My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Roberts for securing this timely debate. He and many of my noble friends in this House have done a great deal of commendable work on this issue. A year ago, when the Jungle in Calais was cleared, 750 children were transferred to the UK—200 of these under the Dubs scheme—and the rest reunited with family. Many of these children have gone on to flourish under this country’s protection and I am proud of that record. However, we are still failing a great number of children.
Children who find themselves unprotected by official channels are extremely vulnerable to traffickers and I am greatly concerned by the reports of children being trafficked illegally into this country. This is a devastating fate for a child, many of whom are desperately seeking to join family or simply seeking safety but find themselves trapped by traffickers. Some of these children—so far, around 170—have been recognised and referred to authorities. However, these same children are reportedly being failed again and we have no idea where more than 100 of them are. These children are at grave risk of being re-trafficked. They are greatly at risk of sexual and labour exploitation. The true number of trafficked children is likely to be far higher, with some hidden from authorities and many more at risk. I deeply value the steps that my noble friend the Minister has taken to ensure the safety of children but what action is being taken to bring them back into a safe environment? What is being done to ensure that there are legal, accountable channels to help refugee children in Calais and across Europe?
The reason for closing the Dubs channel for helping these children is still unclear. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that providing safe routes for children acts as or creates the pull factor that some fear. Closing legal routes, however, pushes young people into the hands of traffickers. When one thinks of the scale of the refugee challenge, we are hardly looking at a pull factor. There are 6.5 million people, including 2.8 million children, displaced within Syria itself; 2.7 million Syrian refugees have made their way to Turkey; Lebanon hosts approximately 1 million Syrian refugees, which amounts to around one in five people in that country. Only about 1 million out of that entire group have chosen to make the dangerous journey across Europe. These statistics tell us a story of families wanting to stay in the region, not to travel. This is not a pull factor that we are seeing.
My key question to my noble friend the Minister is: what is the Government’s strategy here? We are not faced with a huge challenge, in comparison to the size of the problem being picked up by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. If those countries are responding to the needs of their neighbours, surely we can do better to care for the 100 who have made it to Calais and the United Kingdom.