Moved by Lord Dubs
48: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Leave to enter: family unity and claims for asylum (1) For at least such time as a relevant agreement has not been concluded and implemented, a person to whom this section applies shall be granted leave to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of making a claim for asylum.(2) This section applies to a person who—(a) is on the territory of any relevant Member State; and(b) makes an application for leave to enter for the purpose of making a claim for asylum; and(c) would, had that person made an application for international protection in that Member State, have been eligible for transfer to the United Kingdom under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 by reason of a relevant provision if the United Kingdom remained a party to that Regulation.(3) An application for leave to enter under subsection (2)(c) shall be made in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe save that—(a) there shall be no fee for the making of such an application and no requirements may be prescribed that are unreasonable having regard to the purposes of this section and the circumstances of persons to whom it applies;(b) in relation to such applications, the Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that applicants receive a decision regarding their application no later than two months from the date of submission of the application.(4) A claim for asylum made under subsection (2)(b) must remain pending throughout such time as no decision has been made on it or during which an appeal could be brought within such time as may be prescribed for the bringing of any appeal against a decision made on a claim or during which any such appeal remains pending for the purposes of section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (pending appeal); and a claim for asylum remains one on which no decision has been made during such time as the claim has been made to the Secretary of State and has not been granted, refused, abandoned or withdrawn. (5) The Secretary of State must, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a strategy for ensuring that unaccompanied children on the territory of a relevant Member State continue to be relocated to the United Kingdom, if it is in the child's best interests.(6) For the purposes of this section—“applicant” means a person who makes an application for leave to enter under this section;“claim for asylum” means a claim for leave to enter or remain as a refugee or as a person eligible for a grant of humanitarian protection;“Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);“relevant agreement” means an agreement negotiated by a Minister of the Crown, on behalf of the United Kingdom, with the European Union in accordance with which there is provision for the transfer of a person who has made an application for asylum in a Member State of the European Union to the United Kingdom and that provision is no less extensive than Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 insofar as that regulation operated to enable the transfer of a person to join a child, sibling, parent or other family member or relative in the United Kingdom before exit day;“relevant Member State” means a Member State for the purposes of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013;“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013—(a) Article 8,(b) Article 9,(c) Article 10,(d) Article 16,(e) Article 17.”
My Lords, Amendment 48, which has cross-party support in this House and the House of Commons, is concerned with the rights of child refugees in Europe. We are all aware that the refugee crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing us, both in Europe and the whole world. We have a responsibility, along with other countries, to meet that challenge.
We have all been shocked by the filming and newsreels of the fires in the Moria camp. I visited the Moria camp about a year and a half ago; I was shocked then at the overcrowding and the appalling conditions in which people were living, or existing, particularly the children. I visited the Calais area, which had equally appalling conditions. I believe that children in Moria, Calais and in other camps are not safe. It is no good saying that these children are safe in Europe. They are not safe in Europe, and we have a responsibility to help.
Even before the Moria fire, the Greek Government had for months been asking other countries to help them and take a fair responsibility for unaccompanied children. Some countries stepped forward: Germany, Portugal, France, Luxembourg, Finland and even non-EU Switzerland said they would take children but, as far as I am aware, the United Kingdom did nothing.
Since the tragedy in Moria, a number of countries have taken emergency action to help the children specifically impacted by the fire. The Greek Government moved some of them off Moria on to the mainland, but they are still in difficult circumstances. As I understand it, we are talking about 407 unaccompanied children. Ten countries have stepped forward: Germany, France, Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland have all said they will take some of the unaccompanied children from the camps, but still the United Kingdom has not responded.
In the grand scheme of things, the United Kingdom receives far fewer asylum claims by adults and children than many other EU countries. This is not a matter of competition or using statistics, but Germany, France, Greece and Spain have each taken more than the UK. In relation to their population size, Sweden and Belgium are also doing better than we are. The idea that we are doing our share frankly does not pass the test of the numbers that I have quoted.
I believe that there are three legal routes to safety for child refugees. The first is the vulnerable person resettlement scheme. That is of course a step away from the scope of the Bill, but it is mainly for refugees from Bekaa, Jordan and Lebanon. It is a worthwhile scheme and I applaud the Government on it, but it would be useful to know from the Minister what the Government’s intentions are after 2020, as they have said that it has been agreed until only 2020. Of course it is illogical that a child in a camp in, say, Jordan, should be able to reach the UK in contrast to a child from Greece or the Calais area who apparently is not welcome here. That is why the amendment is so important in providing a safe and legal route.
There are two specific legal routes from Europe. There is Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 for children in Europe who do not have relatives here, which was capped by the Government at 480. I have argued with the Minister on a number of occasions; the Government say that there are not enough local authorities to take more children in foster homes but, frankly, I am aware of quite a large number of local authorities that are willing to take children who do not have family here and to provide foster places, and indeed I think a louder call for local authorities to respond would produce even more places than the 1,600 or so with safe passage that the NGO working on this has been able to cover.
Then there is the Dublin agreement—Dublin III, as we call it—an EU treaty under which children in an EU country can apply to join relatives in another EU country. This is probably the key point in the Bill because it is about family reunion, which is surely a fundamental right. Children should be able to join relatives in this country where those relatives have accommodation for them. This is something that we have debated before; indeed, we even passed an amendment to the 2017 Bill to include Dublin III—that is, that the UK Government in negotiating with the EU should make sure that the provisions of the Dublin treaty regarding family reunion would continue even after we left the EU. That was voted by this House into the 2017-19 Bill and was eventually accepted by the House of Commons. It was then removed from the statute book by the 2019 Act.
I had meetings with Ministers and argued with them. I even had a meeting with the then Immigration Minister, now the Northern Ireland Secretary, who asked at one point in a discussion that we had, “Do you not trust me?” Of course I trusted him—well, things have changed since then, but that is in a different context. We were given assurances that the Government would protect the rights of Dublin III children, but when the Government eventually published their response it fell very short far short of the protection necessary. We took legal advice that said the response was a much weaker one than the one under the Dublin treaty. I am disappointed that we are at the point where we do not know what is going to happen in future.
I understand that, for reasons that are not clear to me, Brussels says that in negotiation with the UK it has no mandate from the 27 countries to negotiate on the Dublin III treaty and that that will have to be done on a bilateral basis—that is, in 27 separate negotiations. That is of course a recipe for a long drawn-out process. I do not know why that is the case because even our Government would be keen for there to be one separate negotiation, although, as I said earlier, I would like it to be on something more substantive than the Government’s proposals that were put forward recently.
If we have to leave the EU without a deal—I am bound to say that that looks increasingly likely—or with a very limited deal, where does that leave the Dublin III children? The amendment that we originally passed in 2017, which the Government said they would accept the spirit of while deleting it in the 2019 Act, was of course based on the premise that we would find some good basis for negotiating our continued relationship with the EU. That seems less likely now than ever, which is why Amendment 48 is surely the best way forward and is so important.
Let me restate: I believe that the UK, along with other European countries, share responsibility for refugees. It should be a wide international responsibility. However, I have never said we should take all the children; I have said only that we should take our share. If this issue is explained to the people of this country—it has already been explained, but we will go on explaining it—we will find that most people in Britain, though not all, are sympathetic to the idea that we should take child refugees. This is something I believe commands public support. Those of us who have been campaigning for child refugees have always said, as I have certainly said, that it is public support that we need—community groups, faith groups, or whatever group in the public.
We know that providing safe routes is the best way of defeating vicious people traffickers. That is why the two legal paths to safety, plus the scheme from the region, are the right way forward. This amendment will consolidate that and give children in Europe safety in this country. We are a humanitarian country. We can demonstrate this best by accepting this amendment.
After the masterly explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, there is little to add. However, I want to have a go. I said at the start of this Committee that I should declare an interest: I am a trustee of the Refugee Council.
First, I make a general point about the hysteria about invasions across the channel. There have been 4,000 people who came this year—why? It is not, pace the Prime Minister, because they are stupid. It is because there is no open legal operational alternative for them. This means that we are effectively accomplices of the criminals who stuff them into dangerous dinghies and lethal lorries. It is not the fault of the French, pace the Daily Express; there is no legal or moral obligation on the French to say to people who would like to seek asylum in the United Kingdom that they must instead seek asylum in France. Let us keep it all in perspective; the French and the Germans received more than three times as many applications for asylum last year as we did. The Greeks received twice as many. Let us try to take out of the debate some of the emotion and hysteria that Mr Farage is so keen to stoke up.
I have three points on unaccompanied children. First, it is a shame that despite all the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, we have still not cracked the problem. The overwhelming number of these cases are about family reunion. The humanitarian case for family reunion is overwhelming. The evidence I see at the Refugee Council suggests that British public opinion thinks so too. British public opinion would like us to crack this problem. The British people are not inhumane.
Secondly, the problem is about to get worse. Dublin III will not apply after
Thirdly, with the Dubs quota for unaccompanied children full and Dublin III dying, there are only three and a half months left for child refugees to use the only legal routes to family reunion. Amendment 48 would fill that gap—and fill it we certainly should, because if we do not, we can expect many more unaccompanied children to resort to the dangerous routes that may cost them their lives. That is why Amendment 48 is essential.
I want to make two final points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke about Greece. Last Wednesday, in our debate on Amendment 29, I mentioned the 400 unaccompanied children in the burned-out camp on Lesbos and asked the Minister whether it might not be possible for us to do as others were doing, and as the noble Lord listed, and take some, purely on humanitarian grounds. Some of those children are bound to have relatives in this country. It would not be impossible for us to seek to identify them and do the decent thing. Last time, my comments were hung rather artificially on Amendment 29, and I do not entirely blame the Minister for ignoring them in her response, but I hope that she will respond tonight to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. The country wants us to do something about the general problem of unaccompanied children, and I think it would like us to do something quickly about Greece.
Secondly, the Minister and I have crossed swords in a friendly way in the past over the pull factor. I still maintain that it does not apply in the case of unaccompanied children. I really do not think that these children set off from Syria or Somalia because they have heard that people are accepted in Britain if they have family there. I really do not think that children set off on their own on a long and dangerous journey because of a pull factor operating out of this country. They set off because of the murder, the mayhem, the terrorism, the bombing and the destruction in the countries they come from. It is the push factor that is by far the predominant pressure leading to these flows. I say this to the Minister: I hope that we can bury our debate on the pull factor in the past, because it really does not apply to the case for Amendment 48.
My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register as receiving support from the RAMP project on immigration policy and as a trustee of Reset. It is a real honour to follow the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kerr, with whose comments I fully agree, particularly the final points from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on pull and push factors.
In our churches, we tell a story about a man who was attacked by robbers on the road. As he lay wounded, people passed him and hurried on their way. Who helped him? It was not those from his own community. Instead, a stranger saw the man’s plight, chose to stop, carried him to safety and took care of his needs. This man, Jesus observed, was truly a good neighbour. In the light of this, who is our neighbour in a global age?
Throughout its history, the people of this country have faced choices about whether to offer sanctuary to those fleeing violence and persecution. We are rightly proud of the occasions when we have done so. The legacy of the Kindertransport in the Second World War, which saved Jewish children’s lives, and about which many of us have heard our noble friend Lord Dubs speak so movingly on occasions, still motivates many of us to support this cause.
Sadly, there is another history too, in which we in this nation have chosen a different path: of rejecting those in need and shutting our eyes to the plight of those afflicted by conflict and persecution, and of the racist exclusion of those who have come here to rebuild their lives. In a world of conflict, disaster and persecution, we face this choice again and again. Will we offer welcome or will we turn away? Which path will we take as a nation? For those least able to help themselves—unaccompanied children—what will we choose to do?
This week, as we have heard of and seen reports on the fire at the Moria camp in Greece, we are pressed to make a choice whether to help or to stand by, as both the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kerr, have said. In that camp, there were thousands of children, including more than 407 unaccompanied minors, some of whom are reported as having family members in the UK but are still waiting to be transferred here, months after being accepted for family reunion under the Dublin III law. In response to this debate, I hope that the Minister will address what is being done for them. Those of us who support this amendment are concerned that while Germany, France and other countries have already offered assistance to those affected by this fire, the UK appears yet to have done so. I am worried that in their actions this week, the Government have already chosen between the two paths with which we are faced.
Christians often remind themselves of these words of Jesus:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
We are called to treat every child—and every person fleeing persecution and war, for it is within our power to help—with dignity and hospitality, as if they were the son of God himself. Many of us will share a conviction, whatever values or beliefs it is based on, that human life is precious, and that each person carries a unique, incalculable value. How do we choose to recognise that in the question before us of children separated from their families?
I acknowledge the argument made on previous occasions that primary legislation is not necessary to facilitate family reunion. I do not doubt the sincerity of the reassurances that I and others have received repeatedly over recent months from Ministers that they take our humanitarian obligations seriously. Yet I note with regret that the UK’s refugee resettlement scheme appears still to be paused while other countries have restarted theirs. I also note that the Dublin arrangements will soon lapse and that, in any case, there are precious few safe and legal routes for those seeking sanctuary to arrive here.
In the light of that, I must support this amendment, that we might bind ourselves to making the choice to offer sanctuary to those in need of it. I encourage everyone in this House to support it too.
My Lords, it is quite difficult to follow such eloquent speeches and I will not attempt to emulate them. However, I can give the House some examples of why I think that they are correct in what they say about public opinion. First, I must declare my interest, as in the register, as being a vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
Having been the local MP, I know that the London of Borough of Hillingdon received and looked after a large number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. My fellow MPs for the area, John McDonnell and Nick Hurd—that is, from all sides of the political spectrum—and we worked hard because we knew that we welcomed these children. However, we had to make the point, and we came together in doing so, that the then Labour had to provide ample resources so that the public—our constituents—did not feel that they were being disadvantaged in any way and that services would suffer from the long-term financial commitment of looking after these children. I have to say that we were very successful.
When it is explained that this is something that we should do for unaccompanied children, I think that public opinion is there. Without venturing into the right reverend Prelate’s area of expertise, I can give a personal example of where I found the most unlikely good Samaritan. A member of my Conservative association was—shall we say?—very forthright on the immigration policies at that time and was not a fan of lots of people coming in, as he saw it, illegally, legally or whatever, to the point where sometimes I really winced when I heard him speak. However, there was a knock at my window late one night—I lived, and still do live, in the heart of my constituency—and it was this gentleman, who said, “John, you’ve got to do something.” Apparently, he had had a bad road accident and the only person who had come to his aid as he was lying on the road was a young Kosovan, who was going to be deported. When somebody realises that these are real people, suddenly any antipathy disappears.
This country has a great tradition of looking after people, and I shall quote an example that I am aware of but which is probably little known. During the First World War, a lot of Serbian children were looked after in Scotland as they were escaping the horrors of the war. Many settled here; some went back to Serbia after the war. Not only was it right for us to do that but it gave them a great sense of the British way of life. I know from reading an excellent book how grateful they were for what happened at that time.
Therefore, I just say to my noble friend that I think we should be less cautious in worrying about what some of the perhaps more right-wing side of the media say about this. When children come to this country unaccompanied, they do not come for a pull factor; they do so because where they come from is such a hell. Nobody would willingly put themselves at such risk to come from those countries. I am not sure about some of the wording in the amendment—although I am not an expert on it—but I think that we should take this issue very seriously at this particular time.
A couple of years ago, I was at the main railway station in Serbia and saw the flow of migrants, although by that time it was not as large as it had been. Anyone who sees, close to, families who are desperate and leaving war-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq cannot be anything other than moved. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I added my name to this list to fulfil a promise to certain campaigners who had been lobbying me. I have listened to the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and I have nothing further to add except to say that I support everything they said with my heart and mind.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment. It is quite shocking to hear from Safe Passage that in their negotiating proposals the Government seek to replace children’s rights under Dublin III with a discretionary provision that provides vulnerable children with neither the certainty nor security they sorely need. That contrasts with the mandatory approach taken to returning children to other EU countries—or EU countries, now—which rather smacks of double standards.
Surely it is hypocritical to wring one’s hands over children and young people risking their lives to cross the channel in tiny boats while increasing the likelihood of that happening in future by further narrowing clear and firm legal routes open to them, as has already been stated. On that, can the Minister say when the Government plan to start the resettlement programme, which has already been mentioned? She recently told the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol that the Government will do so
“as soon as it is practical and safe to do so.”—[
The Government have already deemed it “practical and safe” to restart some deportation flights, so why not resettlement flights? I understand that nearly half the countries in the resettlement programme restarted their schemes weeks ago. As Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, has said:
“It is baffling that the UK government has arranged travel corridors for summer holidays on the one hand but prevented resettlement flights taking place on the other. Flights that would offer a literal lifeline to some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world.”
He underlined that it is “a matter of urgency.”
Urgent too, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, is action to help those children whose lives have been turned upside down yet again by the dreadful fire at the Moria camp in Lesbos. We have heard that a number of other countries have offered to take some of these children but that this country has not stepped in—or, I should say, stepped up—to its responsibilities. Can the Minister explain why? Why have we not yet done what we should be doing here?
Returning to the Bill itself, Coram has bemoaned the lack of attention given to children generally in the Government’s immigration proposals. Have the Government even undertaken a child rights or best interests assessment of what they are proposing? I have not seen one. Can we perhaps have one before Report? Here is an opportunity to give children’s organisations such as Coram some reassurance by accepting my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I sometimes wonder whether the Government—particularly those within No. 10, holding office or otherwise—have any sense of shame whatever. There is really no other way to describe their dilatory approach to all this than shameful. Perhaps nothing is unbelievable these days, but it is almost unbelievable that—dealing with children in the most vulnerable situation, who have been through hell and are psychologically and sometimes physically in a very bad way and in need of love, affection, care and concern—there is a total failure to ensure that the provisions of the Dublin agreement, such as they were, have been carried forward and a satisfactory replacement negotiated with the European Union.
I know that it is a controversial thing to say in this House, but I have reached a point at which I feel shame for my nation. Do we care about children, or indeed adults, who are in desperate need or do we not? Why are we not busting a gut, with all our ingenuity and skills, to find ways in which people can, in their desperation, make safe journeys rather than being thrown into the hands of smugglers or acute dangers in totally inadequate vessels? This issue goes to the kernel of what kind of nation we want to be and appear to the world to have become.
All I can say is that my admiration for my noble friend Lord Dubs is unbridled. The way he has been, in effect, repeatedly let down by government is a sad and sorry story. I am sorry if it appears that I am just moralising, but this is crucial to where our sense of care, concern and responsibility as a nation is. Therefore, this amendment, whatever it can do, is desperately needed. I cannot say how sorry and sad I am that we have reached this predicament.
My Lords, I hesitate to speak in this debate having heard the eloquent and dedicated contribution of my noble friend Lord Dubs, and from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, about the humanitarian imperative to act now in this terrible crisis that we are seeing unfold, both in Greece and France, of unaccompanied children and families. As pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, we see proposals from the Government that appear to prepare to weaken our commitment to reuniting unaccompanied children with their families—at a time that strikes at the heart of what we believe are British values of caring and standing up for those who are less well off than us and taking our share and burden in helping those in greatest need.
Amendment 48, which I support, would provide the basis on which this country could have rules that offered a safe route for children to join their family members in the UK. Having such clear rules offers a path forward. The Minister has to tell the Committee why the Government find themselves in a position in which the EU has rejected the proposals that they put forward in the negotiations on the basis that they were not part of the mandate. They were never part of the mandate. It looks unlikely that we will be able to negotiate bilateral agreements with the other member states. If the EU has overall competence for this matter, that route will be closed off for ever.
The Government are being offered a clear and simple way forward to meet these obligations by the brilliant work of my noble friend Lord Dubs. I urge the Minister to accept the principles enshrined in the amendment. I hope she will respond positively to all the comments that have been made thus far in this very important debate.
My Lords, with the Children’s Society saying that child refugees worldwide now number some 13 million, surely the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was right to say that this is one of the gravest crises facing the world. The Minister will no doubt remind the Committee what the Government have done. They have done much to try to help children caught up in this terrible spiral of violence—I do not think that anyone in the Committee would not want to respond in some way to try to deal with many of the issues raised during the debate so far. However, she will understand from the cri de coeur she has heard from noble Lords across the Committee that just because we have helped some, that is not a reason not to try to help others as well. Just because we cannot solve the problems of everyone is not a reason not to try to solve the problems of anyone.
Given his own personal story, there is no one better equipped or able than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to put the case. I also wholeheartedly associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said about the sanctity of every human life and our particular duty to the most vulnerable. I make common cause with all those who have spoken in the debate so far.
Amendment 48 takes us back to the well-worn road to Dublin, although, as the Irish would say, if you wanted to get to Dublin you wouldn’t start from here. Over the months, the Minister has had to respond to my repeated questions, along with those of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords, about the Dublin regulations—those European Union protocols concerning the identification and transfer of people, especially unaccompanied children who have submitted a claim for asylum from one member state to another where the applicant has family. Of course, the issue of unaccompanied children was also the subject of the Dubs amendment, which was referred to by the noble Lord earlier in the debate. That amendment was passed by your Lordships’ House and I was very happy to be one of the signatories to it.
Amendment 48 has become necessary because Ministers have yet to create new arrangements post December 2020, when the transitional arrangements elapse. The amendment would provide some legal framework to enable those who would have been able to come here under the Dublin regulations to enter the UK and make their asylum claim.
I am constantly struck by the fact that, rather than providing safe, fair but nevertheless exacting procedures, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in his remarks, the Government seem to take an approach that stimulates the desperate search for unsafe and illegal attempts to come into the United Kingdom. I am the trustee of an anti-trafficking charity, the Arise Foundation, and I was struck by what the United Kingdom’s former Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, senior advisor to the Santa Marta Group, said this this weekend—that instead of tough rhetoric, which he called
“an open goal that the traffickers are happy to exploit”,
the Government should accept their moral responsibility to end the vicious cycle facing so many refugees and asylum seekers.
Where legitimate safe migration routes are unavailable, or almost impossible to navigate, especially when you are in fear of your life, the opportunities offered by traffickers certainly become more attractive and are often the first port of call. We need a different kind of paradigm. I was struck by what Kevin Hyland said—that it should be a paradigm that
“identifies genuine refugees/asylum seekers, that supports displaced children, coupled with a policing model that identifies those entitled or in need of protection”,
as well as one that hits
“organised criminals profiteering off others’ vulnerability.”
Mr Hyland said that a different approach was needed in responding to the refugee crisis, and that
“threats and rhetoric absent of consideration for the vulnerable only act as fuel for human traffickers.”
That different paradigm is represented in part in Amendment 48 but also in Amendment 56, which seeks to secure a grant of settled status to children of EEA or Swiss nationals who are in local authority care. The Children’s Society has written to me expressing considerable concern about vulnerable children who, as things stand, will become undocumented after June 2021. To rectify that, Amendment 56 was first laid before Parliament in the House of Commons by Tim Loughton MP and Yvette Cooper MP. Providing a settled status to children in care and care leavers by fast tracking them through the EU settlement scheme, we would be able to provide regulations and security for children who may otherwise drift into an anonymous world of exploitation such as that described by Mr Kevin Hyland. The amendment would place a duty of identification on local authorities and provides a timeline; it would protect data and ensure that the state, which must act in loco parentis for these children, does not abandon them.
I was struck by the Migration Observatory study of take-up rates for the EU settlement scheme, which shows a significant discrepancy between take-up rates for adults and for children under the age of 18. This will be inevitable, as children may not know about the need to apply or where to get help, and many will be without the necessary documents and proof of residency. The Children’s Society cites Home Office figures that some 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers in the United Kingdom would need to apply to the EU settlement scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister would say what systematic analysis they had undertaken to identify the numbers post Brexit who would need to regularise their status. How do they respond to the society’s concerns about, first, identification, secondly, problems with applying and, thirdly, pre-settled status?
Lest the Government are tempted to use the argument that the amendment provides automatic status and could lead to another Windrush scandal, I would say that it does not—quite the reverse. It provides a process and route and, unlike the Government’s position, does not try to push the problem over the horizon. As the Children’s Society points out, without such safeguards, the Government will
“find themselves facing another Windrush crisis” from children within their own care.
The Children’s Society has sent cases in its briefing, and I suspect that the Minister may have seen them. I do not want to detain the House longer by giving examples, but if she gets the chance to read it, I draw her attention to the cases of Anna, Adam and Greta, children from Latvia, Romania and Lithuania. I hope that when we get to those details, it will be possible—
My Lords, I have my name to this amendment on behalf of our Benches. The subject matter of this amendment, and that of later Amendment 62, are very close. Amendment 62 is about family reunion, and the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, in particular, referred to that. It will not escape the Committee that there is a particularly persuasive factor to Amendment 48, and that it is led by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose track record in leading the House on issues relating to refugees, particularly child refugees, is second to none.
I do not want to repeat points that have been made about push and pull factors, or about children’s experiences. I am very clear about the moral issues that have been referred to. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has rightly reminded the House, the Government has not done nothing. It will, however, be hearing the call to do more.
I want to make some technical points. Ministers tell us they are working hard—I do not mean to impugn anything there—to ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are looked after in the best possible way after we leave the Dublin regulations. As we have heard, they have referred to the draft negotiating document, the draft working text for an agreement between the EU and the UK on the transfer of these children, but there are two problems. First, there is nothing firm about that text: member states “may” make a request to transfer a child, and the UK “may” make a request to member states. Secondly, the EU has no mandate to negotiate on behalf of member states on this. To deal with the latter first, the Security and Justice Sub-Committee of the House’s Select Committee on the European Union took evidence on the text in July from witnesses, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and Professor Elspeth Guild, who explained the position to us. In the political declaration of last October, which is the basis for the commission’s negotiations—it has been given a mandate to negotiate on that basis—there was only one section on what is called illegal migration, which in turn is the basis for a draft agreement. That provides for co-operation to cover only three subject areas which do not include this issue.
When I first read the political declaration I wondered whether illegal migration covered refugees at all because they are not illegal, but since one of the three issues is tackling problems upstream, that suggests that refugees come within it. However, I will not challenge a professor of law with posts at two prestigious institutions, and I follow her argument. The EU has no mandate in negotiations, but that is not the end of it. The UK cannot negotiate an agreement member state by member state, because this is, counter-intuitively in view of what I have said, a fully exercised competence of the EU, so it is not open to member states to negotiate with the UK. It is counter-intuitive and a Catch-22 situation. Professor Guild said:
“The idea that we would be able to negotiate with each member state an equivalent of Article 6 of the Dublin regulations seems to me … astonishingly naive.”
It would need a lot of political will on all sides to sort this out through the UK-EU negotiations. We are all aware that matters are somewhat tense—would that be the right description? I, like others, am not optimistic about a positive outcome.
In January 2019, when the House was considering this issue, the Minister wrote to noble Lords that:
“negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas”,
“the traditional division between Government and Parliament”.
Given what we all know, or maybe do not know but suspect, about what is going on, is it wise to rely on the possibility of negotiation?
Apart from the principle, there are some shortcomings in the draft text of the provisions: the “may”, not “must”. It also says that no rights can be directly invoked in the domestic legal systems of the parties. That alone would make it hard to go along with the text. However, we can sort this out in domestic law, hence the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has been as persuasive as ever. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has been clear about channel crossings. I will not go on; I agree with pretty much everything—possibly everything—that has been said. Immigration Bills come along quite frequently, but we should not wait for the next one. The amendment is not a big ask; its objective, in proposed new subsection (5), is clear, but it requires strategy and clarity about reaching that objective. Crucially, it refers to the “child’s best interests”. We should take this opportunity to provide this safe and legal route for children.
My Lords, Amendment 48 provides that the only existing legal route, which is under the Dublin III convention, for asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, to join family in the UK would remain operational after the end of the transition period. It also requires the Secretary of State to lay a strategy before Parliament to ensure that unaccompanied children continue to be relocated to the UK if it is in the child’s best interest. Family reunion under the Dublin III convention will no longer apply after the end of the transition period, in just over three months’ time. That means that vulnerable child refugees seeking to join relatives in the UK will no longer have this, or any other, safe route to our country, unless—which looks increasingly unlikely—there is a deal with the EU before the end of the transition period, which incorporates an alternative family reunion arrangement.
The Government have previously given assurances that they would protect family reunion for unaccompanied children. However, the UK’s draft proposal for a replacement to family reunion no longer includes mandatory requirements on the Government to facilitate such reunions. Instead, it makes a child’s right to join their relatives discretionary and, on top of that, abolishes a child’s right to appeal against a refusal. Vulnerable refugees, including accompanied children and adults, would lose access to family reunion entirely. The evidence indicates that, without a mandatory requirement, family reunions will, to all intents and purposes, end, which may be the intention behind the Government’s draft proposal.
For the five years before mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, from 2009 to 2014, family reunions of children and adults to the UK averaged just 11 people annually. After mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK averaged nearly 550 people annually. Significantly more than 11, but not a significant number in itself, compared with the overall net migration figure of some 200,000 plus. Without a mandatory requirement, children are likely to remain stranded in Europe indefinitely; alternatively, some may risk the more hazardous routes, involving crossing the Channel in small boats or a lorry in an attempt to reach family members.
The Government’s apparent determination to effectively thwart family reunions by making them discretionary is in contrast to their proposals for being able to return people who claim asylum in the UK to other EU countries, which they want to be mandatory. The Government have also said that the 480 places under the Dubs scheme have now all been taken. Amendment 48 would enable lone children to continue to have a safe legal route to the UK. Without action, child refugees in Europe will lose the only available safe and legal route to the UK in just over three months’ time, as they will no longer have either a right to family reunion or access to the Dubs scheme. They will instead have no option but to risk their lives using the dangerous alternative means, via traffickers, of trying to reach this country.
Ending the Dubs scheme and Dublin III will not stop unaccompanied children fleeing conflict and seeking to reach this country to be with those they know. Surely, the Government accept that this is the reality, and that we ought, accordingly, to ensure safe routes rather than accept the existing dangerous routes which will continue to flourish if we do not make that change. This, surely, is why the terms of Amendment 48, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, are sorely needed.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken with such passion on these amendments; I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of course, although I am not sure that I agree with his summation of our history of providing refuge for the most vulnerable children across the globe. The Government have an excellent humanitarian record in assisting vulnerable people, including children. We are one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. Under national resettlement schemes, we have resettled more refugees than any country in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. In contrast to some of the things noble Lords have been saying, we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees since 2015, around half of whom were children. We can be proud as a country of our ambitious commitments and achievements.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, stated that France and Germany have more asylum claims than us. That is not the case. We received 3,651 asylum claims from UASC in 2019, more than any other EU state and 20% of all claims made in the EU and UK. I hope that I have set that record straight.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked what we have done during the pandemic. It is absolutely fair to say that it has been very difficult to resettle children for all the reasons that the pandemic has brought; however, the UK has remained open to receiving Dublin transfers. I remember that, very early on in the pandemic crisis, Minister Philp was in talks with Greece. Three group flights have taken place from Greece in recent months, on
There are 5,000 unaccompanied children in local authority care. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, says that he knows that there are councils which would take more. I have pressed him for the last four years to tell me which councils these are and whether they would come forward to offer those places. Of course, Kent is struggling at the moment, but if there are more local authorities who can provide that protection, we would really like to hear from them.
We have given protection to nearly 45,000 children since 2010, including over 7,000 in the past year. We also issued over 7,400 family reunion visas in the year to March 2020. I do not think that is a sign of a mean country but a sign of a very small country that has done everything in its power to help the most vulnerable. In addition, once we have delivered our current commitments under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme—with almost 20,000 to date, and we will get to 20,000—we will consolidate our main schemes into a new global UK resettlement scheme. Our priority will be to continue to identify and resettle vulnerable refugees in need of protection, as identified and referred by UNHCR.
The proposed new clause does not recognise the existing routes in our immigration system for reuniting families, nor that we are pursuing new reciprocal arrangements with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We have tabled draft legal text for a negotiated agreement for a state-to-state referral and transfer system which would provide clear and consistent processes between the UK and EU member states, ensuring appropriate support for the child and guaranteeing reciprocity. These guarantees cannot be provided for in UK domestic provisions alone. We have acted in good faith and hope that the EU will do the same. The draft has not been rejected but—just to correct another statement made tonight—is still on the negotiating table. We will continue to provide safe and legal routes to Britain to bring together families of refugees through our refugee family reunion policy. Additionally, family members of British citizens or those granted settlement in the UK can apply to join them under Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. All these routes remain in place at the end of the transition period.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord is, unsurprisingly, based on recreating the Dublin regulation. This is obviously an EU provision, and we have now left the EU. We are a sovereign state with our own family reunion routes, which are substantial, as I have just set out. We must avoid creating further incentives for people, particularly children, to leave their families and risk those dangerous journeys. This plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people, and it goes against our safeguarding responsibilities. Allowing individuals to sponsor family members to join them in the UK before a decision on their asylum claim is made creates great uncertainty for families, who may be unable to remain in the UK. We must also guard against significantly increasing the number of people who could qualify for family reunion while not necessarily needing protection themselves, and who may be seeking to make unfounded claims on our protection systems for economic gain.
Finally, the proposed amendment would require the Government to lay before Parliament a strategy on the relocation of unaccompanied children from EEA states. The Government have no intention to lay such a strategy. It would be incredibly challenging to deliver, not least because of the pressures already faced by local authorities that are currently caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. That is an increase of 146% since 2014. As I said earlier, in 2019 the UK received the highest number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children in Europe, and 20% of all such claims made in the EU and UK. We only have to look at the situation in Kent in recent weeks to realise the pressure that some local authorities face. Alleviating that pressure and ensuring that unaccompanied children already in the UK receive the care they need has got to be our priority. In the longer term, we need to ensure that there is a fairer allocation of caring responsibilities across the entire country.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, in July the Government announced they had successfully completed the transfer of 480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece, France and Italy under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. Parliament was very clear then that this was a one-off scheme, which is now complete. We are pleased to see other countries now stepping up to support Greece by taking in unaccompanied children, and we stand ready to offer advice and guidance to member states who wish to develop their own schemes.
On that note, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken so supportively and passionately in favour of the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for having laid out the Government’s arguments and responses. I am sure that we will come back to this on Report, but I would like to make some very brief comments. I do not want to bandy figures too much; I think we can probably deal with that between now and Report stage.
The Minister mentioned the Section 67 scheme in the 2016 Act. The Minister said it was a one-off scheme, but it was only one-off because the Government arbitrarily closed it. There was no number given in the amendment; the Government quite arbitrarily said that there were no more local authority places. I think the Government stopped that one.
The Minister mentioned the children who came and how generous we have been but, according to the figures she quoted, the majority of these children came illegally. They crossed the channel, either in dinghies or in the back of lorries. I believe that, had they had legal paths to safety, they would not have come that way. The figures would have been the same, but some of them would have had a safe and legal crossing, instead of the terrible dangers of crossing the channel.
I will certainly get back to the Minister with indications of those local authorities—it was some time ago that we did the check—that I know are able and willing to take child refugees, so we can take the argument to that point.
The Minister mentioned the global UK resettlement scheme. Fine, I am all in support of that, except of course that this will not take a single child from Europe, as I understand it; it will be ones from the region. I welcome that they will be taken from the region, but I do not welcome the fact that the scheme will not cover any from Europe, which is why we need this particular amendment.
With regards to push and pull factors, I remember talking to a Syrian boy who fled from Damascus or Aleppo. He told me very vividly how he had seen his father blown up by a bomb in front of him. That is an experience which will mark a child for life, and that is a real push factor if ever there was one. A lot of the children I have spoken to have had the most terrible journeys in order to try and find safety. They are coming because they want to find safety somewhere in the world. The majority of them have gone to Germany, Sweden and other EU countries. Some have come here, and I hope more will come.
As I say, I believe we can return to this on Report. I repeat my gratitude to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.