Calais: Refugees - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:34 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 3:34 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for making this debate possible. The cause of unaccompanied child refugees is one that commands all-party support, as evidenced by the debate that took place in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon. Whether it is under Section 67 or Dublin III, the Government are committed to bringing 480 unaccompanied child refugees to this country. So far, only 200 have come. Why can we not get a move on? Why should they lie there in Calais or Greece? Nothing seems to be happening, yet the Government have made that commitment. There must be some reason. Furthermore, many local authorities are willing to take more child refugees, whether in England, Scotland—which has hardly been tapped for this—Northern Ireland or Wales. We have evidence of local authorities in those areas that are willing to help.

I have been to Calais three times recently. The situation there is absolutely desperate. People are sleeping in the woods. Some wonderful NGOs and Safe Passage are helping refugees, but on the whole refugees depend on a food kitchen and the situation is pretty desperate. A temporary accommodation centre has been opened recently. It is much too small. People there need legal advice so that they know what their rights are. The long journey to Lille to have their application documented is pretty difficult, particularly since the office there is small and very little processing can take place.

There is a cut-off date of 20 March, which the Government devised of their own making. That date is very difficult because we know that the documentation on when young people arrive in Europe is never very clear-cut. I know, for example, that in Greece some of the children who arrived were not documented until after 20 March, although they had arrived some time before. There was a fire in a reception centre on one of the islands. The records were burned. The same probably goes for children in France as well. I urge the Government to be flexible about the cut-off date, otherwise it will be excessively rigid and children will be denied a decent situation.

When the children come to this country, many of them will do extremely well. I have heard of situations where young people do well and where they are getting on in school. I know of one young Syrian boy in Northern Ireland who was rejected by most of the schools in Belfast because his English was not good enough. He went to an integrated school and he got top marks in English after two or three years. There are real success stories that we need to talk about.

I believe public opinion is still on the side of our taking more child refugees. None of us is arguing that we should take the lot. None of us has said every child refugee in Europe should come here. But we should take our fair share. It is my contention that we are not doing that. I believe public opinion is behind us on this.