Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move,
That this House
notes that it is one year since the Calais Jungle camp was demolished;
further notes that the UK demonstrated moral and political leadership in transferring 750 child refugees from intolerable conditions in that camp to be reunited with family members in Britain and provided those children with protection under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016;
and believes that as the UK prepares to leave the EU, provision must be made to ensure that unaccompanied children in Europe can continue to access the safe and legal means to reunite with family and relatives in the EU as is currently provided for under the EU Dublin III Regulation.
I should like to thank the Backbench Business Committee and all those who have supported me for allowing this debate to be heard on the Floor of the House. I want to make special mention of my co-sponsors, the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).
One of the hardest things about this job is maintaining a focus on important issues, particularly when new headlines and stories so readily grab the media’s attention. It is our responsibility to continue to give a voice to those who might otherwise not be heard, and there are none needier of that representation than the most vulnerable—the children who have fled the most unimaginable terrors of war and found themselves alone and without family in Europe.
Almost a year ago, the squalid Calais refugee camp was demolished, but despite the tremendous efforts of the British Government at the time, there are still refugee children in the Calais region as well as in Greece and Italy. Prior to the Calais demolition, we safely transferred 750 children to the UK: 200 under the Dubs amendment and 550 under the Dublin III family reunification rules. However, at least 250 remain in Calais and Dunkirk, and the youngest is nine. Most have fled from Afghanistan, and 2,950 are registered in Greece today. Moreover, 90% of the 13,687 children who have arrived in Italy so far this year are unaccompanied.
From the very first time this subject was debated in the House, I and many others have maintained that if we do not offer help further downstream in mainland Europe, more people will continue their journeys and arrive on our shores. Those are unnecessary and indescribably dangerous journeys; they do not provide the organised, compassionately prepared and safe welcome that we want to offer to those terrified young people.
We currently have two schemes through which we can offer sanctuary to children in Europe: Dubs and Dublin III. Many in this Chamber were bitterly disappointed that the Dubs amendment did not result in a more generous number of places being offered to unaccompanied children. The Government, in consultation with local authorities, determined that 480 was as many as we could take. In fact, we have learned this morning that the High Court challenge to the thoroughness of that consultation has favoured the Government. For context, I can tell the House that that 480 represents 0.5% of the total number of refugee children who have so far arrived in Europe. That is not even one per constituency. So, setting the legal case aside, I remain disappointed by our contribution. It does not stand proudly next to the outstanding figure of the 23,000 refugees we will resettle from the Syrian region by 2020 through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. Aside from the devastatingly obvious moral imperative, we have a duty as part of Europe to help to deal with the migration crisis affecting Europe. To me, that is what a deep and special relationship would feel and look like.
The hon. Lady, my near neighbour, is making an excellent speech and I commend her for the excellent work she has done on this issue. Is she aware that, back in 2015, 100 families in the city of Cambridge volunteered to host refugee children? Does she agree that the Government need to be much more creative and to respond more positively to the kind of generosity that we see, not just in my city but in cities and communities across the country?
I absolutely agree with that. This goes to the heart of why—the legal case aside—the general public and many Members did not feel that the consultation had exhausted all the offers that were made. I am convinced that there are still families and businesses in my constituency that want to help. A safeguarding strategy was published yesterday, and I will come to that in a moment. It should open a window of opportunity for people to benefit from those offers, and it would be unforgivable for us not to use them.
In Calais, children are still sleeping outdoors at the mercy of the elements and, dare I say it, the police, because the official shelter that the French Government have provided can house only 60. In Greece, more than 1,800 children are waiting for a space in such a shelter, and when they make it, they will find that it is actually a disused prison. In Italy, the situation is even more chaotic. I understand that our ability to influence local arrangements in those countries is limited, but we have a responsibility to set clear parameters with our foreign counterparts to allow them to rapidly identify every child who might be eligible for Dubs or Dublin. It therefore concerns me when the numerous charities still working on the ground tell me that only 20 children have been transferred from France under Dubs in the past 12 months, that only a handful have come from Italy under Dublin, with none under Dubs, and that none at all have come from Greece. It is over 18 months since I last visited Lesvos. Can we honestly say that we have done everything we can?
If we have taken just 200 from Calais so far, there are still 280 Dubs places to be filled. Does the Minister suspect that our criteria have been misunderstood? Are they too tight? Do we need to look again at the cut-off date of
But this debate is not just about Dubs. I am also seeking reassurance on what will happen to Dublin III once we leave the EU and its legislation. Despite textbook policy suggesting that our existing domestic asylum legislation should already allow unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their wider families—grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts—this is not happening in practice. What plans does the Minister have to improve or amend our domestic legislation so that it does exactly what it says on the tin? Can we have complete confidence that the spirit of Dublin III will exist post-Brexit? Might our negotiations even allow us to stay in Dublin III? Clarity on this point really matters. Knowing that we will continue to offer sanctuary to the most vulnerable children in the world is as important to them as is the depth of charity and benevolence that makes Britain great.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on the manner in which she is opening this debate. She alludes to whether there might be scope for us to remain in Dublin III even after we leave the European Union, but does she share my curiosity, which the Minister may address in due course, about whether we could continue with Dublin III arrangements even if we are not party to any potential Dublin IV arrangements?
That is a question that I have, too. There has to be something between the great repeal Bill and the immigration Bill that will come later to ensure that we still offer the same rights to those children as we do now.
I will conclude by thanking the Minister for Immigration and the Minister for Children and Families for publishing the eagerly awaited safeguarding strategy just yesterday. Although it comes five months later than was originally indicated, it has been significantly improved by being done hand in hand with charities that understand intimately the vulnerabilities that refugee children have and the risks they face. I am pleased that it commits to updating Parliament and the Children’s Commissioner regularly on the number of children transferred, that the funding made available to local authorities will be reviewed and that the number of foster training places will be increased by 1,000. Most important of all for me, however, is the commitment to improving how Dublin III is actually administered on the ground, with an emphasis on improving family tracing and speeding up asylum application processing. I wish that the determination to act with pace had come more quickly. I wish that those children had not had to sleep in fear for as long as they have. We should be proud of the safeguarding strategy, and I thank both Ministers for creating it but, for goodness’ sake, let us bring it to life now and bring those remaining Dubs and Dublin children home.
I start by putting on the record my admiration for the work of Heidi Allen; I know how personally and passionately she feels about these young people. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, Tim Farron and I have faced online and sometimes offline abuse that I do not believe reflects the best of our British character when it comes to protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our world. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire and my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner mentioned their constituents, and I want to thank the people of Walthamstow who have reflected that sentiment.
I thank Debbie Bliss for organising the “Warmth from Walthamstow” project, which will take sleeping blankets and emergency blankets to the children who are still in Calais. I thank Rod Holmes, who runs our migrant action group and helps some of the people who are here to make the best of their lives. I thank Maud Milton for running the refugee kitchen that has been taking flapjacks to the children in Calais. I thank Katrina Kieffer-Wells, who runs Side By Side Refugees. I also thank national organisations such as Safe Passage and Help Refugees, which so valiantly fought but sadly lost in the High Court today—I hope the debate will continue. All those people and groups reflect the reality of the British public’s reaction when they see these children and what is happening to them. They recognise that our nation is a better place when we offer sanctuary, and today’s debate is about the best way of doing that.
Nobody is saying that we have not helped children; we are saying that the need to get things right is even more pressing today than it was perhaps a year ago. People may think that we have the resolved the issue, but conflict sadly continues around the world and the push factors that lead to people making dangerous journeys have not abated. While all of us may wish that the world were otherwise, the reality is that it is not. The reality on the ground in Calais is that hundreds of unaccompanied children are still sleeping rough. They need warmth not just from Walthamstow, but from our country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and Heidi Allen on bringing this debate to the Chamber today. Last week, we were discussing modern slavery and the risk of human trafficking, so does my hon. Friend share my concern that if unaccompanied children are not rescued from the Calais camps, they could fall into the hands of traffickers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, we have seen many reports that suggest that that is precisely the case. When there is no safe passage, that does not stop people coming here; it means that the only passage available is through the traffickers, which we know is unsafe.
Today’s debate is about asking the Minister to ensure that we are being the best of British and that we keep these children safe, because we have a moral obligation to do so. Indeed, it is in the best of our traditions. We hear that the French police will not allow NGO tents, meaning that many children are sleeping without any form of shelter at all, including unaccompanied children as young as nine. We want to hold the French authorities to account, but we must also hold ourselves to account for what we are doing to help.
The hon. Lady is making a typically powerful speech, as befits an award-winning “Backbencher of the Year”—I congratulate her on that. It is important that we put more pressure on the French authorities to behave properly and treat people well, children in particular.
The hon. Gentleman will know that I bow to nobody in holding all Governments to account, and that means that I will not turn a blind eye to our Government and what they could do. Our power today is to send a clear message to the Minister about the ambition set out in the safeguarding statement, which was made over a year ago and is now, frankly, a little up in the air due to Brexit and issues around Dublin III and how we deal with unaccompanied children. The statement explicitly talked about children in Europe now to whom we may well have a responsibility. It is not good enough to ask somebody else to pick up the pieces if we are falling short ourselves. The concern today is that Britain is still falling short of what it can do for these children. This is about the nine-year-olds sleeping in bushes in Calais and the children sleeping without shelter in Greece and Italy. They are paying the price. I am pretty sure that Charlie Elphicke would not want that on his conscience when there are practical things that we can do here in this House to make a difference. While the French authorities have put together a temporary administration centre that opened this week, it is dealing only with a small number of children. We know that there are issues with children being processed and with applications being heard.
A year ago, many of us were acting with good intent when we encouraged children and young people to go with officials to processing centres only to find that the goalposts had been moved. Changes to which children would be accepted, basing the decision on nationality not need, were made through pieces of legislation and statements that were issued without this House undertaking proper scrutiny. Since then, many of us have been concerned about how the Government approached local authorities. The High Court may not have agreed with us, but it is worth recording that the High Court was discussing the fact that the Government simply had not asked even the Northern Ireland Government what they could do. The Scottish authorities were told not to respond, and a third of English authorities did not respond to the consultation. We know that the British public support protecting children. If local authorities are asked, as we have found since the High Court began looking at the issue, we know that there are more places to be had. Are we really saying that this country can look after only 480 vulnerable young people, for whom there is nobody else in the world to protect them?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the recent recognition of her excellent work in this House. Does she agree that there are fantastic local authorities doing the everyday bits, such as registering children with GPs, getting them into college or school, providing friendship groupings and doing the mentoring? In tough times, does she agree that the Home Office needs to support local authorities in that joint endeavour?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who anticipates one of my points. We know that the Government have spent £81 million on security measures in Calais, yet just one member of staff has been seconded to France to try to progress family reunion claims even though we know that one in six people in the Jungle are trying to reconnect with their family. Local authorities undoubtedly need resource, but we also need a process that is quick and fair. We do not have that at the moment and those children often wait on their own for months before they access accommodation.
The Minister will know that I have raised cases with him of children who are waiting, often with severe mental health needs as a result of the delay—frightened, vulnerable young people who are looking to this country to be what it has been in the past.
We may be talking today about Calais and the processing centre, but we know that it is not just about Calais; it is about Greece. Not a single child has come from Greece as a result of the Dubs amendment, even though we know there are thousands of unaccompanied child refugees there. The same is true of Italy. Two thirds of the 3,000 unaccompanied children in Greece do not have proper shelter and care. Those are our children to take responsibility for, working with the Greek authorities and the Italian authorities. [Interruption.] The Minister is shaking his head. Is he really saying that he can be proud of a country that looks at children sleeping under bushes, without proper shelter and care, and says it is somebody else’s problem—nothing to do with us? Of course the Greek authorities have to take responsibility, but so too do we, Minister.
The question today is what responsibility we are taking for children in Europe, because the statement a year ago did not just specify Calais; it talked about all these children. When he responds, I want to hear from the Minister what he is going to do about the children in Italy and Greece as well, because we have a responsibility to all of them. He can shake his head all he wants, but I suspect the British public will not be satisfied with the idea that because some of them are in France, we might do something about them, but we do not have a responsibility for those who are in Italy and Greece.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. Can we also make the case for the children who are still in the region or still in Syria? The Hands Up Foundation, which my small Singing for Syrians initiative tries to help, makes the point that not only are they suffering and alone, but often they are under gunfire. It is important not to forget that they matter too, and this Government have done so much to get funds out there where they are desperately needed.
I do not disagree with the hon. Lady, but it is not an either/or situation. As I said at the start, we all wish the world was different. All of us wish that there was not conflict, fear and persecution. All of us wish that the Oromo people were not fleeing in fear of their lives and that young Afghan boys were not frightened of the Taliban, but they are and they are acting accordingly. The question for us is whether we will act as well. That is the challenge. Whether they are in the region, whether they have fled to Europe or whether they are among the 10,000 at risk of trafficking, do we as British society want to say that it is just somebody else’s problem, or do we want to have a process in place so that we can hold our head high?
I say to the hon. Lady that for all of us this is not just about immediacy; it is about our history as well. It is not just about all of us who were inspired by Lord Dubs. Government Members may find this surprising, but I often say that I share something in common with Nigel Farage: Creasy, like Farage, is a Huguenot surname. Many of us have refugee traditions within our families. Many of us might, in a different generation or a parallel universe, be that child looking for help.
Over a year ago, I was trying to chase down with the Government what had happened to 178 children whom the Prime Minister herself was directly notified about and whom I have asked about repeatedly—children who would have been eligible to come here under the Dubs amendment. I have to tell the Minister that, more than a year and a half on, I am still waiting for a response that gives me confidence that our Government know what happened to those children whom they were notified about and who were in Calais at that time. Nobody is able to make contact with them. Those children may be in this country, but they may be elsewhere and they may be with the traffickers. I make a plea to the Minister: will he at least go and see whether we can find out whether any of those children are safe on our shores? I think that we have to accept responsibility because they came to us asking for help.
I want to put on record why I have tabled amendment 332 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. There will be debates about the Dublin regulation and I agree with the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire that we need to make sure that we are living up to our Dublin commitments. There will also be debates about what happens to the commitments we made in the safeguarding statement a year ago. Clearly there have been issues. For example, the safeguarding statement spoke about working with the devolved authorities, but that has not happened to date, as the court case shows. Those debates need to happen on the Floor of the House, because how we treat refugee children cannot be dealt with in a statutory instrument Committee hidden away elsewhere in the House.
I therefore make a plea to the Minister. He may disagree with me about our obligations regarding the numbers of children. I still think that we made a commitment to 3,000 children with the Dubs amendment, and I would like to hold the Government to account on that. However, I certainly think that, given that parliamentarians debated that amendment and are having this debate today, any further changes that would affect our ability to help some of the most vulnerable children should not be hidden away. I hope he agrees that no changes will be made by statutory instrument, whether under the immigration Bill or the withdrawal Bill, to the treatment of refugee children. If he will at least say that, I think we can be on the same page in respect of this country’s commitment to do the best by these people. Certainly it should not be up to those wonderful men and women in all our constituencies to lead the charge and for this House to be found wanting.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire on securing the debate. I look forward to working across the House on these issues, and I hope that the Minister will hear the plea to be the best of Britain.
Given that I represent Dover, Calais is literally a few short miles across the water. Indeed, I can see Calais from my bedroom window. It is striking, is it not, to think about the conditions there until a year ago? I am delighted by and proud of the campaign that so many of us fought to get the Jungle dismantled. Over time, the numbers there swelled to some 10,000 people. It was a place of appalling squalor, with no sanitation facilities, no running water, no protection from the cold, and nasty, rickety shacks. The Jungle was frankly a lawless place where people traffickers roamed free, exploiting people.
I visited the Jungle at its height. I agree that it was a far from ideal place, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the conditions in which almost 1,000 refugees are now living around Calais are far worse?
Conditions for anyone who is living outside without food, shelter and water are appalling, but let us remember what the Jungle was like at that time. Ten thousand destitute people lived in a concentrated area. Many of them had been trafficked there by people who were exploiting and preying on them in furtherance of the evil trade of modern slavery, selling the promise of a better life in Britain. In reality, if the traffickers did get them across the border, it almost invariably resulted in them disappearing from view into a life of exploitation, whether working in a nail bar, growing cannabis or being used as a child criminal. We all know that those and other forms of exploitation went on and go on. It is entirely unacceptable.
That was why it was so important to get rid of the Jungle. It was why it was so important that the French authorities were pressed successfully into helping people to get away from Calais into refugee reception centres with food, shelter, water and sanitation, safe from the traffickers who would exploit them and treat them so shockingly.
My hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful case. Does he agree that we should commend the efforts of the British police and security services in tracking down and deterring the people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people from Syria and other regions in crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the central point that I am just coming to.
It was right that we managed to get the Jungle dismantled. It was right that we got so many vulnerable people removed to safer places. It is also right that we have worked tirelessly, on an international basis—Britain, France and countries across Europe—to target the international criminal gangs: the trafficking gangs behind the evil trade of modern slavery and this wicked exploitation.
I dealt with child refugees a long time ago and I have total sympathy for their plight. We have taken about 8,500 people into this country, about half of whom are children. Am I right to assume that all the people who come through that system are tracked, looked after and watched so that they do not just disappear into an underclass?
I hope that the Minister will address my hon. Friend’s powerful point when he responds to the debate.
We should welcome the fall in the numbers from 10,000 to 1,000, but that is still 1,000 too many. That is why it is right that we keep up pressure on the French Government to do the right thing by acting to ensure that people are not on the streets of Calais. I understand that there are hon. Members who, like me, are deeply concerned about the plight of all refugees across the world. Some 50 million people have been displaced by conflict. We have taken 3,000, but what is the right number of children to take if it is not 3,000? Is it 30,000? Is it 300,000? Should we take all the children from across the whole of Europe or just those who have a connection to Britain?
I think the right policy is that we should do our bit, particularly on reunification. We should hold our heads high for the amount we have been doing across the board, because it is important to remember that we have taken in 20,000 people from Syria directly. That avoids the risk of people making perilous journeys, because many lives have been tragically lost at sea, or as a result of exploitation or mishap, in the journey to Calais. It is also right that we have spent more than £1 billion in aid to provide places of safety close to regions of conflict. It is better to keep people close to their homes and hearts, meaning that they can go home when a conflict ends, rather than in any way to risk incentivising a dangerous journey across the whole of Europe, because we have seen on our television screens how that often ends up in tragedy. We must also remember what we do not see on our television screens: the evil exploitation by traffickers and what they do to these vulnerable and desperate people. That is why I feel so strongly and passionately that we cannot risk a return of the Calais migrant magnet, and that the right thing to do is to help people close to the places of conflict—in theatre. That is why I feel so powerfully that while it is right that we help to do our bit as a country, it is also right that we are strong on Europe and the European Union improving their own border security and the safety of people within their borders. We must make sure that the EU and European countries as a whole do their bit to look after vulnerable people within their borders, as that is their duty and responsibility.
We are doing a lot and we are making a real difference. We have continued to make a real difference across the world. The fact we are helping so much with international aid and development, and in areas close to conflict to keep so many people safe, is something we should be very proud of in this House of Commons. We should also be proud of the work we have done to take vulnerable people into Britain and to reunite families in Britain. If other families can be reunited—if children who have a connection to this country can be brought in, should there be a family in this country with which they should be united—we should do that. There should be a focus on that, so I agree with Stella Creasy that we should be looking at a reunification of families. However, I do not agree that we can be responsible for all refugees or all children throughout the whole of Europe. We cannot take in every child.
I will tell hon. Members why that is. I get complaints from my constituents in Kent that we have getting on for a quarter of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the whole of this country. My constituents are concerned about the pressure on public services that that creates in Kent. It also constrains provision for other Kent residents, which is why it is important that we maintain a sense of balance and fairness. If we are going to be there to care for and to look after these poor children, it is right that we make sure that they are not just left in the county of Kent; the whole country must do its bit. Councils must be encouraged to do their bit to ensure that children are spread across the whole country and that the burden does not fall disproportionately in places such as Kent, which I represent.
Let me start by welcoming the work done by Heidi Allen and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in securing this debate. Let me also respond directly to Charlie Elphicke, who has rightly long had concern about the pressures in Kent and the conditions in Calais. I agree that all councils across the country should do their bit and the whole country should come together to support vulnerable child refugees.
Twelve months ago, when the Calais camp was cleared, I praised the work of the Government and the Home Office at that time to help 750 child refugees, and the speed with which they had acted. I welcomed, too, the Government’s decision 18 months ago to support the Dubs amendment, after it had received cross-party support. We have seen lives transformed as a result. I am thinking of the Syrian teenager I met in London who now has a place at university, after being out of education for many years. I am thinking of the Eritrean girls who are in safe homes, having previously been trafficked, abused and exploited along the way. That is what this Parliament and the Home Office’s action made happen. That is what the work of councils, campaigners, local volunteers and people across the country has made possible, by giving those children a future.
I wish I could keep on praising the Government for the action they have taken since, but sadly I cannot; some of the failures from the Home Office since then put this country and Parliament to shame. The Dublin arrangements, which Ministers made work so effectively, so briefly, last autumn, have now become far too slow again. The failure of co-ordinated action across Europe, despite the partnership working we had 12 months ago, is now allowing the numbers to build up in Calais again, particularly those of unaccompanied child refugees. Why are the Government still refusing to publish the number of unaccompanied children and teenagers coming to Britain under the Dublin scheme? They have the figures and there is absolutely no excuse for not publishing them and making them available to everyone.
It is not good enough for the Government to try to fudge the facts by pointing to the number of children who come either with asylum-seeking families or through irregular and illegal routes instead. The whole point is that we want to reduce the number of people coming through the illegal, irregular and very dangerous routes and instead make sure that there are legal and safe routes to sanctuary. The longer we fail to have a functioning Dubs and Dublin scheme, the more we will simply see teenagers and children take these crazy, dangerous risks—on lorries, through tunnels, putting their lives at risk and causing huge problems to the system.
That is what makes the Government’s failure since last autumn on Dubs even more shocking. First, they announced they would close the scheme that Parliament voted for just six months after it was set up and started operating. They refused to even ask councils to look again at how many more places they could provide each year, even though we know that there were councils ready to do more. The Government miscounted the number and could not even get the figures right in the first place.
Worst of all, once the 480 places had been offered the Government just stopped filling them. After the first group had come through Calais, we had month after month of no child coming through the Dubs scheme at all. I hear that the Government may have managed to scrabble together a few additional numbers from France last month and I hope that is the case, but it is simply not good enough. Well over 250 places are still empty; at the same time, there are 63,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers across Europe who came to Europe this year.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her important work on this issue. She mentions the horrendous scale of this problem. Does she not think the Government’s inaction is so deeply troubling, given Britain’s history? This is not a new problem, and in the past we have opened our doors and been welcoming to refugees. That is a distinctly British thing to be able to do and we should be proud of continuing to do it. That is why the Government should definitely act.
The hon. Lady is right about that. We are also talking about something that has had cross-party support. I do not see this as a party political issue, which is why I would like to be able to welcome the work the Government have done. The trouble is that we have seen huge problems and the gaps in action on the Alf Dubs amendment—a measure that is widely supported.
Lord Dubs came through the Kindertransport and has done so much for this country, like so many other child refugees we have welcomed here. We are talking about children whose lives and futures are at risk, and we could be helping them. I am thinking of those such as the Iranian teenager I met in Athens on the very day the Government announced that they would open the Dubs scheme. I told him what we would be doing. He is a gay teenager who had fled because he was being persecuted in his home country. We had a long conversation, because he spoke brilliant English—he spoke no Greek. Yet he was one of very many children and teenagers in Greece without proper support and proper shelter, who needed a future and for whom we and our country should be doing our bit.
I want to make some progress because other Members wish to speak.
There are nearly 3,000 unaccompanied children in Greece, of whom 1,800 are on a waiting list for shelter. Some of them are being held in police custody because there is nowhere else safe for them to go, and Harvard University has established that they are at risk of being trafficked by gangs and of being taken into modern slavery, which the Government have rightly condemned and are determined to stamp out.
The Minister will say that he has been to Greece and Italy to try to sort the issue out, but the problem is with our system, not theirs. It is not good enough simply to blame the Greek and Italian Governments for the failure to bring children in under the Dubs scheme. Our job was not just to rock up in Greece or Italy and say, “We have a whole load more hurdles and a whole load more headaches for you, and more complex bureaucratic procedures in our scheme for you to meet”; instead, our job should have been to design the Dubs scheme in a way that made it easy for the overstretched social services systems in Italy and Greece to send some of those children here to the sanctuary that this country had already promised to offer.
We must think of teenagers such as the 12-year-old Eritrean girl who is on her own in Italy, and whose case I have raised with the Home Office. Her brother is already in foster care here in Britain. The foster carer has offered to take the sister as well. The girl is only 12, but she has been in mixed accommodation with adult men in Italy. She has tried several times to run away. We could bring her over, through either the Dublin scheme or the Dubs scheme—frankly, it does not matter which. She is the kind of child we should be trying to help.
I urge the Government to reopen the Dubs scheme, to speed up the Dublin scheme, and to take fast action now, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said. Let us fill those 280 places by Christmas. We must stop insisting on the unworkable cut-off date, which has no impact at all on whether children and teenagers arrive in Europe. It is drawn from some kind of fantasy world in which the detailed conditions of a small British refugee scheme somehow have an impact on whether children or teenagers make an incredibly dangerous journey to get to Europe in the first place.
Ditch the cut-off date, rip up some of the bureaucratic hurdles that the Home Office has put in place, and make the Dubs scheme work as Parliament intended it to and as we all voted for. We promised in good faith to do our bit to help those child and teenage refugees. We promised to do our bit, just as we did with the Kindertransport. The Home Secretary said herself that
“it is the children who matter most.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 621, c. 639.]
It is. Members of this House could come together with the Home Office, on the same cross-party basis on which we came together 12 months ago and 18 months ago, to support child refugees again.
The migration crisis affects countries around the world and, as my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke said, there are refugee crises around the world. This is a truly global challenge and there is no simple solution. We should be proud of what the United Kingdom has done in seeking a comprehensive solution and response to the migration crisis that provides the greatest effect for those who are really in need, and that deals with the causes as well as responds to the consequences.
We operate several routes for resettling children in the UK. Crucially, at the heart of our approach must be the need to prevent migrants, particularly vulnerable children, from making these dangerous journeys in the first place. That is why the Government’s approach—to settle the most vulnerable children from the region—is absolutely right. We must try to prevent their having to make these journeys in the first place.
I will not be giving way because I do not have much time.
We have committed to resettling 20,000 individuals of all nationalities who have fled the Syrian conflict by 2020. We have also committed to resettling 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and family members. I am pleased to see the progress that has been made, with more than 8,500—around half of whom are children—having already settled. It is worth noting that in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state. We should be proud of that.
Alongside the resettling of the most vulnerable children directly from the region, we must continue to invest in and deliver aid to the region itself to tackle the root cause of the migration crisis. We have been at the forefront of the response to the Syrian crisis, having pledged some £2.46 billion, and we have rightly prioritised upstream interventions in the countries of origin to reduce the factors that encourage migrants to leave their homes in the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dover said. We have also contributed to the Mediterranean migration crisis response in Europe, allocating more than £175 million in humanitarian assistance, including the £75 million announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the European Council in June.
Taken together, our two approaches offer the best response to the crisis. We are investing directly in the region while also resettling those refugees at the heart of the crisis. In doing so, we are playing our part in tackling the global challenge that I referred to at the start of my speech, and as such upholding our moral duty by helping those who are most vulnerable and most in need.
I thank Heidi Allen and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy for securing this debate. I wish to use my time to draw attention to the plight of two specific children and bring human faces to what can be a difficult discussion. I want the Government to hear about these two children—especially the Minister, who is currently chatting on the Front Bench, because I would like him to do something about it. He knows that I will hold him to account if I do not believe that he is paying attention.
Rubbish! I am not even going there.
The first case is that of Tekle, a 13-year-old Eritrean boy who is currently living in a camp near the French-Italian border. He has survived in Italy, unaccompanied, for more than 11 months now. His father is in the UK and is desperate for his son to join him. It must be absolutely heart-breaking for a parent to know that a child is so vulnerable but to be unable to bring them the relatively few miles to safety and to that parent. The asylum system in Italy—[Interruption.] The asylum system in Italy is overwhelmed. [Interruption.] Does the Minister want me to call him out again? I am happy to. I really would like him to listen. Perhaps the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, Andrew Griffiths, could stop chatting.
I am not sure whether or not the hon. Lady wants us to listen, but she is stopping for reasons that I simply do not understand. I am making notes on what she is saying so that I can answer her questions later. I am not quite sure what she is trying to imply. She seems to be playing a very silly game.
The Minister knows better than to accuse me of playing silly games. If I was not watching people chatting on the Front Bench and if I was not worried that I was not being heard, I would not be stopping. I want to be heard because I genuinely believe that although these two cases are specific, they are also indicative of all the cases we have been hearing about today. I think the Minister is a good man generally, and I know that he normally listens to debates, which is why I had so much faith that he would listen to me today and take some action on these cases. That is why I am being so clear that I would like him to pay real attention to what is going on.
The refugee support organisation Safe Passage secured an appointment with the Italian authorities so that Tekle could request asylum and seek transfer to the UK, which appears to be his right. He was finally granted an interview last month but was not given an interpreter, so the information recorded was inaccurate and his journey was curtailed once more. Psychologists working with Médecins Sans Frontières have met Tekle more than once, and their professional assessment is that his mental health is in a perilous condition. He is also vulnerable to the criminal gangs that, as the Minister knows, prey at these camps around the world. His future remains unclear. I can only imagine what it must be like to be that young, that frightened and that alone and have to wait so long with nothing in the future secure. He does not know whether he will ever find a home or be safe with his family again.
The story that my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper raised was about Awet, a 12-year-old Eritrean girl who arrived in Italy in June. Her brother, also a child, has been living with a stable foster family for the past three years. His carer is willing to foster Awet too so that the two can live together in security. Awet is obviously vulnerable. She was initially placed in a mixed reception centre with adults of both sexes before Safe Passage intervened. She is terribly afraid and despairing in the reception centre, and, like Tekle, has recently attempted to run away. She would rather risk absolutely everything in her attempt to be with her brother than remain in what she perceives to be a terrifying prison.
Last month—five months after her arrival—Awet was able, finally, to submit her asylum application in Italy, but it is unclear whether a take charge request has been made because of the consistent bureaucratic delays in the area. This is the situation that so many unaccompanied children live in across Europe. Their only hope is for a legal route to be offered to them so that they can rejoin their families.
Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Government to ensure that the 280 places that have not been filled are filled as quickly as possible and that family reunions can take place as quickly as possible?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I ask the Minister, whom I normally like very much, to work with Safe Passage, which has been helping Tekle and Awet, to look into those two cases. I ask him personally to update me on their progress. As he knows full well, those are just two cases among many.
There is a clear moral principle: no child should spend a second longer than necessary in a state of vulnerability and uncertainty when they have family in Britain who can provide them with safety and support. This motion is not just about moral principle, but about the law. Whatever happens after Brexit, it is vital that UK law ensures that access for vulnerable children with a legal claim to rejoin families in Britain is retained and not reduced.
The Dublin III regulation leaves a lot to be desired, but the family reunion access guaranteed by our domestic law is often even more restrictive. Some lone child refugees who have grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters or brothers living in the UK only have a legal route to safety and family reunion because of the Dublin regulation. I want the Government—and the Minister today—to commit to working across this House to ensure that we, at the very least, replicate the provisions of Dublin III—
You are very kind, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Basically, I ask the Government to replicate the provisions of Dublin III after Brexit so that we can bring these children home.
Many of the people in Calais come from war-torn areas such as Syria and Iraq. Indeed, shortly before the general election, I went with my former interpreter to the city of Mosul for about three hours and had a look around. As we approached the city—we were about 20 km away—we saw a great caravan filled with women in black and children. There were very few men. I remember seeing one lady carrying two babies, with a toddler walking behind.
The next day I went to one of the camps, which had taken in an extra 23,000 people in the previous week. The latrines by the entrance, which had been designed to last 17 months, were already overflowing after three weeks. There were many young people there who were in great need. It gives none of us pleasure to see pictures of young people in Calais, or at the edge of the Europe, living in such intense hardship. Of course we must help the young and the vulnerable, but we must not be naive and we must not create pull factors—or what my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke described as migrant magnets.
While we can all have a debate ad nauseam about pull or push and will never agree on it, at least let us look at some of the places we should be providing under Dubs—I am talking about the 280 places that we have not yet filled.
Well, yes, I accept that, but we must be careful to do what is right for as many people as possible, rather than for the people who are most visible to us. We should not just do what makes us feel good. We must stop creating a “pull” for people to make these very long journeys.
My very good friend has lived under cover in Sangatte. Has he any comments on how the children were living there? In particular, can he tell us about the conditions that he saw when he was under cover?
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his intervention. The reality is that this was some time ago, and that there were very, very few children. What I found in my week-long stay at the Sangatte camp was that the refugees were mostly fit young men. I would do exactly as they did—they had sold bits of land in Kurdistan or wherever else and were coming to England. The reasons why that camp was full, why the Jungle camp was full and why there are thousands of people around Calais is that they know they will get into Britain. We have people drowning in the Mediterranean because we have created the pull factor: the expectation that if they make it to Europe, they will stay in Europe. Until we break that, we will continue to have this problem, and we will continue to have so many young people coming over here.
The reality with what we describe as these “refugee children”—I do acknowledge that we cannot have nine-year olds living in bushes—is that 90% of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who applied for asylum in 2016 were male, 59% of whom claimed to be either 16 or 17 years old.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about people who may have come here illegally. Does he agree that if we have a safe and legal process, all of the Daily Mail myths about who the refugee children are can be dealt with because Home Office officials will be processing them on the ground? That is what we are talking about today.
I have great sympathy with what the hon. Lady says, but I have also seen these kids in the camps. We should be doing everything we can for the many, not for the relative few. [Interruption.] It is true. We should not just do what makes us feel good. There are millions of refugees in the middle east who need as much help as we can give. We cannot settle them all in the UK; we must do what we can for the many.
By taking such young people, we are spending vast amounts of money that could much more effectively help children in their own regions. We are also creating pull factors, which encourage young people to embark on these long and sometimes lethal journeys. Here, council foster places are already oversubscribed. The amount of money spent on each child is enormous. I am saying not that we should not take in some cases, but that we should think about where we spend this money. We should use the money to look after people nearer their own homes. We must do what is right, and not what makes us feel good. If we are really to help all those who most need our help, we would do better to help them outside our borders, and to stop these immoral pull factors. We should be helping the many, not pulling in the few.
Images of families and children in makeshift refugee camps around Calais have disappeared from the front pages and from our Facebook timelines, but the refugee crisis has not abated across Europe, and we continue to face the biggest humanitarian crisis since the 1940s.
Last week marked one year since the demolition of the Jungle camp. I went to visit it for myself in 2015, as others have done. The experience was both eye-opening and heart-breaking. Conditions were awful, but it was amazing to see the strength and grit of the people living there, despite the unimaginable situation in which they found themselves. They had built themselves a mosque and a church, and set up libraries, language schools and a barber’s shop. It was utterly striking that these people, who had been treated in the most uncivilised way, were now responding with dignity and civilisation.
From spending time with the families and the charity workers who were working tirelessly to provide support and advice to them, it was clear that they felt that the camp was their only option. I met lots of children who were there without adult guardians. For some, their parents had paid traffickers to get them to safety in Europe. Others had lost their parents to conflict or had become separated from them while fleeing.
I was particularly frustrated on behalf of those who were stuck there with family who were already in the United Kingdom. Under EU and UK law, they have a legal right to be here, but complicated bureaucracy and systemic failures mean that it can take up to six months even to register for reunification. The argument goes that they have reached European shores and they are safe, so why do they seem so intent on coming to Britain? Well, those who wish to come to the United Kingdom are a small minority of refugees who are currently in France, but nearly every one of them I spoke to on my visits had this grand view of Britain as a place of decency, safety, freedom and civilisation. If someone has made that kind of journey, crossed seas and taken those risks—let us be blunt—they are not one of life’s spongers. People who have met those refugees know that it is not the pull factor that has brought them here, but the push factor of war and persecution back at home.
This is absolutely preposterous. The fact is that these very long journeys, which sometimes last many months, cost a great deal of money and most are organised by people smugglers. These are the relatively privileged few; we should be concentrating on the many.
We should concentrate on those who are most in need. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again about the image of Britain in the mind of the people who seek to come here.
The hon. Lady, to whom I would have paid tribute if I had had the time, now allows me to pay tribute to her; she has hit the nail bang on the head. It should be a source of immense pride that this is how Britain is seen by many. A real patriot wants other people to think well of their country, in spite of the ugly face that we so often seem to wish to present to the rest of the world.
As compensation, or to deflect criticism, the Home Office transferred 750 children to Britain to begin to rebuild their lives. About 550 were reunited with family under Dublin III and 200 were brought in through the Dubs scheme. To put this into context, 1,900 children were registered as living in the camps, and many more would have been there but not registered. Rough estimates today suggest that about 1,000 people remain scattered in and around Calais, including an estimated 200 unaccompanied children. These people are vulnerable not only to the coming winter weather, but to heavy-handed law enforcement, as we have heard. Most appallingly, they are vulnerable to traffickers and others who would do them harm. For children, no place could be more dangerous. I want this debate to be a call to arms to redouble our efforts to ensure that this crisis is not simply brushed under the carpet.
I want the Government to agree to do three things. First, I want them to reopen the Dubs scheme today. We who fought to secure this commitment expected the Government to offer sanctuary to thousands, not just a couple of hundred. There is no shame in reversing a bad decision, so let us fill those remaining 240 places, scrap the deadline and open up more places for children who arrived in Europe after March 2016. Secondly, I want a guarantee that family reunification provisions for unaccompanied children are not restricted in the event that the UK ceases to be bound by Dublin III. Thirdly, I call on the Government to support Baroness Hamwee’s Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill in the other place. The Bill would amend our existing immigration rules to allow adult siblings, grandparents, aunt and uncles who have refugee status to sponsor unaccompanied children from outside Europe to join them in the UK.
I cannot overstate the horrific truth that the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that more children will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers. While Brexit dominates the agenda in this place, there are children in desperate need. It is an accident of history that it is those families—those children—facing the cold in Calais. Let us imagine that they were our children and our families. Would not we want a foreign country to help? When we answer that question honestly, we know exactly what we need to do now.
I thank my hon. Friend Heidi Allen and Stella Creasy for calling this debate. It has been an interesting and, at times, difficult debate to listen to because we know the terrible cases we see in the middle east, Europe and here at home due to the terrible crises that have happened across the world. I was very moved by the experiences of my hon. Friend Adam Holloway, with his military expertise. I am sure that has helped to bring an extra dimension—[Interruption.] Sorry, I should have said my hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart is telling me off.
It has been a pleasure to listen to this debate because it has been a consensual debate on a consensual motion. Lyn Brown was not perhaps so consensual in some of her remarks, but the debate has been consensual on the whole. I am pleased that the motion recognises that the United Kingdom has
“demonstrated moral and political leadership”, and that it focuses on access to
“safe and legal means to reunite…family and relatives in EU” with the hope that we will meet the standards of the Dublin III regulation. I am sure that the Minister has been listening carefully, and that this Government are entirely committed to ensuring that we continue to preserve that access and do our part in looking after the children of the world.
I will be quick. Our country has done very well. We have taken in more people than any other European country, and we have most definitely brought far more people than any other country direct from the countries where they originated into this country, avoiding all these awful journeys.
My hon. Friend has clearly read my notes because I was just about to move on to the other things on which we can agree. We can all agree that no one wants child—or, indeed, adult—refugees to fall victim to the serious organised crime gangs that run the people-trafficking rings, and we can all agree that we must target those criminal gangs, which are in it for profit and nothing more.
Surely we can all agree that children should receive the highest levels of care when they come to live in this country and we offer them a home. It was reported recently in the papers that children from Vietnam who have been taken into care as part of our refugee programme are going missing within hours or days of finding foster care. They are being tempted back out—or are sometimes physically taken back out—by criminal gangs in this country. We cannot and must not allow that to happen. We have to remember that we need to look after people properly when they come to our country. I am sure that we can also agree that expanding the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme from only Syria to all nationalities was good and entirely just.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, the UK’s record is significant. More than 8,500 people have been resettled so far, and about half of them are children. The United Kingdom resettled more refugees from outside Europe in 2016 than any other EU country. More than a third of all resettlement to the EU was to the UK that year. We should acknowledge that in the consensual terms of this debate.
I listened carefully to the intervention by the hon. Member for Walthamstow on my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham about the expertise of Home Office officials. I completely understand where she was coming from in what she asked for, but Italy, France, Greece and other countries are sovereign countries, and my concern is that we cannot just roll into town, as it were, and take over their immigration systems. We have—I imagine the Minister will tell us this—to work very much in co-operation and partnership with them.
The point was that Adam Holloway is concerned about illegal people being here. If we have safe and legal routes, we can be confident that it is child refugees who are coming. We can deal with that in partnership with other nations. The point is that, right now, we do not do that and, as a consequence, children are coming illegally.
We can agree on the fact that we do not want any illegal immigration, and I say this coming from a criminal law background, not least because sometimes it means that the people who come here—not refugees, but others—have very bad intent. I was trying to make the point that we have to find a way of working better with our neighbours to make sure their systems work as well as we would like them to and as well—I hope we can agree on this—as they work in this country.
I will end on a wider, philosophical question, which was touched on by my wonderful hon. Friend Amanda Milling. Immigration is an international problem, and we are only beginning to comprehend the extent of the task ahead of us. Across the world, we are seeing people on the move. They may be on the move because they live in conflict or war zones, as we have seen, sadly, in Burma. They may be on the move because they have the entirely human aspiration to create a better life for themselves and their families. The developed countries in this world are going to have to find a way to deal with that, whether by trying to sort out conflict zones or by trying to find ways, as we do, to use international development to raise the tide of economic wellbeing so that everybody has the chance of a good life and opportunities in life. We will have to face that challenge, and we will have to do it across the world. Sadly, the issue will be with us for years and years to come.
I thank those hon. Members who secured this debate.
Imagine, for a moment, that it is your child who is alone in a foreign country, unable to speak the language and at risk of being trafficked. As a parent, would you want that for your child? No parent would, and we have a duty of care and a civic responsibility to make sure that these vulnerable children are protected. This country has a proud history of protecting and supporting vulnerable children, going right back to the Kindertransport of world war two, when children fleeing persecution from Nazi-invaded countries were offered refuge, support and love in the UK.
Children and families who escape persecution and are offered a new chance can go on to achieve a happy and fulfilled life. These same children could become future leaders in business and the arts, or future politicians who will drive change in our communities. We need the UK to be a world leader on this issue. We need to look back at our history, and we need to learn from it.
We need swift action to reunite families. Currently, it can take up to six months for a child to be registered and for the process to even begin. That is simply not good enough. Never mind six months; the Government should be doing these things in under six days. We also need established safe places away from Calais where children and families can be taken. This would reduce the risk of children coming to harm while their cases are processed.
As I have said previously in the House, legal aid was removed from refugee family reunion cases following the passing of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. I have worked for a number of years with organisations in my constituency and across Kirklees that support families and children who have been resettled into our communities. They include volunteer groups such as Sanctuary Kirklees, whose goal is to create a network of groups and organisations throughout Kirklees that are proud to be places of safety for people seeking sanctuary, helping them to integrate into their local communities.
Recently, I attended the launch of the Buzz Project in Marsden. It was set up by a Syrian refugee who uses his expertise in beekeeping to help other refugees to make a living. In spring next year, they hope to harvest their first crop of honey. This project and others, such as Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield, show that once we open our hearts to refugees fleeing the horrors of war and genocide, they can give so much back to our country.
So the next time you tuck your child into bed at night, think about these children lying scared in a cold camp, frightened for their life. Next time you give your child a hug, think about these children just across the channel with no one there to hold them. Next time you laugh and play with your child, think about these children with no one to engage with and care for them. It is difficult and upsetting to think about the challenges these children face every single day, but they need our help more than ever. As the UK turns away from the European Union, we need to make sure that we do not turn our backs on these vulnerable children.
This is an incredibly important issue, and it is a pleasure to follow Thelma Walker, who made a very emotive contribution.
I vividly remember the debates we had in this Chamber regarding child refugees and the need to help vulnerable children stuck in squalid conditions through the Dubs scheme. I may even have had a disagreement with the Government on the issue, but we have changed the Chief Whip and the Deputy Chief Whip now, so perhaps all is well again.
I am really proud of our record as a Government. I am proud that we have provided sanctuary for unaccompanied children. In 2016, we transferred over 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe. More than 750 of them came from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance. In the same year, the UK settled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU country. According to Eurostat figures, more than a third of people resettled in Europe came to the UK. That is something to be proud of, and I hope our European colleagues will listen and follow our lead. More widely, the UK has granted asylum or another form of leave to over 9,000 children in the past year alone. Since 2010, it has been over 42,000.
I want to say that this motion is right. We need to ensure that there are safe and legal means for unaccompanied child refugees to come to the UK. Everyone in this Chamber will no doubt agree that we need to stamp out people traffickers. They profit from the desperation of the vulnerable and do not care about their welfare. Where we do not have safe and legal routes, people smugglers not only operate but thrive.
We should be clear that primary responsibility for unaccompanied children in France lies with the French Government. I encourage my right hon. Friend the Minister to urge his counterpart to ensure that the French are doing everything they can to process asylum applications.
While we continue to be a member of the European Union, we will participate in Dublin III, and it is in all our interests that we continue to co-operate on asylum and migration, both legal and illegal, once we have left the EU. We should bear in mind that unaccompanied children cannot make applications for family reunification under the Dublin regulation. That regulation is a mechanism to determine which member state is responsible for the consideration of any asylum claim, but it is not, and never has been, a family reunification route in and of itself.
We must look to the future, however. I accept that the nature of any future agreement is still to be discussed with the European Union—it will form part of the negotiation process. It would be wrong to set out our position in advance, but we can set out our principles: we are proud of the UK’s long history of offering sanctuary to those who need it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be proud of the totality of support that the UK is providing to refugees, particularly these most vulnerable children?
I do agree. There is sometimes a danger in the House that we make the perfect the enemy of the good. I am proud of what our Government are doing.
We are proud of the UK’s long history of offering sanctuary to those who need it. Britain will always offer asylum to those fleeing war, genocide and persecution, and we will continue to make sure that vulnerable unaccompanied children can join their families here. The Government have played an important role in responding to the migration crisis, as my hon. Friend Amanda Milling just said. We have settled the most vulnerable children directly from the region. We have pursued the criminal gangs and trafficking networks that profit from the misery and desperation of those in these terrible conditions, and we are one of the largest contributors of aid and development in the Syria conflict. As the motion says, the UK has demonstrated moral and political leadership on this issue. Long may that continue.
Two fundamental questions arise every time we debate the issue of child refugees: what kind of society and what kind of a nation do we want to be? We want to part of a society that is fair-minded, generous and compassionate, and which understands its role in the world and does not shirk its responsibilities. In my home in Leeds, refugee charities and local authorities are doing incredible work settling and welcoming people to the city.
I just want to put on record what the people of Scotland are doing. Angela and Maria Feeney organised an initiative called Wishaw to Calais, which became Scotland to the world—just to help my friend over there, Adam Holloway. The people of Scotland got together and North Lanarkshire Council gave us two warehouses. We filled them up and supplied the world. One of the volunteers, a young girl called Leanne Hawkins, wanted to help because she was also a child. She died recently, and I pay tribute to her and thank her for her work.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituent for the work that she did. I also pay tribute to his other constituents, and those of other hon. Members, for the work they have done for so many children in Calais.
Local authorities often have to act at short notice—sometimes as little as 48 hours—and under competing and enormous pressures on resources to house vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, and to find homes for children who come through the scheme. Our northern cities have deep and powerful humanitarian instincts and traditions, going back to the Huguenots and the Kindertransport, but as local authorities’ budgets have been slashed, the strains have become all too apparent. Child protection in the UK is decentralised, meaning that it is managed by local government. At the same time, the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is funded directly by the Home Office. That creates a major source of conflict and confusion, and it is invariably bad news for the children whose wellbeing and futures rest in the hands of these institutions.
Local authorities, and the charities that work with them, would like nothing more than to be able to act confidently and swiftly to assist child refugees when they are transferred to their care, but as things stand it is not uncommon for local authorities to find themselves subject to unreasonable and close-to-unworkable demands to house refugee children. As such, a 2016 report by UNICEF on unaccompanied child refugees made a single recommendation to the UK Government, calling for measures
“to ensure that local authorities have the financial resources and operational capacity to enable these evaluations to be carried out quickly, whilst safeguarding the child’s best interests.”
Without clear guidance and financial guarantees to local government, we risk falling far short of the standards of decency and compassion that we aspire to as a society. I am sorry to say that as a nation we have fallen short of our best traditions of global leadership and humanitarianism on this issue.
According to UNHCR, 138,300 refugees have made their way to Europe so far this year, with Italy, Greece and Spain managing the bulk of arrivals. More than 2,500 refugees are thought to have died or gone missing in the process. In the same period, only 3.5% of asylum applications made in Europe by children were made in the UK. The UK is the second wealthiest nation in Europe, but ranks a lamentable ninth on European child asylum applications. We are clearly—and hazardously —not pulling our weight. As this clearly shows, pull factors are not a consideration when it comes to child refugees.
In the long term, there are few established benefits to isolationism. The domestic problems and anxieties we face as nation are invariably shaped and impacted by events beyond our immediate control. Whether we like it or not, we cannot retreat from these challenges. We should never be comfortable retreating from the challenge of sharing responsibility for child refugees. This goes to the heart of the question of who we are as people and a nation. The nation may have voted for Brexit, but it did not vote to turn its back on child refugees.
Since my election to this place in June, the issue of unaccompanied child refugees has been a major topic in my postbag and inbox, so I am glad we are having this debate. I commend Heidi Allen, who has already set the bleak scene in Calais, for securing it.
Before saying a little about the Dublin regulations, I want to touch briefly on the Dubs amendment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great misfortunes of this debate is that the Government talk a lot about a pull factor but have published absolutely no evidence; it is a case of putting up or shutting up.
I want to touch on the British Government’s woefully inadequate response to what is the worst humanitarian crisis since world war two. To be clear, we on the nationalist Benches would like to see the Dubs scheme continued to enable the UK to receive at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe. Moreover, we want the British Government to increase the total number of refugees they intend to settle under the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Kirby, from the International Rescue Committee, who shared with me some very harrowing statistics and data about the number of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe. Europol reports that there are almost 90,000 lone refugee children in Europe. Indeed, the UNHCR estimates that in 2016 about 33,800 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arrived in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Spain. The majority of those—some 26,000 children—arrived in Italy.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the UK Government had axed the Dubs amendment on refugee children and capped it at 480. The refugee crisis has not gone away and people are still fleeing the continuing violence in Syria and other countries, which creates a very serious risk that the numbers of unaccompanied children becoming prey to human traffickers will increase. Her Majesty’s Government need to do their part by continuing to provide places under the Dubs scheme when local authority capacity is available, as we know it is.
I commend many of the local authorities in Scotland that have embraced, with typically warm hospitality, many refugees from Syria. My own city of Glasgow has been outstanding when it comes to welcoming what are now affectionately known as “refuweegees”. In fact, Scotland has welcomed over a quarter of the total number of Syrian refugees in the UK.
I have some questions for the Minister. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider moving the date of entry to Europe to after
No, I think we have heard enough of the “little Britain” approach from the Government Benches today.
The photos have now disappeared from our newspapers and the story has largely faded, but the humanitarian crisis rages on. The Government can and must do more.
I have had the opportunity to visit the refugees in Calais on two very different occasions. In December 2015, I went there with a group of local paramedics who were giving up their time voluntarily to provide medical assistance when the Jungle camp was at its height. Just two months ago, with Safe Passage UK and Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome, my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, Henry Smith and I went over and had a look at what has happened since the camp was demolished about a year ago.
I do not pretend that the situation in Calais is the most dramatic or the worst situation for refugees fearing persecution, but it is on our doorstep. Almost overwhelmingly, the people in and around Calais are there either because they believe that they have a right to come to the UK or they have a particular reason for wanting to come to the UK. The situation is emblematic of many of the other problems that we have.
We have heard two different interpretations of what the Jungle camp was like. One is that it was a place of utter despair, lawlessness, violence and brutality; and the other is that it was a rather thriving environment with shops, restaurants, churches, mosques and theatres. The answer is that both are true. We saw the extraordinary resourcefulness of the people there, as well as the risks that they were up against. Now it is just scrubland, but around the port of Calais about 1,000 people, including about 200 children, are sleeping rough. A number of those children have rights under Dublin III, and some would qualify as Dubs children.
Having Lord Dubs as a constituent in Hammersmith and Fulham is a source of great pride for us. It also keeps me on my toes on this matter, as one can imagine. The situation is more brutal than it was two years ago. There are no facilities for the people there now. There is a concerted campaign, as is well documented by the authorities, to drive people away using very brutal tactics. I would like the Minister to comment on whether any UK money is going in to support the riot police and the oppression that is going on there.
We now have an opportunity to say what we are going to do—not only while we are in the EU, but if we leave the EU—to honour the conditions of Dublin III and honour the obligations given to Lord Dubs. At a lobby last week, I was able to meet some of the children who came over last year, many of whom are in my constituency. I am a governor at a school that has many asylum-seeking refugee children who are doing extremely well. Some of them fear being deported back when they are 18. I ask the Minister to comment on that as well. I say in the meantime that this country had clear obligations, and we should be proud to fulfil them.
It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter and to speak in this debate on a subject that has been discussed with such passion.
The trip that I took to Calais with Safe Passage UK, which my hon. Friend mentioned, was harrowing; I still have nightmares about the stories that I was told. I want to spend the brief time I have talking about how painful and difficult it is for the young people in that area. I spoke to children from Eritrea, Syria, northern Iraq, Ethiopia and Libya, and heard stories about how difficult it is for them now. Many did not want to speak about their journey or about what had happened in their home country. They hoped that the dangers of the sea and the journey to reach Calais, and then onward to Britain, would be worth it.
I went to Calais with Faraday Fearnside, a Plymouth campaigner who works for Safe Passage UK and also founded an organisation called Open Hearts Open Borders. She collects resources from right across the far south-west to send to unaccompanied child refugees, not only in Calais but across the country. She joins many people from right across the UK who give up their time and resources to support these often forgotten-about young people. She wrote to me to say:
“Like you I was appalled by what I saw;
child refugees are having their bedding stolen, trench foot is rife and police violence against them happens nearly every night.”
Will the Minister tell us what oversight the House can have over the money spent by the Home Office in supporting the French police? Hearing stories about how children sleeping rough at night are tear-gassed as they sleep by the French police raises serious concerns about what money we are giving to those police that they are then using to assault and brutalise these young children, who have no protection. Those children are sleeping rough at night, fearful about what might happen to them and what the police may do to them. They must face those experiences every day, as well as the experiences of their journey to get there. UNICEF’s report “Neither Safe Nor Sound” stated that sexual abuse is commonplace —a constant threat for young women and boys—and that the biggest fear of the children it interviewed was the fear of being raped.
Calais is closer to this place than Plymouth. The constituencies of the majority of hon. Members who have spoken today are further away from this place than those children in Calais are at this very moment. Christmas is coming.
I just wanted to mention, in the context of nightmares and things that stay with us, the most harrowing story that I heard when I was in Calais: when a Médecins Sans Frontières doctor said how tired he was of constantly stitching up little boys. That has stayed with me ever since.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Christmas is coming, and children all across our country are wondering what Father Christmas will bring them. The children who are sleeping rough in Calais want to go back to school, to have a roof over their heads and to be reunited with their families. In many cases, we have a moral and legal obligation to reunite them with their families.
We are expecting a cold winter. I expect children to die sleeping rough in Calais this winter, so we need to act urgently. It occurs to me each and every day that if these were Plymouth children, we would be acting—the debate would be so noisy and vociferous that we would act swiftly—but because they are unaccompanied refugee children, they are forgotten. I hope that this debate will remind not only Members of the House and Ministers but the public of our obligations. We have a choice about what kind of country we want to be after Brexit. I want us to be a beacon country, which proudly displays its values and supports people, especially unaccompanied child refugees who are desperate for our help.
I am pleased to be called to speak in the debate. I can say, hand on heart, that I cannot begin to imagine the plight of these children. My heart goes out to them. We have all seen the images on TV and have been disturbed by what we have seen. The children are in this predicament through no fault of their own, so we must help them. We have taken steps to do so, and we must take further steps. As hon. Members have said, we must think about these children as though they were our own and respond accordingly. We acknowledge that we have a role to play, and we must exercise wisdom in playing it.
In the short time that I have, I want to refer to some of the things that we have done in Northern Ireland, with Government help. The first Syrian refugees to arrive in Northern Ireland through the Syrian VPR scheme came to Belfast in December 2015. We had some 51 people—10 families—and they settled and were housed in north, south and west Belfast. As of June 2017, nine groups of refugees had been brought to Northern Ireland, bringing the total number to 558. Another 192 have come since then, and we now have some 750. Northern Ireland hopes to take 2,000 refugees over a five-year period. That may not seem like a terrible lot, but we are a small region and we are doing our bit. I want to put our commitment on the record in the Chamber.
May I say what tremendous work is being done in Northern Ireland? Sadly, we have this refugee crisis, and there will be refugee crises in the future. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is vital that the networks of support for refugees are maintained in all our regions, because they will be crucial in any future refugee crises that we come across?
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman.
As well as bringing refugees in, we have to think about what we need to do afterwards. In order to support the Syrian refugee families with full integration into Northern Ireland, we need to support them with housing, health, benefits and school places for children. The costs of those things are met by Home Office allocations for the first year. I subscribe to what other Members have said: we have 250 places, so let us fill those places and do our bit. Let us make it clear what we in the United Kingdom are about. We must work out which situations merit opening our doors and which merit stepping in and doing what we can.
Let us put on the record what our Government and the Home Office do. When I looked up the funding allocation for Northern Ireland, I found that the Home Office provides some £11,120 per refugee to cover the first year’s costs. That covers resettlement costs and includes housing, education and healthcare, as well as key worker support, which is very important. Those things are all part of the integrated system—the full package—that is required. The Home Office agreed to make additional money available to cover additional educational costs and medical costs for any complex needs cases, of which there are many.
The Home Office also provides reducing levels of financial support for the resettlement of the refugees for up to five years after their arrival, so our Government provides ongoing support. When we bring in refugees, we give them the full package to keep them educated and get them settled. The funding from the Home Office will be sufficient to cover the costs of managing the arrival and resettlement of the refugees expected to arrive in Northern Ireland.
The Government have many methods of helping to settle refugees. As Members will know, I come from Northern Ireland; I fly over every time and then fly back. On the plane, the staff give a safety demonstration every time, and it never changes; we could probably recite it off by heart, but it is still important. They make it clear that in the case of oxygen being needed, we must first put the mask on ourselves before helping others to ensure that we can actually help others. I believe the same applies here, except for one difference: we have the oxygen, and we should try to help where we can.
In conclusion, may I ask the Minister whether if we can do more, he can show how? If we can do more, why are we not doing it? If we cannot, then what can we do for these children—and, indeed, for children in similar circumstances across the world? That is what this debate is about, and right hon. and hon. Members have made it very clear that we want action.
I congratulate the hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) on securing this debate, which is about what we should do for unaccompanied child refugees on the European continent. In summing up for the third party, I had hoped to be able to say that there was a measure of cross-party agreement that more should be done. I probably can say that, although there have been one or two dissenting voices.
I will come on to deal with the argument about pull and push factors in a moment, but I want to say that the motion rightly notes that the United Kingdom has in the past
“demonstrated moral and political leadership”, and it must do so again. Several speakers have mentioned the Kindertransport this afternoon. I was privileged and humbled recently to meet an old lady who came to the United Kingdom on the Kindertransport. The thing she was most keen to impress on me was not her experience, but the fact that we in the United Kingdom must now take similar steps to help modern child refugees in Europe. That was her message. It is right that there should be a degree of cross-party agreement, because this is a moral responsibility, not something that should break down on party political lines.
As I have said, I want to deal with the comments made by Adam Holloway about pull factors. I will do so by referring to the findings of a substantial report launched in the other place this summer, “An independent inquiry into the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe”. It was originally the idea of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery. When the general election was called, the all-party group was dissolved, but its members felt that the dangers of human trafficking facing children in Europe were so great that the report should nevertheless be done. It was done, and was published in July.
One of the reasons why the report was commissioned was to deal with something said by the Home Secretary in responding to an urgent question in the previous Parliament, back on
“to continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment indefinitely…acts as a pull” which “encourages the people traffickers.” She also said that
“if we continue to take numbers of children from European countries, particularly France, that will act as a magnet for the traffickers.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 621, c. 639, 645.]
It was because of those statements that the right hon. Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss felt compelled to get this inquiry under way.
The evidence gathered during the inquiry and its findings demonstrated numerous push and pull factors, but it did not receive any evidence to support the Government’s position that the safe transfer of children to the UK is a pull factor encouraging traffickers. On the contrary, the inquiry found that the chaotic manner in which these arrangements were handled on the ground and then abruptly stopped, as well as the Government’s administration of the Dubs scheme, had created a lack of trust that was playing directly into the hands of the traffickers. Children were losing faith that the British Government would act in their best interests, and they were not prepared to wait for months for a decision that might never happen, so they turned instead to ever-riskier methods of getting to the UK.
What I am trying to say is that these children are in Europe. We might not like the fact that they are in Europe, but they are there. Many of them are unaccompanied, and it is our moral duty to help them. By failing to help them, we are actually pushing them into the hands of human traffickers. This debate seeks to get the Government to see their moral responsibility to continue with the efforts that they started last year, and to put them on a firmer footing to protect those children.
Is this not a no-brainer? The pull factor is the fact that people get to stay in Britain and Europe. If people did not get to stay in Britain or Europe, we would not have this complete mess and we would be able to look after people properly in their own regions.
With respect, it is not a no-brainer, and I prefer to proceed on the basis of evidence, rather than on the hon. Gentleman’s say-so. I commend to him a report by the Human Trafficking Foundation. It took evidence, and found that the British Government’s failures were pushing children into the hands of traffickers. The contrary is therefore the case: if we provide safe routes to the United Kingdom, we take the children out of the hands of traffickers, and that is what we are debating this afternoon.
This is about reinstating the Dubs amendment, and the understanding that we all had—it is always the same Members who attend these debates—that the scheme would involve 3,000 people, not a measly few hundred. Let us be honest about that. I have also put my name to an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I do not want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, but if we are to do so, there is an opportunity for us to try to place our own rules on family reunion on a firmer basis, and to stretch that beyond just parents to reflect international standards. I would like us to remain part of international arrangements and to lead on them, and I hope we will do that.
It is important to remember that there are some good news stories in this, and perhaps the good news about children who managed to come here legally will inspire the Government to do more. I am grateful to Safe Passage for providing me with a briefing that tells a little bit about what happened to some of the children who were brought from the Calais camp last year. One year on, many of those children are living with family or foster carers, and older teenagers have been placed in supported accommodation. Most are now involved in college or attending school, and some are even preparing to go to university. These people will be useful members of our society, and will contribute to our society and economy.
One problem is that some children who came to join a family have since been taken into local authority care because their families were unable to support them. There is evidence that a small amount of financial support at crucial times can help those reunited families stay together in such situations. I applaud Glasgow City Council, which provides £57.90 per week to reunited families during the time that it takes to access welfare benefits. There are very low instances of family breakdown in Glasgow because of that, and it is an example of a small step that local authorities can take to assist in such situations.
As my hon. Friend David Linden said, SNP policy is clear: we want the Dubs scheme to continue to enable the UK to receive at least the 3,000 unaccompanied children that this House had in mind when the amendment was accepted. We also want the UK Government to increase the total number of refugees that they intend to take under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, by taking people from camps closer to their homes. We also want the UK Government to do their bit by providing better arrangements on the ground, so that there can be outreach to child refugees who arrive in Calais and Grande-Synthe, and proper outreach on the ground for children in Greece and Italy who have a right to come to the United Kingdom.
I am aware of the decision by the High Court this morning, and that it will be appealed, but I would like more good faith on the part of the Government in communicating with local authorities about whether they have the wherewithal to take those children. In Scotland, local authorities have made great efforts, together with partner organisations such as the Welcoming Association, which is based in my constituency. Local authorities across the United Kingdom have made efforts. Some have taken more than their fair share and have more of a burden than others, and we need to share the burden more fairly.
All of this takes a will and it takes central co-ordination. I encourage the Minister to give us something positive to go away with today. I encourage him to give us an indication of what he will do to break the stalemate we seem to have reached and to fulfil the spirit of what the House voted for over a year ago on the back of Lord Alfred Dubs’ hard work.
Today’s debate marks one year since the demolition of the Calais Jungle camp. The situation in Calais is a significant crisis that has lasted for many years. Razing the camp has not solved it. The Government stand accused this week of standing back while the position of unaccompanied minors has deteriorated markedly. In the past year, excessive police violence in Calais has intensified. Beatings and tear gas have been used against children. The Refugee Rights Data Project found that 94% of young people “didn’t feel safe” or “didn’t feel safe at all”, with one 19-year-old saying:
“There are no human rights here.”
I welcome the opening of the new temporary accommodation centre in northern France, but what exactly has the UK Government’s involvement been? Will the application process for the new centre, and more generally, be reduced to weeks rather than months or over a year for eligible children? Will the Government provide legal and outreach support to children eligible under Dubs and Dublin III in Calais?
The Labour party fully understands how difficult the Calais crisis has been over many years, but refuses to accept that the Government have so far approached the whole issue with humanity and consistency. The clear evidence for this is the Government’s ending of the Dubs scheme. The Dubs amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs, who was himself saved from the hands of the German Nazi regime. It was passed with the intention of bringing about 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to Britain. The Government have since announced that they will halt the scheme after accepting just 480. We on the Labour Benches, and many on the Minister’s own side, cannot accept this decision.
The Government have wriggled out of their obligation to accept child refugees, shutting the door on the most vulnerable. The Government said that
“following consultation with local authorities” they set the number of children to be transferred under the Dubs scheme at 480. However, evidence to the Home Affairs Committee casts serious doubt on that claim. Local authorities suggested that up to 4,000 more places could be made available. We must have more transparency on the issue of local authority capacity. Authorities across the country who might have places must be encouraged to come forward. We understand from refugee charities that a small number of admissions may have occurred in the past two weeks, in which case the point remains that this is too little, given the size of the refugee crisis and the plight and experience of refugee children across Europe. The UN has called for Britain to take 10,000 refugees per year.
The Home Secretary has said a number of times that she wants to avoid the Dubs scheme acting as a pull factor for child migrants or encouraging people traffickers. In fact, the opposite is true. Legal schemes such as Dubs disrupt the activities of people traffickers rather than encourage them. Where legal routes are limited, where children lose faith in systems and trust in officials, they turn to people traffickers or smugglers who exploit them. Unless the push factors, including violence, persecution and conflict which drive children to flee their homes, are resolved children will continue to flee. Will the Minister give an assurance that where it is in the best interests of unaccompanied children, they will be reunited with their families in the UK?
Iraqi refugee Mohammed Hassan died earlier this year hiding in a lorry’s wheel arch on a journey from Calais to Oxford, trying to reach his uncle. The coroner highlighted the fact that UK border agency officials who had detained him only days before could have given him information regarding his right to family reunion under Dublin III. When the Calais camp was demolished, one in six of its inhabitants were children seeking to reach family members; several of those children have since died trying to reach their family. How will the Government ensure that all children in northern France who are eligible for family reunion are able to access safe passage? We must prevent the regrowth of the Jungle and more tragic cases like that of Mohammed Hassan.
There is a great deal to be done in the face of the humanitarian and refugee crisis across the world. We are leaving the EU, but that does not mean we should cease to work together to solve this crisis. The Labour party is clear that Brexit must not be used as an excuse to abandon our legal and moral obligations to refugees. The Government must commit to ensuring that Brexit does not lead to any loss of rights for refugees. Like the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire and my hon. Friend Lyn Brown, I ask the Minister for an assurance that the Dublin III definition of “family” will apply in the UK’s immigration rules post-Brexit.
When refugee children come to the UK, we must ensure that they are treated fairly and that councils have adequate resources to provide them with the support they need. As the Government’s safeguarding strategy mentions, there is a real danger of family placements breaking down and children ending up in social care. Poverty among refugee families is a major cause of breakdown. That can be resolved with small amounts of cash, as Joanna Cherry described happening in Scotland. That is infinitely cheaper than the alternative of putting a child into care. Will the Minister guarantee that core integration needs are covered for reunited families? Will he meet me and representatives from the Scottish Government and Safe Passage to review best practice?
Britain has a proud tradition of honouring the spirit of international law and moral obligations by taking our fair share of refugees. As the feeling demonstrated in this House today shows, we must not now turn our back on unaccompanied children fleeing war and terror, who are not too far from here—in northern France, in Calais.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend Heidi Allen and Stella Creasy on securing a debate on such an important subject, as well as all those who have made such thoughtful contributions. I agree that the tone has been hugely consensual on some core points, particularly the desire we all share to do the right thing by children who need our help the most. We will occasionally disagree on how to achieve that, but I think that core purpose is clear from the emotive, passionate and well informed speeches we have heard this afternoon. It is also important that we get things absolutely correct, and I will spend the next few minutes outlining some of the things that we are doing and that we can do, because some of the comments made this afternoon are simply not accurate.
We are a global leader in responding to the needs of those affected by conflict and persecution. Our country has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those most in need of protection. In response to the conflict in Syria, we have pledged over £2.46 billion in aid, and we will resettle 20,000 people in the UK by 2020 under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. More than 8,500 individuals are already here, about half of whom are children. We will also resettle 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their family members from the middle east and north Africa by 2020 under the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme. Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the UK settled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state, and over a third of all resettlement to the EU was here in the UK. We as a country, across this House and across our local authorities and community and faith groups, should be proud of that.
Our efforts do not end there, however. To reduce suffering along the key migration routes, we have allocated more than £175 million in humanitarian assistance to address the Mediterranean migration crisis, among other direct on-the-ground work and support we are giving in the region and in those communities.
Given some of the comments made in the debate, I want to make it clear that there is no need for migrants to return to Calais and the surrounding areas in the hope of travelling illegally and dangerously to the UK to claim asylum here. France is a safe country and those in need of protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity. Claiming asylum in France is the fastest route to safety for those who need protection.
Once someone from, for instance, Syria finds safety in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, however—[Interruption.] Wait. However crowded or unpleasant that might be, when they then decide to move further into Europe, they are making a choice. I would make the same choice, but at that point they are a migrant exercising their free will, and they are therefore qualitatively different from the people who have just found safety.
The heart of my hon. and gallant Friend’s point is that people should claim asylum in the first safe place they arrive at. That is the agreement and that is how the system works.
We also welcome the efforts of our French colleagues, who in recent weeks have, as Opposition Front Benchers have also recognised, established additional welcome centres to those already in place across the country. Four new centres have recently opened, away from the port area, where those wishing to claim asylum will be supported through the asylum process, and regular transportation is provided to these centres.
Bearing in mind questions raised earlier this afternoon, I want to make it clear that we work closely with France and other member states to deliver and transfer 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. That is the opposite of what some Members have said this afternoon about that process having stopped—it has not, it never has, it is still open.
A High Court ruling handed down today confirmed that the Government’s approach to implementing section 67 has been lawful. The Government’s focus is on working with local authorities and other partners to ensure we are transferring eligible children to the UK as quickly as possible, with their safety and best interests at the centre of all our decisions.
I will come to the wider point around that shortly, but, as I have just said, the High Court has outlined that the process the Government have used is lawful.
Children have already arrived in recent weeks from France and transfers are ongoing. We have been working closely with Greece to put in place the processes for the safe transfer of eligible children to the UK, and expect to receive further referrals in the coming weeks. I say to Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Select Committee, that she is effectively proposing that we should just take children from another country. I am sure Members must appreciate, when they think this through, that we simply cannot do that. We as a Government and a country must respect the sovereignty of other countries and their national child protection laws. That is the right thing to do.
For the year ending June 2017, we in the UK granted asylum or another form of leave to remain to more than 9,000 children, and have done that for more than 42,000 children since 2010. We are fully committed to ensuring that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and refugee children are safe and that their welfare is promoted once they arrive in the UK. That is why yesterday, as has been outlined, the Government published a safeguarding strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children, in recognition of their increased numbers and specific needs, backing up the point I made earlier that we want to make sure we are doing the right thing by the children who need our support.
The Minister will remember that in my contribution and in those of other Members, we talked about children who have families here in the UK and who are desperate to get to them. Will he commit today to working with me on the two cases that I have brought to him, and on the other cases that Members on both sides of the House have raised, relating to children with families here who are risking their lives trying to be reunited with possibly the only family they have left?
I have worked with the hon. Lady a great deal over the years, and I genuinely like her. I will respond to the particular cases she has brought up, and I will touch on the wider issue of family reunion in a moment if she will bear with me.
The motion understandably considers the impact of our exit from the EU on this country’s participation in the Dublin regulation. I want to reassure the House that until we exit the EU, the UK will remain bound by EU asylum legislation, where we have opted in, including the Dublin III regulation. We are committed to ensuring that it operates efficiently and effectively, and the guidance we have published today is a further indication of our commitment in this area.
However, I want to clarify a misunderstanding that is out there. Dublin is not and has never been a family reunion route in itself. The recent reporting of this issue has been misinformed, and I hope that I can provide some clarity today by confirming a point made by my hon. Friend Will Quince in his excellent contribution. The Dublin regulation is the mechanism used to determine the member state responsible for the consideration of an asylum claim, and it is primarily used in respect of adults, not children, to make transfers both into and out of the UK. It confers no right to remain in the UK once an asylum claim has been considered.
The right approach to this issue must be to negotiate with the EU on co-operation on asylum and migration, considering the issues in the round. The Government have set out a clear position that co-operation on asylum and migration, which we value, is for discussion with the EU. We support the underlying principle of the Dublin regulation that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and should not be allowed to “asylum shop”. That point has been made by several of my hon. Friends today. Moreover, Dublin is a two-way process that requires the co-operation of 31 other countries to work effectively. We do not think it appropriate to commit unilaterally to the entry into the UK of one cohort of those who currently fall within the scope of the Dublin regulation when it requires the co-operation of other sovereign nations to operate.
I want to pick up on the point that Lyn Brown has just raised. The wider issue of family reunion is hugely important, and Members across the House have rightly raised it this afternoon. The Government strongly support the principle of family unity, and we have a comprehensive framework in place for reuniting refugees safely with their families. We have reunited more than 24,000 partners and children with their family members already granted protection here in the last five years. Our family reunion policy allows children to join their parents here, and there are also specific provisions in the immigration rules that allow extended family members lawfully resident in the UK to sponsor children, where there are the right circumstances. That is aside from the work we do for our mandate resettlement scheme. As we leave the EU, we will continue to meet our moral duty to support refugees affected by conflict and persecution, including children, and continue this country’s proud history of supporting and protecting those in need.
I should like to thank everyone who has spoken so passionately in today’s debate. There has been a broad recognition of the UK’s contribution to tackling the migration crisis around the world, and I have taken away two conclusions. First, we must fulfil our obligations under Dubs. We need to fill those remaining places as soon as we possibly can. We have been reminded today that these are not numbers. They are people; they are children. I particularly want to thank Lyn Brown for reminding us of that fact, because it can be too easy to focus on the documents and spreadsheets when we should be focusing on the children and families.
My second conclusion is that we must not let Brexit reduce our ability to offer the broadest family reunification we can, whether under Dublin III or our own domestic legislation, perhaps through something new in the great repeal Bill or an immigration Bill. We need to ensure that we make this as broad as possible, and I was pleased to hear the Minister set out his intention to work towards achieving that. Further clarity around our domestic legislation might also be required.
At the end of the day, the migration crisis will not end any time soon. Whether it is due to war or climate change, I fear that this is only the beginning. We will have to face the situation as a global member of the world and, as a wealthy and compassionate society, we have a duty to lead. The crisis is not going to go away tomorrow, so our compassion must not go away either. I thank everyone for continuing to bring the plight of these children to the ears of the media and to the general public.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
notes that it is one year since the Calais Jungle camp was demolished;
further notes that the UK demonstrated moral and political leadership in transferring 750 child refugees from intolerable conditions in that camp to be reunited with family members in Britain and provided those children with protection under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016;
and believes that as the UK prepares to leave the EU, provision must be made to ensure that unaccompanied children in Europe can continue to access the safe and legal means to reunite with family and relatives in the EU as is currently provided for under the EU Dublin III Regulation.