Calais: Refugees - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 4:10 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord, Roberts of Llandudno, for securing a debate on this important issue, and I pay tribute to his tenacity on this subject. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part today.

The UK is a global leader in responding to the needs of those affected by conflict and persecution, and we have a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need of protection. Many noble Lords have talked about the figure of 480 children, but in the year ending 2017 the UK granted asylum or another form of leave to over 9,000 children, and has done so for more than 42,000 children since 2010.

On the noble Lord’s question about the conflict in Syria, we have pledged £2.46 billion in aid and we will resettle 20,000 people to the UK by 2020 under our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. He asked how many so far. The answer is over 8,500 individuals are already here, around half of whom are children. We will resettle 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their family members from the Middle East and north Africa region by 2020 under the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme. Further to that, Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state, and in total over one-third of all resettlement to the EU was actually to the UK.

Our efforts do not end there. In order to reduce suffering along the key migration routes, as my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out in her eloquent speech, we assist vulnerable people on the move, inform them about the risks of onward journeys and support alternatives, such as voluntary return or resettlement in a third country. Since October 2015 we have allocated more than £175 million in humanitarian assistance to the Mediterranean migration crisis. This support has provided lifesaving assistance such as shelter, water and sanitation, food, medical care, and protection for the most vulnerable migrants and refugees. It has helped to build the capacity of host Governments to manage migration so that it is safe and orderly.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about Calais. The UK provided comprehensive support, following a request from the French Government, for the clearance of the Calais camp last year. This included the safe transfer of over 750 unaccompanied children from France to the UK, and a commitment of £36 million, as the noble Lord pointed out, to help to provide alternative accommodation elsewhere in France for migrants and to maintain the security of the border controls in Calais, which are a critical part of our national security.

One year on from the Calais camp clearance, the Government welcome ongoing French efforts to manage what continues to be a challenging situation in the area. We welcome the French Government’s recent decision to deploy more police to the region and to continue to provide alternative accommodation for migrants elsewhere in France. France has many of the same international obligations as the UK towards those on its territory, and migrants in France are the responsibility of the French Government. I know that noble Lords have become frustrated by me saying that time and again, but France is a democratic country and it is true that migrants in France are the responsibility of the French Government.

We also enjoy excellent law enforcement co-operation with the French authorities and other European partners. We have increased our intelligence sharing and operational co-operation with the French through the establishment of the joint centre for information and co-ordination in Calais. Through the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, we have deployed officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and Crown Prosecution Service to numerous European countries, including France, to work with law enforcement and criminal justice partners on tackling the organised crime groups that facilitate people smuggling. Just last week there were 11 arrests in the UK for people smuggling under Operation Halifax—a Europe-wide investigation into an international organised crime gang that was smuggling migrants across Europe and into the United Kingdom. Key to our co-operation with European partners is the intelligence exchanged through the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which leads Europol on organised immigration crime.

I want to be clear that there is no need for migrants to return to Calais and the surrounding areas in the hope of travelling illegally 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. In the Government’s regular engagement at ministerial—