is a very high level of interest.
I am pleased to follow Thangam Debbonaire, and welcome her back to the House.
I have followed this Bill throughout its progress, in Committee and on Report. Today, I will talk about two points. This evening we have heard a lot of talk about the migration crisis that we are seeing across Europe. As a Kent MP, I have seen those troubles more acutely, because of our proximity to the Calais camps. Obviously we have all seen the troubles that have happened across Europe, and find them devastating.
Yes, I support the Government’s incentives, but I also support the measures that will be a direct outcome of the implementation of this Immigration Bill, which will help counties like mine in the dispersal of some of the unaccompanied asylum seekers we are seeing come to our county.
Last week, I was at the Council of Europe, where the EU migrant crisis was debated. It is interesting today to hear a debate about facilities and the safety of refugees and unaccompanied minors across Europe. Last week in the Council of Europe there was some criticism of EU countries: there was a recognition that they were not always fulfilling their obligations. I have heard a lot of concern about what our European neighbours are doing and I agree, especially after listening to the debate tonight, that we need to raise our concerns with our European partners about the safety of individuals in their countries. I am proud to say that the UK has been meeting its obligations, through its financial commitments and by relocating refugees. We are currently fulfilling the obligations we have committed ourselves to.
On the call to relocate 3,000 children from Europe, I want to make it clear to this House that we are already doing certain things. In Kent, we have received over 1,000 unaccompanied child refugees in the past 12 months. That is not to be taken lightly. We are doing our bit. My county has seen significant financial pressures, which I mention because Kent has a shortage of social workers and foster carers. My concern, as a constituency MP and a proud person of Kent, is to ensure we have the right facilities, the right professionals and the right funding to support the children from my county who are already struggling. It is right that we look after the young people who find themselves in our country after making such a dangerous journey, but we should not underestimate the significant issues these young people face. They may have had traumatic experiences and we need to consider the cost to the county of Kent. Kent has asked other parts of the country to help us in this battle, but we have not received too many offers of support.
The Government are taking additional steps, with the resettlement scheme, which is focused on the most vulnerable children in the middle east and north Africa, and the £10 million fund. I support the Government and I will be voting with them on the Bill.
As a fellow Kent MP, I, too, am well aware of the enormous burden on Kent in trying to look after many hundreds of unaccompanied child asylum seekers, and how badly it needs other parts of the country to help. Only a handful have been taken on by other councils. Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members, as well as calling for more children to be taken in, should be calling on their areas to take their fair share of unaccompanied child asylum seekers?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend knows that over the past 12 months we have had significant representation from our county council with regard to the pressures it is under, not only in dealing with the domestic situation but the issue we are debating today. I absolutely believe that hon. Members from other parts of the country should encourage their councils to help the counties in the south-east.
I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that the Scottish Government offered to take, at the very least, Scotland’s fair share of refugees. Indeed, the Scottish Government have called for the UK Government to take more, so that our fair share will be greater. Does she accept that many of the unaccompanied children in Europe are trying to get here because their parents or other relatives are already here, and that being reunited with their family is the best option for them?
I absolutely accept that young people are coming to this country to be reunited with their families. As I have said, Kent has already taken more than 1,000 of them.
The amendment to allow asylum seekers unrestricted access to the labour market after six months would completely undermine the current system and the measures in the Bill. Last year, I visited the refugee camp in Calais with my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) and for Gravesham (Mr Holloway). I spoke with a number of young people who wanted to come to the UK. They told me that they were coming to the UK to work and even told me exactly who they would be working for. However, they would be working illegally. In my mind, therefore, a move to allow asylum seekers unrestricted access to work would do nothing but encourage more young vulnerable adults or minors to come to the UK.
When I was first elected, an Opposition Member told me that there were two divisions in the House of Commons: one between left and right; and one between those who, as a matter of course in their constituency, have to deal with the UK Border Agency and those who do not. The hon. Lady is making a very compelling argument about some of the problems in our immigration and asylum system. Why then does she wish to penalise the young vulnerable people she talks about by not supporting them tonight and by not saying that the problems she identifies are to do with politicians? Let us not penalise these young people. Let us stand with them tonight and get our act together.
I am a constituency MP and I represent the people of Rochester and Strood. I have had a lot of representations, over an extended period of time, about what people have seen in my constituency and across the county of Kent. I represent what a large proportion of people in my constituency believe on this matter.
To allow asylum seekers unrestricted access to our labour market after six months would encourage more young men to make their way to the camps and make the perilous journey across the channel. Personally, I do not want to support that or be a party to it.
I am sure my hon. Friends will say I have spoken enough already, but I would just like to say that I believe the Bill, as it stands and as I saw it in Committee, is right. I think it is a great step forward for the Government. It addresses what many people in this country have identified as issues and concerns for them. I will therefore be supporting the Government this evening.
In September 2015, Save the Children released a paper called “The extreme vulnerability of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe - a proposal for managing their relocation to the UK”. The paper charted the journey of unaccompanied child refugees to Europe: the war, conflict and violence in their home countries; and the abuse, exploitation, physical and sexual violence experienced during their long journeys to Europe, which often lasted months and years. Even if that was the end of the horror story, surely that would be enough fully to justify Lord Dubs’s amendment. In fact, it provides more than enough justification for us to say that we will take our fair share of responsibility for providing not just immediate aid and protection but the stability, education, support and care that these children require when arriving in Europe, bearing the scars of such dreadful experiences. But tragically the horror story does not end there. The scale of the crisis and the lack of co-ordination and solidarity between European countries mean that the arrival here of these children is barely the beginning of their troubles.
It is important to remind ourselves just how grim the experience in Europe is. Stephen Phillips did that powerfully earlier in the debate. In its paper, Save the Children looked at migrants and refugees on the Greek islands, in Calais and in Hungary and Macedonia. In Greece, it reported a lack of basic services and adequate shelter, toilets, clean water, health facilities and safe spaces, which put children and women at high risk of sexual harassment, physical violence and trafficking.
Unaccompanied minors are at particular risk. Save the Children reported
“a lack of adequate sanitation facilities which means that women and children have to share toilets with men or are forced to defecate in the open. . . Unaccompanied minors, once in the hands of the authorities, are sometimes placed in detention with adults, again exposing them to risks of sexual and physical harassment. . . Children interviewed recounted stories of war and death and described the terrifying journey crossing the sea to Greece. Parents reported symptoms like bedwetting, nightmares, fear and extreme attachment. Most of the children had been out of school for years and have a distorted view of what constitutes ‘normality’. Food distributions are limited and erratic … whilst more vulnerable individuals … often end up unserved. . . There is limited primary health care coverage across migrant and refugee sites”.
Finally, as a shocking matter of fact, Save the Children recorded that in Athens, in their attempt to leave Greece, women and children sleep in squares and parks that are frequented by drug dealers, traffickers and prostitution rings. During the period of the assessment, a 10-year-old boy was raped in one of these parks.
The fact that this is happening is Europe is not down to one or two European countries. It is a collective failure by all European states, and it is our collective obligation to fix it. As has been argued:
“Under specific criteria and safeguards, relocation is one of the few viable long-term solutions for the protection of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 603, c. 864.]
The need for such a scheme is every bit as great now as it was then, as recent reports by Save the Children and so many other organisations—too many to mention—have shown. I know that many hon. Members present tonight have seen these awful places first hand and will probably share some of those experiences this evening during the debate.
When I read those reports, and having seen first-hand the situation in Calais and Dunkirk, I am furious—furious about what is happening to these children, and furious also that there is any doubt about whether we will stand by Lord Dubs’s amendment this evening, and I am at a loss to understand why that should be in doubt. A strange phrase has been dropped into the argument recently by the Government—that we need to use our heads as well as our hearts. With all respect to the Minister, who I know generally chooses his words carefully, I find that expression a little bit patronising.
This is not some hare-brained plan dreamed up by well-intentioned but misguided amateurs on the back of an envelope. It is a carefully thought through proposal based on years of professional experience from experts in the field, incorporating carefully considered criteria. It was a modest calculation of our fair share, based on circumstances at the time. It is not those who support the relocation of 3,000 children from Europe who need to start using their heads. On the contrary, it is the sceptics and cynics who need to start using their eyes and ears so as to understand the full horror, extent and duration of what is going on in our continent.
We have a proud tradition going back centuries of taking in refugees. In particular, before and during the war we took large numbers of Jewish children in. Why cannot we honour that commitment now?
Absolutely. As we heard earlier, Lord Dubs was one of those who benefited from that very scheme.
I find other arguments against this very modest proposal equally disagreeable. Some have argued that we must not provide an incentive for others to come. Like the shadow Minister, I cannot believe for a second that any hon. Members are really saying that we should not rescue children from abuse and exploitation lest that create an incentive. If that is “using their head”, I have serious concerns for the sanity of those hon. Members. But if they are saying that someone else should rescue those children from abuse and exploitation, not only does the argument about incentives fall to pieces, but the question arises: if not us, then who? If the UK says “Leave it to Greece and Italy”, why should anyone else come to their aid not just in the short term, but in the medium and long term?
Even a child can understand that tens—or almost certainly now hundreds—of thousands of unaccompanied kids shared between 28 members states, although hugely challenging, is infinitely more workable than the same number left as the long-term responsibility of two or three countries. This country should not wash its hands of its responsibilities; it should roll up its sleeves and play its part.
The Government have again tried to win the day with their well-worn trump card—that we should focus on those in the conflict region. In these debates I have always welcomed what deserves to be welcomed. The support provided in the region in the form of aid has been incredibly welcome, as has the resettlement of vulnerable persons scheme and the new proposals for children, but the House of Lords passed this amendment by more than 100 votes, fully aware of all those other Government schemes, including proposals—in principle—to resettle children.
Their lordships were absolutely right to resist the attempt by the Government to set up a false choice. There are refugees in Europe, including children, who are every bit as much in need of our support as those in the conflict region. It is not a question of one or the other. Showing leadership in support for those in the region does not entitle Government to abdicate responsibility for children in Europe.
If we think about what is happening to these children on our doorstep, I shudder to think what it says about this Government and Parliament if we do not support the amendment, but what a positive message if we do. From whatever angle we approach this question, using our head or our heart; from a perspective of faith or of simple human decency; from human rights or common sense, there is only one answer. Lord Dubs’s amendment has the full support of SNP Members.
We have heard some passionate speeches about unimaginably difficult conditions, but we talk as if the United Kingdom is the only country capable of doing something about the crisis. We forget that the United Kingdom taxpayer has given more than the rest of the European Union together to help Syrian refugees. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that if these circumstances existed in the United Kingdom, our social services would have taken care of those children? Does he not think that other European countries could be doing a rather better job of looking after those children who happen to be in their borders?
I do not disagree with very much that the hon. Gentleman, my colleague on the Home Affairs Committee, says. I agree that other European countries must step up to the plate. The Save the Children proposal is based on a calculation of what our fair share as a European Union member would be: it was 11.5% of the total number of unaccompanied children at that time. It fully comprehends that other EU member states have to take their share.
I shall move on now to amendment 60, which gives us the chance to protect yet another vulnerable group, overseas domestic workers. Such workers frequently come from backgrounds of extreme poverty and are dependent on their employer for both accommodation and wages. They are often women with limited formal education. Significant numbers of them suffer from mental illness resulting from past traumas, and many have learned or have been conditioned to distrust authorities.
Again, the Lords amendment is modest. The Government asked for an independent review by James Ewins QC. All we are asking for is that Mr Ewins’s recommendations be fully implemented. The Government have moved part of the way, which is very welcome, including what the Minister said today, which is encouraging, but they still have to move further. Their insistence on going through the national referral mechanism as a condition of leave beyond the initial six months is, in our view, wrong, and although provision of information is right and welcome, it is not sufficient in itself.
As well as providing a legal right to change employer, we can and must make that right one that can realistically be exercised by all who are at risk, as Mr Ewins suggested. The right should be dependent not on going through the slow and possibly quite intimidating gamble of the national referral mechanism, but simply on notifying the Home Office, as was said earlier in the debate. As no one will employ an overseas domestic worker with a few weeks or months left on their visa, Mr Ewins was clear that extensions had to be available to all, whether they were going through the mechanism or not, for up to two years beyond the original visa. That was what he described as
“the minimum required to give effective protection to those overseas domestic workers who are being abused while in the UK”.
That is the least we should deliver.
The SNP also fully supports amendment 84, which moves us closer to an effective 28-day time limit on immigration detention. The reasons we need such a limit have been set out at length in recent debates, including an excellent Back-Bench Business debate, in which Members from both sides of the House spoke with one voice in support of the conclusions reached by the all-party parliamentary groups on migration and refugees. Compulsory judicial oversight is also welcome. Often those with the most to gain from a legal challenge are the least likely to understand or to be able to access judicial processes, whether because of language, educational or mental health issues.
With due respect, the Government’s amendment in lieu is a non-starter. A single, guaranteed bail hearing every six months is simply not an acceptable level of judicial oversight for SNP Members. It is not a worthwhile time limit in any sense of the word, and it seeks to shift the burden of proof back on to the detainee. For these reasons, the Government’s amendment in lieu is simply not in the ballpark of what we would consider appropriate.
The SNP supports without hesitation that part of amendment 85 that excludes absolutely the detention of pregnant women. Once again, this is a modest proposal. As with overseas domestic workers, all we are calling for is that the independent recommendations from a Government-initiated review be fully implemented: this time, the excellent recommendations of Stephen Shaw. They are recommendations that once again mirror the earlier findings of the all-party groups’ inquiry into detention. The Shaw review found that
“detention has an incontrovertibly deleterious effect on the health of pregnant women and their unborn children” and therefore concluded that such detention must end. The Government’s amendment in lieu leaves them with an unacceptable power to continue to detain pregnant women for up to a week or to repeatedly detain them, compromising the health and safety of mother and child. Given the Home Office’s general record on detention, we take assurances that the powers would be used exceptionally with a healthy dose of scepticism. The Government have not gone far enough.
Stephen Shaw also recommended the introduction of a presumption against detention for several categories of other vulnerable people. A number of groups have expressed concern that the proposed “adults at risk” policy might see the current standards protecting vulnerable people reduced, rather than increased, as the Shaw review proposes. For example, existing safeguards for vulnerable people in detention include case reviews by the Helen Bamber Foundation and Freedom from Torture. As those groups understand it, the proposed “adults at risk” policy does not refer to those two organisations. I look to the Minister for assurances that the existing safeguards for vulnerable people through current policies and judicial decisions will not be reduced from their existing level.
In conclusion, we have made clear our outright opposition to the Bill from the start. These Lords amendments have the ability to add a thin silver lining to an otherwise very dark Bill. I pay tribute to the fantastic organisations that have shone a light on the many problems and dangers lurking in the Bill, in particular to the organisations and volunteers working on the ground across Europe. Without them, the situation facing many of the children we are debating would be even worse. They have played their part; it is now time for Members of Parliament to play their much simpler role.
It is a pleasure to follow the SNP spokesman, Stuart C. McDonald. I shall address my comments not to the substantive area of debate, amendment 87, but to other Lords amendments. As a result, I will try to limit my contribution, given that many people wish to speak to amendment 87.
Two issues of particular importance to me are, first, amendment 84, on the time limit for immigration detention, and the Government’s proposal, and secondly, amendment 85, on the detention of pregnant women. On amendment 84, I listened carefully to the Minister earlier and to the announcements by the Home Office last week, and on balance, notwithstanding the limitations just mentioned, the combination of the changes, along with the opportunity for Stephen Shaw to review the time limit, as part of his inquiry, in 12 to 18 months, gives me comfort that the Government, though they have not gone as far as I would have wished, have done enough for me to be generally supportive of their approach and certainly not to vote against them.
Unfortunately, on the detention of pregnant women, it is a different matter. Without a doubt, this is a big and welcome change, but for me it is a matter of principle: we should never detain a pregnant woman when we have the choice not to. It was January 2012 when I asked my first question in Parliament about the detention of pregnant women. I only regret that it took me 18 months as a Member to ask those questions—that it took me 18 months to become aware of a vast estate of incarceration and detention that had built up under the last Labour Government and continued under the coalition, and was detaining people in our name for no other reason than that they came here and had not proven their case to stay. Each of those many people—not just pregnant women, but others who were victims of torture and rape, as Stella Creasy mentioned—should have had a better and more humane alternative.
To those groups such as Medical Justice, Women for Refugee Women, the Refugee Council and so many others that have tried in the intervening period to persuade the Home Office to move its policy away from the default of detention and a culture of disbelief to something that is understanding of each individual circumstance, the Government’s announcements over the last few weeks are tremendously welcome. They do not go far enough, however.
I can assure the Minister that we will hold him and the Government to account in respect of all the words he has said and all the frameworks he has put in place to ensure that the objectives of the all-party groups in their inquiry into the use of immigration detention are achieved. There is a better alternative to detention: it is called case management, and it means letting people know what their rights are and not leaving them in the community with no one to talk to for month after month. We must engage with these people so they know that they can remain in this country if they can prove their entitlement, and we must provide them with the best possible support and advice to make that case. As I said, we will hold the Minister to account for that.
The campaign had a hashtag, as is common these days; it was called #setherfree. I regret that I cannot say to the women in Yarl’s Wood today that as a result of these changes they will be free. My hope is that we have started to change the direction, and that we are starting the process of taking that valuable phrase “asylum seeker” out of the gutter where it was left, and putting it where it should be as a place of honour—not for the individual, but for the country to which they come to claim that status. This is a judgment about us as much as it is a judgment about the people who come to this country. Let us take this step forward, but let us pressure the Government to do more.
I welcome the speech made by Richard Fuller and pay tribute to Stephen Phillips, whose powerful speech must have been difficult to make. It was a great pleasure, too, to hear the voice of my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire back in the Chamber this evening.
I shall focus my remarks on amendment 87, proposed in the House of Lords by Lord Alf Dubs. Some 95,000 children and teenagers are alone in Europe as a result of the refugee crisis—four times more than Save the Children thought the figure was for unaccompanied child refugees. This amendment asks Britain to help only 3,000 of them; and that is all. It will not solve the problem, but it will mean we are doing our bit. That is why I think the Government are so wrong to say no. We should do our bit just as we did 70 years ago when Britain supported the Kindertransport that brought Lord Alf Dubs to Britain and saved his life. It had cross-party support at that time. Those survivors of the Kindertransport are asking us to help child refugees again today.
The reason why this amendment is needed is that there are so many children who are disappearing, suffering and dying on our continent today, and that other countries do not have the capacity to cope with that alone. This House has the power in its hands to vote for this amendment today.
We should be clear that we all support what the Government have done in providing aid for the region. We all support the 0.7% of GDP that goes in aid, and we also support how much has been done to help the areas affected by the Syrian refugee crisis in particular. We know, too, however, that aid in the regions is not enough, particularly when people are fleeing and need sanctuary, and it is not enough when we need to help children. The lone child and teenage refugees are hugely vulnerable. Thousands are sleeping rough in Europe tonight because there are simply not the places, the sanctuaries and the children’s centres that we need to give them shelter.
The right hon. Lady makes an important point about the number of refugees and the number of young people who are in Europe. The figure of 26,000 has been mentioned several times. I would be interested to know how the figure of 3,000 came about. Is there an explanation for that, and what criteria will be used to bring the 3,000 children here?
The 3,000 figure was proposed by Save the Children, at a time when it thought that 26,000 children in Europe were alone. We now know that the figure is much higher, and that 95,000 children are alone and at risk across Europe. It would be for the Government to work with agencies such as Save the Children to establish the criteria; I think that priority should be given to those with families in Britain who can care for them, but that is something that we can debate.
It is right for us to do our bit to help. Children are sleeping rough tonight because countries across Europe simply do not have the capacity to provide that help. According to UNICEF and Save the Children, 2,000 children are alone in northern Greece, but there are fewer than 500 places for them, and those places are full. In Italy, the agencies found that girls were being exploited by older men, and that half the boys already had sexually transmitted diseases. In Calais, I met 11 and 12-year-olds who were suffering from scabies and bronchitis, and who were sleeping in tents with adult men.
This is the challenge that Europe faces: teenage girls being trafficked into prostitution, teenage boys being abused and raped, children with hypothermia and pneumonia, children who are traumatised because they have lost family along the way, and children who are locked up in detention centres because there are no other places for them to go to—again, often alongside adult men. A Syrian teenager who came to Parliament last week to meet Alf Dubs told me that he had fled the violence and fighting to reach family members who were here in Britain, but the abuse and the suffering that he saw and experienced as a refugee alone in Europe were worse than the violence that he had left behind.
As always, my right hon. Friend is speaking passionately. I was at that meeting, and the eyewitness accounts were extremely telling.
Is this not the problem that the Government have tonight? They say that the developed countries of Europe should be able to deal better with refugees, but, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, those countries are not dealing with it. The fact on the ground, in Calais and in Greece, is that children are at risk and are being brutalised and tormented, in some cases—to their shame—by the authorities who should be looking after them. That, surely, is why we have to do our bit.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Let me make my position clear. I think that other countries should be doing more—I think that it is shocking how little child protection the French authorities have put in place around Calais, and that we need countries across Europe to do far more—but how can we urge them to do more if we are refusing to do anything to help and give sanctuary to those child refugees?
The right hon. Lady is making an important point about family reunification. Does she accept that the £10 million fund that we are providing through the Department for International Development is intended to help Save the Children and others to support the very thing that I think she is rightly calling for—stronger family reunification, whether in the United Kingdom or in Europe more generally—and that the UK is playing an important part in that respect?
The Minister is right to say that we should be supporting family reunion, but, as I said to him in an intervention, that is simply not working in Calais. He and his Department cannot even tell me how many “take charge” requests the Home Office has received. We know that only a dozen of the children from Calais have actually arrived in the first place. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it is 24 now. He has already said that 24 children have been accepted for transfer, but only half of those children have actually arrived in Britain, because the process is simply taking too long.
The Minister is, of course, right to say that we should be trying to assist family reunion from Italy and Greece, but the £10 million that he has announced is funding for charities. It is true that charities can do great work, and they are already doing important work in Calais to help children there. Ultimately, however, it is not enough to ask charities to help if the French and British Governments are refusing to do their bit to speed up the system and provide the legal sanctuary that those children need, and the same applies to the children in Italy and Greece.
Although charities can do great work, they cannot provide the necessary authorities, the legal foster care, the statutory children’s homes, and the statutory child protection. It is Governments who need to do that: the Government in Greece, the Government in Italy, the Government in France, and the Government here in Britain, who should also be doing their bit.
This is the last time I shall intervene on the right hon. Lady; I do not want to interrupt her flow. On that last point, does she accept that the Government’s offer to put 75 extra people on the ground in Greece, including specialists with the ability to support the Greek Government, demonstrates the fact that the UK Government are playing their role in supporting Greece to do the things that she is calling for?
The Minister knows that I have welcomed many of the things that he has announced at every stage. I welcomed the announcement that the Government made in January, for example, just as I welcomed its re-announcement this week. It is sad that, at each stage, they have had to be pressurised into making those announcements, but I welcome them nevertheless. However, the International Rescue Committee and other agencies are saying that the lack of sufficient staff in Greece and Italy means that there are hugely long delays in processing the cases. With regard to the idea that those 75 people are going to make all the difference, that is still not an alternative to Britain doing its bit to provide sanctuary as well.
The UNHCR reports that there have been instances of
“children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out money, or because they have been robbed”.
Europol has warned that children, young women and lone refugees are being targeted for exploitation because there is not sufficient protection when they arrive, and that 10,000 child and teenage refugees have disappeared, often into the arms of criminal gangs. This is modern slavery of the kind that the whole House united to condemn just 12 months ago when we passed the new legislation. It is the same modern slavery that the Home Secretary described as being
“an affront to the dignity and humanity of every one of us”.
The House has the chance today to protect the dignity and humanity of 3,000 children and to stop them falling into modern slavery in Europe, so why is the Home Office still refusing to act?
I want to deal with the Minister’s points in turn. First, he says that we are doing our bit by helping children and families in the middle east and north Africa instead. I welcome what we are doing there. As I understand it, the figure of 3,000 will involve children and families, and not simply children alone, because as a result of UNICEF’s advice, the Government have broadened the scope to include children and families. However, this is not an either/or. Just because we are protecting and helping some of those from outside Europe does not mean that we cannot do our bit to help those in Europe as well. Some of the children who are in the detention centres in Greece and the tents in Calais and who are sleeping rough on the streets of Naples now face risks that are greater than those they faced when they were closer to home.
Secondly, the Minister said earlier that this was effectively a matter for the other European countries where the children are right now. The problem is, however, that Italy and Greece are overwhelmed. Germany and Sweden have done much to take in unaccompanied children, but they are struggling to find guardians or places in children’s homes and hostels for more. If we want other countries to do more, we also have to be prepared to do our bit. Of course it is not easy. There would have to be proper support, protection and safeguarding, and robust checks would also be needed. Some of the children and teenagers will have profound and complex needs as a result of the trauma and abuse that they have experienced.
It would also be wrong simply to leave this to Kent to cope with alone. I have had local councils and councillors from right across the country contacting me to say that they want to do more to help. I have heard from organisations such as Home for Good, which represents foster families who want to do more to help, as well as from community groups and faith organisations across the country who think that we should act. We especially have a responsibility to those who have family here. I have raised with the Minister my concerns about the failure to apply the Dublin agreement to Calais and about the number of children who are still stuck in the cold and the mud there; 157 cases have been identified by Citizens UK, yet so few have actually come to Britain. We have been raising that with Ministers over many months.
The Minister pointed out the need to do proper safeguarding checks and assessments and to investigate the families that reside here. He is of course right that safeguarding is necessary, but why is he not thinking about safeguarding them in Calais? They are there right now, in tents, at risk of huge abuse, at risk of gangs, at risk of trafficking, and at risk of taking crazy risks, because that is what teenagers do. Lives have been lost as a result. In January, a 15-year-old was killed in the back of a lorry in Dunkirk. His sister lives in west London. In March, a 17-year-old was killed in the wheel arch of a lorry in Oxfordshire. His uncles lives in Manchester. In April, a seven-year-old nearly suffocated in a lorry in Leicester. That he did not was only because an aid worker in Calais had given him a mobile phone and he was able to send a text message saying that he did not have any oxygen. The aid worker was able to alert the police, and they traced him and his older brother, who would otherwise have suffocated in a lorry. No matter how many times the Minister tells us that it is, the system is not working. He also claims that we are providing support to charities and financial support to the region, but it is not enough. It is not an alternative to Governments acting and providing legal help.
The Minister said that if we take child refugees from Europe, that will encourage more to come, but that argument is deeply wrong. Few of the child refugees in Europe have come because they want to travel to Britain. Many are trying to reach family, which will not change whether or not we take more child refugees. Many are just trying to find somewhere safe anywhere in Europe and that will not change either. Frankly, many do not know where they are going or what they are doing. They may have been trafficked or separated from family along the way.
Action on smugglers, border checks, working with Turkey, a strategy for Libya, or providing alternative safe and legal routes—all of those things may make a difference in preventing people from making a perilous journey in the first place. However, whether Britain takes 3,000 of the 95,000 children who are already in Europe simply will not make a difference to the number who try to come. These children have arrived, they are already here, and they need sanctuary and support. The danger is that the Government are actually saying that it is better to leave them to face those risks and that we should be prepared to abandon thousands of children to a life of exploitation, prostitution and abuse, because that somehow might prevent other children from getting on a boat. That is immoral, because they are children and not only should they have shelter, they should be in school but many of them have not been for years. Many of the refugees are a similar age to my children, who are in school and doing exams. It is an age at which children need support and help, not to be turned away.
When the Kindertransport legislation was passed in Parliament, MPs of all parties supported Britain’s leadership in helping child refugees. Alongside Alf Dubs, other Kindertransport survivors, such as Rabbi Harry Jacobi, who came across on one of the last boats out of Amsterdam, and Sir Erich Reich, have spoken out to urge us to do more now. All of them have joined with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Church of England, the House of Lords, Save the Children, the Refugee Council, Citizens UK, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, local government, community groups and faith groups to urge MPs to do the right thing today. We are rightly proud of what the Kindertransport did and of the cross-party support in Parliament, but will today’s vote on child refugees be a similar source of pride for future generations or a source of shame?
We rightly commemorate the Kindertransport and the life of Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued hundreds of Jewish child refugees. His picture is now on the Royal Mail’s first-class stamp. When it was launched, the Home Secretary called him
“an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times.”
She called him a hero of the 20th century. He was. We need heroes for the 21st century, too. It is no good just congratulating ourselves on Britain’s past if we are not prepared to show the same support and sanctuary today. It is no good telling children the parable of the good samaritan if all we in this House are prepared to do is walk on by. This is not the time to walk on by; this is the time to help. Let us not look back in years to come and be disappointed on how we voted today. Let us all, from all parts of this House, stand together and support the Dubs amendment.
Order. There is just over half an hour to go and I see probably a dozen people trying to get in to speak. There is no formal time limit, but if each colleague speaks for no more than three minutes, a lot will get in. Otherwise, a lot of people will be disappointed.
I shall endeavour to live up to that, Mr Speaker. Like Save the Children, I believe that every child and young person should live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes their full potential. But this Bill, on which I served in Committee, is about the wisest use of resources, and I support the Minister tonight in his position on amendment 87, which is about how best to help unaccompanied children. We all seek to help them, so the question is: how?
We have two large questions about resources before us tonight. The first is: do we help people better in the region or through Europe and, within that, which is more unsafe? The second is: how do we balance such action with supporting children who are already in need? The key point that the Minister has set out, on which I support him, is that of avoiding the encouragement of extra peril and the creation of an extra pull factor. In that position he is supported by the UNHCR representative to this country and the Children’s Commissioner.
We have all agreed tonight that other European countries must step up, too. Europe is a place of safety; there are dozens of safe countries between Italy and Greece, and the United Kingdom. I note some of the figures provided during the Lords debate on this Bill on the comparison with our European colleagues: we have relocated 1,000 refugees already, as we promised we would do by Christmas, and in that whole period the 27 other countries in Europe have managed to resettle only 650. We should look at the 21 other countries that have not taken in even one Syrian refugee.
The point we must then address is whether we are already doing enough to help the children are already in need in this country. Like my hon. Friend Kelly Tolhurst, I speak as somebody whose local authority does not do well on this count. I cast no aspersions about Kent, but I go on to say that Norfolk has more than 1,000 children who are in care and who need good homes. We must look at that statistic alongside this issue tonight. We must ask ourselves: how are we to provide a supportive, protective and caring environment for these children if we cannot already find enough foster homes and enough long-term homes for those children? We must balance those things tonight.
Does my hon. Friend agree that children are being trafficked younger and younger, and that they face loneliness and bewilderment? Does she agree that a child advocate support scheme similar to that trialled by the Government could be very useful for local authorities and young children?
I would be keen to look at that in more detail. I am unsure exactly how it might help in this particular case of Norfolk County Council, but I would be delighted to hear more if my hon. Friend can tell me about something I should be able to do as a constituency MP on that front.
Given these serious practical reservations, given that we do not already have enough supportive and caring environments for all the children we would wish to help, given the action that we are already taking and will take within those constraints, and given that surely it would be brutal to promise something that we are not currently able to deliver, I support the Minister’s position tonight and find it difficult at this time to support Lords amendment 87.
Order. I am sorry, but to help the House there will have to be a formal three-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, with immediate effect.
First, I should refer to my relevant entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: last October, I visited Jordan with Oxfam, making a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp. I join others in paying tribute to my noble Friend Lord Dubs, who is a living success story of how refugees can be resettled successfully and make a major contribution to their new society.
The Government’s continued commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees is hugely welcome. In all parts of this House we can be proud of the role the Department for International Development has played alongside many non-governmental organisations in the humanitarian effort in the region. I pay tribute also to those countries in the region that have welcomed huge numbers of refugees, notably Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. I welcome the announcement by the Government of an additional 3,000 places for resettlement, on top of the 20,000 they had already announced.
We can all celebrate the positive story about aid, and the positive story about resettlement is welcome. However, I do not accept the Government’s contention that this is somehow an either/or matter. It is not a choice between action in the region or action to help child refugees who are in Europe—we can do both.
In January the International Development Committee published its first report of this Parliament on the Syrian refugee crisis. In that report we supported Save the Children’s recommendation that the Government should resettle 3,000 unaccompanied children, and that is the basis for Lords amendment 87. We have heard powerful speeches, not least from Stephen Phillips, my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire and my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper. I urge colleagues across the House to consider those powerful arguments in favour of Lords amendment 87.
We are talking about unaccompanied children in Europe who face a frightening mixture of pressures: child trafficking, drug trafficking, sex trafficking and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said, modern slavery. Those children are facing harsh conditions, and they are facing them on their own. The 3,000 figure is simply about us as a country taking our fair share. I welcome the fact that this issue has cross-party support. On that basis, let us celebrate our aid and work to resettle people, but let us not see this is a choice. I urge colleagues to reject the Government’s motion to disagree, and to keep the Dubs amendment.
If ever a debate showed the need not to have a time limit, this is it, especially given the complex issues we are dealing with. The issue of human dignity flows through all the amendments under consideration, whether they deal with child refugees in Syria or Europe, or those who have made their way to this country and need appropriate and fair treatment, and who we must try to avoid detaining for so long.
There is no monopoly on compassion. The House will be dividing on this amendment, and it is not a binary issue about whether or not someone supports or cares for child refugees. I have been a long-standing campaigner for the Government to provide more refuge, and for such assistance to be based not on arbitrary numbers but on vulnerability. I welcome the Government’s move from the 20,000 places announced in September to an additional 3,000 refugees coming from Syria and the region.
As many speeches have highlighted, Europe has the role of providing safety from trafficking, exploitation and abuse—that is distinct from the issue of refuge within Europe. How can we practically deliver that? The number that horrifies me and to which I wish to respond is Europol’s estimate that 10,000 children have gone missing. How can we practically ensure that children do not go missing and that there is safety? The arbitrary figure of 3,000 that has been nobly championed by Lord Dubs—he is watching this debate—has provided a focus for the debate and moved the Government to provide details on the commitment that they made at the end of January.
We must consider the practical issues. Seventy-five experts going to Greece is not a good campaign slogan, but it is important because the practical deliverability of the figure of 3,000 in the amendment must lead to a result that sees experts going to Greece or Calais, and properly processing people and ensuring that there is a reception centre. The Government have committed to that, and it is important to recognise that that will provide safety.
History will judge our response to this crisis tomorrow, next month and next year. This is not the only time that we will call on the Government to provide a compassionate response, and I believe that they have done that today. I welcome the Government’s actions and look for them to go further. I will be supporting the Government. That is a difficult choice because of the passion and emotion around the Dubs amendment. However, I think that the Government are on the road to providing more safety for people in Europe, including with the groundbreaking decision to provide refuge for children at risk, which other countries must follow—I have run out of time so cannot to speak to the other amendments.
Last autumn, I used my first Prime Minister’s questions as party leader to press the Prime Minister to take these 3,000 unaccompanied children—refugees from the camps—in Europe. I had seen the situation for myself in Calais, Lesbos and other places. As we have heard today, something like a third of those unaccompanied children in Europe go missing. They are now in the hands of child traffickers who exploit them and use them in child prostitution.
The Government have done some good over these past few months, much of it under pressure, but, to date, they are utterly and totally stubborn on the matter of helping even a single person, particularly vulnerable children, in Europe.
I was at the Indomeni camp in northern Greece just a couple of weeks ago. It was the saddest of all the visits that I have made, because of the desperation that I saw and because of the number of children living in squalid and unsafe circumstances. These people are at risk, they are alone, and they are scared, and we could help them.
We have had a series of announcements from the Government, but they all missed the point, which is that those children who are most at risk are the ones who are now in the camps in Europe. Making the argument in favour of doing more for refugees and of taking refugees from Europe is difficult when there is a narrative out there that says that most refugees are coming to Europe. That is not true. Perhaps one in five from the region is coming to Europe. People will say that they are not really refugees, but economic migrants. Well, 95% of them are deemed to be refugees by any objective standard. Perhaps that is where the Government’s reluctance comes from. They fear unpopularity, but is this not the time for this Government not to follow, but to lead and to do the right thing? There are always reasons not to do the right thing.
When I was in Greece and Macedonia two weeks ago, a fence had been erected by the Macedonian Government in 36 hours. If a country has the political will, they can do these things. We can take these children. The blueprint that I produced over the past three or four months in consultation with Save the Children, Home for Good and local authorities gives the Government all the ammunition they need to show how they would put such a scheme into practice, and I refer the Minister to that blueprint. We need to stop the excuses and do the right thing.
This is the biggest humanitarian disaster, or crisis, facing Europe since the second world war, and this Government choose to turn their back not just on geo-political reality and on our neighbours, but on the desperate children somehow existing in the camps and in the ditches up and down Europe. This proposal before us today, amendment 87, is not the most we can do; it is the least we can do.
I wish to speak on the Dubs amendment. May I start by thanking the Minister for Immigration and the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees for their genuine commitment to this cause? I know that, in this matter, they have tried to use both their head and their heart.
Having seen the desperate scenes in the refugees camps in Lesbos and Calais, I have had a very brief window into the world of families fleeing war and persecution, and it is those memories that give me a very, very heavy heart today. Many of us from all parts of the House always felt that our initial offer to resettle 20,000 refugees was not enough. Although our financial aid to the region has been nothing short of heroic, we have sensed that the British people, generous to the end, wanted to offer a home to more. The announcement last week that we would take another 3,000 filled me with renewed pride, not least because we were focusing on children at risk, but when did pride get to feel so numb? It was the dawning realisation that, by focusing on the camps in the region once again, we would be turning our backs on the thousands of unaccompanied children already in Europe. The argument for not helping them has always been the pull factor. If we take them, more will make that perilous journey. I know that the boats are overcrowded and not seaworthy because I saw them.
If the deal between the EU, Turkey and Greece is so fantastic in stopping the tide of daily arrivals, as we are told, then that means that the pull has stopped pulling. That can mean only one thing: these children are trapped. They cannot go forward, and they cannot go back. They are lost in Europe, lost in the chaos, but not, and never, lost on our conscience.
The confirmation that we will send 75 Home Office experts to the Greek islands is so welcome, but it has taken from the announcement in January to achieve that. We call the Greek islands hotspots. There are hotspots all over Europe: hotspots for trafficking, hotspots for abuse and hotspots for child prostitution on the Macedonian border, Italy and on our very own doorstep in Calais.
When part of the jungle was demolished, 120 children went missing. Right now there are 157 lone children with family in the UK, but there are no friendly faces, no child protection and no sign saying, “This way to be looked after.” Children cannot be expected to find the system without help. In one case, an 11-month-old baby separated from its mother was expected to claim asylum in France before any steps could be taken to reunite them—an 11-month-old baby. This is civilized Europe?
I will hear the whole debate. I had planned to abstain in the vote, because I must acknowledge the offer to take 3,000 more, and I would be playing fast and loose with their opportunity for sanctuary if I did not support the Government. But how can I forget the faces of the children I have seen in Europe? Abstention is a pathetic offering, really. Is it enough? Is it good enough?
If the Dubs amendment does not succeed tonight, I urge the Lords to continue fighting with us. We must seek to achieve a compromise amendment; something different, and perhaps less sweeping, but something that—
The speech that I follow was a fine one. There have been many fine speeches on both sides of the House. This is a cross-party campaign on a cross-party amendment with cross-party support from all parts of this Parliament. I want to say a few words about something the Minister said earlier. He said that this problem arose because of a situation
“in which families see an advantage”.
I cannot but argue against those words, because I do not see what possible advantage there could be for the refugee families affected. The unaccompanied children we are talking about are just that: children.
I think that the Minister’s words demonstrate what the Government feel to be the cause of this situation. We are used to debating this analysis in terms of push and pull factors. Well, I think that is a strange kind of argument that bears very little scrutiny. We all know that, fine though this country is, it is the push of conflict that has caused the problem, and the answer to the conflict is peace. We have been trying for peace for months and months, but there is none, so what then?
The Under-Secretary of State for Refugees and I served together on the International Development Committee, and I have every respect for him. I ask him to read the report produced by our former colleagues, which asks the Government to take account of this request from Save the Children. [Interruption.] He is looking at me and I know that he will read it and look against at the request. Bringing people from the region was the correct approach, but it was too slow, and unfortunately the announcement last week that sought to spike this debate today was another classic almost U-turn, but it did not go far enough.
Therefore, as others Members have said, in the knowledge that there are children who need of our protection, what can we do? This is our continent. It is our job to take care of those children. We know it, and that is why we must vote for the Dubs amendment.
I absolutely support much of the Government’s programme on refugees, what they are doing with £2.3 billion in aid, what they are doing to resettle vulnerable people, and what they are doing in the camps on the borders of Syria and in the region. However, I believe that we currently have an acute crisis in Europe. I believe that any unaccompanied child who is not safe tonight is part of our problem. I do not believe that any of us would be go to France or Greece and just say, “This is not my problem.” I believe that the reason we can lead on this is that right now we have excellence in our refugee programme, in DFID and in our Home Office Ministers, and especially in the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees.
Dambisa Moyo, in her book “Dead Aid”, cited the tragic story of two teenage girls from Guinea who died while travelling from Africa to Europe. On the body of one of the girls was a note saying, “We want to study. We ask you to help us study so that we can be like you in Africa.” A lot of these children who come to this country may choose to stay here as adults, but many will choose to go home, if their home is at peace. I believe that voting for Lords Dubs’s amendment is the right thing to do tonight to give those children a safe haven.
We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria. We also know that, as that conflict enters its sixth barbaric year, desperate Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death, or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere. Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing? Children are being killed on their way to school, children as young as seven are being forcefully recruited to the frontline and one in three children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war. Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole.
I am deeply proud of the Government for leading the way internationally on providing humanitarian support to Syrian civilians. Their commitment in terms of finances and policy to help people in the region, and across the middle east and north Africa, will save lives. However, in the chaos caused by the Syrian conflict and many other conflicts, many thousands of already deeply scarred children have become separated from their parents and carers, and they are already in Europe. The Government’s generosity to date has not extended to those vulnerable children.
We know that identifying the exact number of unaccompanied minors is difficult, but the latest estimates suggest that there could be up to 95,000 such children in Europe tonight—four times the number we thought. That means that, if we decide tonight to take 3,000 of them, that will be just 3% of the total. That is our continent’s challenge, and we must rise to it.
I recognise that this is not easy, but tonight we are being asked to make a decision that transcends party politics. Any Member who has seen the desperation and fear on the faces of children trapped in inhospitable camps across Europe must surely feel compelled to act. I urge them tonight to be brave and bold, and I applaud Stephen Phillips for an incredibly principled, personal speech.
In the shanty towns of Calais and Dunkirk, the aid workers I spent a decade with on the frontline as an aid worker myself, tell me that the children there face some of the most horrific circumstances in the world. Surely we have to do the right thing tonight and support the Dubs amendment.
We are approaching the last moments of the debate, so I will confine my remarks to one amendment and to one argument within it—the pull factor some have expressed concerned about.
Let me share just something of my experience when I went to Lesbos with Save the Children. I was struck by many things, but one was the extraordinary contrast between the almost biblical scene of men, women and children travelling on foot and in numbers across the country, and the fact that they were carrying mobile phones. All over the camps, people were huddled not around fires, but around charging stations, desperate to keep connected. One worker described to me how any change in border access or the availability of places in the camps would be communicated by mobile to friends and families following on, and shared over and over, inspiring immediate and dramatic change on the ground.
This 21st century migration through Europe is like nothing that has come before. In the light of that, how can we say with confidence that announcing 3,000 open places for minors in the UK would not affect the decisions desperate people would make and would not create risk? I share the hopes and the fears for the vulnerable children who have been mentioned in this debate, but we must look to the long term. It has previously been said that this will not solve the problem, so we must be so clear that we are not exacerbating the situation. There is a body of anecdotal evidence that families separate when they can find only enough money to pay traffickers for one place in a boat. Knowing, as we do, that children’s best chances for the long term are with their parents, every effort must be made to keep families together, and where they have been separated, to reunite them.
To finish, it was said during my time in Lesbos that the time it took to work with lone young people to establish their identity and ask all the right questions when they presented at the camps was one of the main reasons that many left to risk the perilous journey that so many Members have described this evening. We must therefore build the infrastructure, the systems and the confidence of young people that reception centres across the continent, not the open road, are their best route. This is vital work and it will, in the coming weeks and months, see increasing numbers of the children and young people already in Europe resettled with us in the UK.
This evening, we have had lots of passionate speeches about children from Members on both sides of the House. I will speak about my experience as a former foster carer, and somebody who has provided supported lodgings to minors who have presented themselves unaccompanied. Ikram was 15 when we fostered him in my home and my children were very young, and Hazrat was one of the boys we also looked after.
Hazrat told me in his own words how, when they were trying to get on to the back of a lorry, there was only one space for the two boys who needed it and one killed the other for that space. He witnessed that barbaric act, and he told me about it in person. It will haunt me for the rest of my life. It will haunt me when I look at my children; my daughter was young and I only had two children at the time.
Given the stories that these boys sat down and told us, I cannot begin to imagine the mental health trauma that they went through. Yet these boys wanted to work, to get an education and to leave that behind, so desperate were they to leave the horrors that they experienced while getting to this country for sanctuary. These children did not want to come to this country for our jobs, our benefits or anything else. These children’s mothers told them, “You have a better chance of making it past the traffickers and past the exploitation. You have a better chance of making it outside here, so go, my son, go.” Those were the words their mothers spoke to these young people.
I am proud to come from Bradford West. Bradford is a city of sanctuary, in which 169 organisations have signed up to support refugees and asylum seekers. When the Minister visited, we had a conversation about Bradford being seen as a trailblazer for integrated health and social care, education and so on. Bradford could lead the way, and we would support other areas. Kelly Tolhurst said that Kent does not get such help, but we would help: Bradford will help.
As my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire said, this amounts to five children per constituency. Is that really an ask? Is a debate about five children per constituency really one we should have to have today? Can Great Britain really not extend such support, as one of the greatest nations on earth? It is a shame if we do not sign up for and accept the Dubs amendment. I will do so, and I would welcome Conservative Members joining us in the Lobby tonight.
I would have liked to have more of an opportunity to speak, as I was a member of the Immigration Public Bill Committee, but I will confine myself to the Lords amendment calling on the Government to relocate 3,000 refugee children. I am sure that there is no one who could possibly disagree with that. It would be morally wrong and would not befit our nation, which has supported many different religions, races and nationalities in their hour of greatest need, if we did not reunite these children with their families. We must work along with other EU states to make sure that utmost priority is given to ensuring that children are not left unaccompanied and in danger. Along with other countries such as Spain, Greece, Italy and France, we must provide the very best protection and support for these children until they can be reunited with their families. Yvette Cooper was absolutely right: it can take the French authorities up to nine months to pass on applications to the Home Office. Although all authorities are under huge pressure on these matters, this delay cannot be tolerated, and an application cannot be accepted as just another application when it relates to an unaccompanied child.
In 2015, over 3,000 asylum applications were received from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—a rise of 56% on 2014 and 141% on 2013. That puts unprecedented pressure on our system and our local authorities, as detailed by my hon. Friend Kelly Tolhurst. These numbers raise serious questions as to whether other EU countries are fulfilling their child protection obligations. It is vital that we continue to do what we are doing now, and more, but this must not stop us from raising and tackling these issues with our European partners on a wider scale.
We need to ensure that we support these children and others who make the journey in the best way possible, using our heads and our hearts. While all may not agree, I think the actions that the Government are taking—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
The House divided:
Ayes 294, Noes 276.
Division number 246