Calais: Refugees - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:51 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 3:51 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, in a disturbing report issued over the summer, which was referred to earlier, Human Rights Watch reported that nearly a year after the closure of the Calais Jungle, between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants were still living on the streets and in woods in and around Calais, with no place to eat or sleep and often treated like flotsam and jetsam. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, is right to shine a light on this shameful situation.

The report documents police abuse and harassment of aid workers, which it attributes ultimately to a desire to send a signal that this fate awaits you if you risk fleeing the horror and terror of countries such as Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan or Sudan. Scandalously, the report describes the routine use of pepper spray on child migrants, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This is done while they are sleeping, to disrupt their lives and, again, to try to prevent them coming in the first place.

The Refugee Rights Data Project corroborates those findings and describes the deplorable and appalling treatment of children. I was a signatory to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he has said today: the British public have a big heart and can tell the difference between people trying to arrive in this country illegally and vulnerable, defenceless children.

The RRDP report said that 98.9% of children interviewed were unaccompanied and that 93.6% reported that they had been subject to police violence, while 84.7% of respondents lacked access to information about their rights and opportunities to change their situation and 39.1% of children said they had family elsewhere in Europe, the majority of whom were said to live in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, in Calais, refugees and displaced people are sleeping rough in the area, with 82% of children saying that police had driven them away while sleeping and 89.2% of them describing such incidents as having been violent.

I recently wrote to the Minister to ask about a case of family reunification involving a Syrian-Armenian family who had become separated after some of them had fled from Aleppo. Can she tell us what progress she is making in looking at that case?

As I have told the House, Europol estimates that at least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared since arriving in Europe. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss said. What happens to those children who make it to the United Kingdom? The Times reported on 13 October, in a story entitled,

“Child trafficking victims vanish from council care and into the hands of criminals”,

that at least 150 Vietnamese children have disappeared from care in this country since 2015. I have sent the report to the Minister and told her of my intention to raise it today.

The Home Office can be proud of its modern-day slavery and trafficking legislation, which fundamentally recognises that these challenges require international solutions, but the plight of these children makes a mockery of the laws we have enacted. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us reassurance that the Government are acting on behalf of those children, who are desperately at risk.