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, that is absolutely true, and there is regular support to that end in France. I assume the noble Lord is talking about France.

We have established additional welcome centres for people already in place across the country, and four new centres have recently opened away from the juxtaposed ports, where those wishing to claim asylum will be supported through the asylum process—I am guessing, with language help as well. Regular transportation is provided to these centres.

We are well aware of reports—noble Lords have mentioned this this afternoon—that unaccompanied children are among those who have returned to Calais. I would again emphasise that any children who are in the area should claim asylum or otherwise seek support from the French authorities. We continue to work closely with France and other member states to deliver the transfer of 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. A High Court ruling handed down today confirmed that the Government’s approach to implementing Section 67 was lawful. The focus for the Government, working together with local authorities and other partners, must be on transferring eligible children to the UK as quickly as possible, with their safety and best interests at the centre of all our decisions. Children have arrived in recent weeks from France and transfers are ongoing. We have been working closely with Greece to put in place the process for the safe transfer of eligible children to the UK, and expect to receive referrals in the coming weeks. That answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. This is in addition to our ongoing commitments under Dublin.

Here in the UK, for the year ending June 2017, I say again, we granted asylum or another form of leave to over 9,000 children, and to more than 42,000 children since 2010. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and refugee children are safe and their welfare is promoted once they arrive in the UK. That is why the Government published yesterday a safeguarding strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in recognition of their increasing numbers and specific needs. The strategy includes commitments to increase the number of foster places, review the funding available to local authorities that support unaccompanied children, improve the information and advice available to children and their families, and prevent children going missing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked about the Dublin regulations. The Home Office today published the Dublin III Regulation guidance, which covers decisions relating to the state responsible for examining an asylum claim and transfers between the UK and other European states in respect of adults and children. It is important that this House recognise that Dublin is a two-way co-operation measure which concerns adults as well as children. On the specific case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I will certainly respond to him about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, highlighted the local authority point. Local authorities, as he will know, have been tremendously generous in caring for migrant children, regardless of their circumstances. Every region in England is now participating in the national transfer scheme and, if we are to continue to make that scheme a success, we need more local authorities to come forward and offer places—a point I have made to the noble Lord on many occasions.

To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, last year we substantially increased funding to local authorities, which are responsible for supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. As of the start of July 2016, local authorities now receive £41,610 a year for each unaccompanied asylum-seeking child aged under 16, and £33,215 for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children aged 16 and 17. This represents a 20% and 28% increase in funding, respectively.

My noble friend Lady Berridge mentioned Christians and members of other religious groups. We are very clear that our scheme will prioritise the most vulnerable refugees and that is why, under the VPRS, UNHCR identifies refugees for resettlement using its vulnerability criteria. Membership of a minority religious group is not, in and of itself, one of the vulnerability criteria, but members of minority religious groups may qualify under one of the other criteria.

Finally, I will answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the pull factor, which my noble friend Lady Stroud also mentioned. We acknowledge that there are both push and pull factors affecting migratory flows. We know that the French authorities are concerned about Calais and the northern coast of France being a pull factor, and we share that concern. Those in France should claim asylum in France—that is the safest and fastest route to safety.

With that, I thank noble Lords for taking part and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for securing the debate.