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EU: Unaccompanied Migrant Children (EUC Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:01 pm on 1st November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:01 pm, 1st November 2016

My Lords, those last remarks are very powerful. It is important to bear in mind the cost in so many ways of not being positive and welcoming and embracing these refugees at their young and sensitive age. This has been a rather solemn debate with a lot of powerful contributions. Unless I completely misunderstand and misread the Minister, I am sure that, as the person she is, she will take it very much to heart and consider it not as a debate to be refuted and rejected but one to be embraced by the Government to see what they can do to try to make the best of a bad situation.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I had the privilege of serving on her committee and she and her colleagues have produced an outstanding report. The way that she introduced it tonight was effective and irresistible. My noble friend Lord Dubs mentioned one regret. If I have a regret, it is that we did not all focus on this report way back in the summer so that we could have had a better chance of influencing the Government. The report, after all, was published in July and it is now November before we debate it. We need to look at why it takes so long on such an important issue before we debate it and help the Government to focus.

Having mentioned my noble friend Lord Dubs, I want to say what a joy it is to have him in our midst and hear him speaking. He has been a fantastic leader to us all in terms of the personal stand that he has taken. I know that he does not really like me making these remarks, but one of the things that I find most important about him is that, having been through it all, he has not put it behind him; he lives with it and sees what that demands of him in current action. That is a very strong position and we are fortunate to have him challenging us and being so effective.

I am sorry that I cannot say this after she has spoken, but I am also very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, is here tonight. She is also someone who has been working very closely with the situation on the front line and is very much in touch with the realities and the people about whom we are talking tonight.

If I may, coming so much at the end of the debate, I want to mention one other person. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, demonstrated tonight his humanity and sensitivity. It was rather a courageous speech to make from his position, and we should all welcome the fact that he made it.

Having listened to the debate, it seems that there are certain questions outstanding that I will emphasise. First, what plans does the Home Office have to create expedited family reunions and “Dubs transfers” in other EU countries such as Greece and Italy to stop children feeling forced to make their way to France and to attempt dangerous journeys across to the UK? What will now be the situation of new children who, whatever has happened, perhaps inevitably still arrive in Calais or the French coast? How will we be able to ensure that they are able to access family reunion or “Dubs transfers”?

How will the Minister ensure that unaccompanied and separated children in England and Wales are not disadvantaged and receive the same level of protection as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, who have access to independent guardians? The role of independent guardians has been emphasised in the deliberations this evening. For children who have been through this kind of trauma and experience, one cannot overemphasise the importance of having a reliable friend to whom they can turn and who is with them, taking their hand and walking with them into the future to try to make a life in our midst. It is really shameful that we in England are lagging behind Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What will the arrangements be to ensure satisfactory follow-up and monitoring of what is happening to these youngsters in their long-term future? What will happen when they turn 18 to make sure that the backing is there to enable them to make the best of their lives in terms of further or higher education or whatever?

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, remembered meeting refugees at the end of the Second World War. I am not trying to one-up him, but I was taken by my parents to an international summer camp in Scotland in 1943 for refugee children mixing with young British children, and it was a very good and enjoyable occasion. I remember at the tender age of eight being so impressed by the spirit of these children after what they had been through. There were even youngsters who had come from Norway across the North Sea in open boats to get to England. This was all happening in a grand baronial Victorian castle in Scotland called Drumtochty Castle. As I say, it was a very important experience in my formation as a youngster.

What has happened to us as a nation? We played a leading role in the creation of the United Nations and provided some of the most outstanding civil servants to serve that organisation with dedication, of whom Brian Urquhart was a particularly great example. We played a key part in the formation of UNHCR, as we did in the formation of UNICEF, and under a Conservative Government we played a key part in achieving the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We had a sense of international belonging and international responsibility. We were proud of that and wanted it to be the hallmark of the nation in which we were living. What has happened to it?

If we are to have a future outside the European Union—and, again, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made the point most powerfully and rightly—how are we going to build an alternative? What are we going to do? Are we going to regenerate and put the resources, leadership and drive that should be in place to create a new and stronger future for UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Bank and the UN itself? Where is the evidence that we are planning for that? It is not just about our trade, although of course it matters desperately, but what is the real role in the world that we want to play and how are we planning for it?

I conclude by simply making this point. Do not let us think that this is a one-off situation, because it is not. With global climate change and all the instability in the world, we are going to see this story repeated in one way or another over and over again. Let us think about the children, the mothers and the fathers who have been dying in despair as they drown, trying to escape tyranny and oppression. We must think of the predicament of those children who have made it here. Let us remember that the same thing is happening right now in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, east and west Africa, and in the Horn of Africa. There are children in those places who are every bit as desperate. If we as a nation are to have any kind of future at all in which we can take pride, we must base it on a commitment second to none in terms of humanity and world responsibility. Our participation in the international institutions is going to become more important than it has ever been.