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Dubs Amendment adopted on the 25th of April 2016 - Unaccompanied refugee children : relocation and support

Publié le : lundi 25 avril 2016

Voir en ligne : http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga...

Source : www.legislation.gov.uk

Auteur : Lord Alfred Dubs, Labour Party

Séance du 26 Avril 2016

« Unaccompanied refugee children : relocation and support »

(1) The Secretary of State must, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.

(2) The number of children to be resettled under subsection (1) shall be determined by the Government in consultation with local authorities.

(3) The relocation of children under subsection (1) shall be in addition to the resettlement of children under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.

Amendement intégré dans le Immigration Act 2016 disponible ci-dessous au format pdf :

PDF - 884.2 ko

Discussions concernant l’adoption de l’amendement disponible ci-dessous :

« Lord Dubs : At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 87B in lieu—

87B : After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—

“Unaccompanied refugee children : relocation and support

(1) The Secretary of State must, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.

(2) The number of children to be resettled under subsection (1) shall be determined by the Government in consultation with local authorities.

(3) The relocation of children under subsection (1) shall be in addition to the resettlement of children under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.””

Lord Dubs (Lab)

My Lords, I should say at the outset that the Home Secretary has been kind enough to suggest that I have a couple of meetings with her to discuss this issue. I also discussed it with the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on a number of occasions. Indeed, at the Home Secretary’s suggestion, I have also had discussions on the phone with Home Office staff, so the Government have gone out of their way to explain to me what they seek to do. If one ignores the purpose of my amendment, which concerns unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, then what the Government are doing is commendable. The amount of money being spent in the region is good. As regards the policy of taking 20,000 vulnerable people, it is a small number in relation to the scale of the problem but it goes in the right direction. In addition, we are a very generous donor. All that is on the plus side, and nobody would disagree with the comments in relation to families staying together, the best interests of children and children in Europe.

I sat in the Commons for quite a lot of the debate that took place there yesterday. I wish to quote the words of one of the noble Earl’s colleagues—Stephen Phillips, a Conservative Member of Parliament—who supported the Lords amendment and talked about children left in Europe :

“That is no comfort to the children who are already in Europe, who have fled from war and conflict that have torn apart their lives, and who need our help now”.

He refers to children in various parts of the continent and then says :

“Tonight they will sleep in fear, and tomorrow they will wake to the hopelessness to which their position exposes them. Today, in this House, we can do something. We cannot solve all their problems, remove all their troubles, or take from their consciousness the memory of the horrors that they have witnessed and endured, but we can do something”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/4/16 ; col. 1212.]

That sums up what this is about.​
The case for the original amendment—and the new one—is that it has immense cross-party support. The original amendment had figures put to it : 3,000 children out of what we then thought were 26,000 child refugees in Europe. We now learn that the figure is much higher and 95,000 has been quoted. All we are talking about is the British Government’s share. Britain should do something as a share of the total responsibility that has to be exercised. We have heard of the dangers : at least 10,000 of these children have disappeared. They are vulnerable and open to exploitation.

Since this House last discussed this amendment, I have been astonished at the amount of popular support there has been for it. I would not normally think that an issue to do with refugees and migrants would command such support. I cannot cope with the emails coming in from people I have never met or heard of who are saying that we should continue with this because it is the right policy. The British people are rising to the need for a humanitarian response. It is fine that we are doing good things in the region, but British people see that there is a problem for children exposed and vulnerable in various parts of Europe. They are not all safe. They may be in an EU country, but many of them are in dangerous circumstances. The fact that many have disappeared altogether is an indication of how alarming the position is.

I will not disguise the fact that last night’s outcome was disappointing. I felt very upset watching the result of the vote being announced in the Commons. The Government’s main argument seems to be that if we do anything for the children in Europe it will be a magnet for further ones to come. That was the thrust of the noble Earl’s comments just now. Yesterday afternoon, on the green outside, I was talking to a young 16 year-old Syrian man who had come here. We asked him about his family. He said they were all dead. He is not being lured by the attraction of an amendment passed here. He does not see it as a magnet. He came to save his life and get out of the most dreadful situation. He spent many months travelling to Calais before he got to Britain. He has a relative in Britain, so he should have been dealt with a long time ago. He had been in a desperate situation. I could not give any advice except to say “Learn English” and “I am glad you are here”. That refutes the magnet argument, as did Stephen Phillips MP and other Conservative MPs in what they said yesterday.

I do not want this debate to degenerate into an argument about financial privilege. There will be another day for that. However, the Government’s only argument, according to the Marshalled List, is :

“Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient”.

That is, frankly, parliamentary baloney. I am glad that, in the Commons, Mr Speaker said that he was not happy about the use of financial privilege in this way and has referred the matter for more consideration. I do not want this to be about financial privilege. We are talking about vulnerable young people in Europe.

As a result of the debate in the Commons, the amendment before us today is different. Some of my critics might say that it was a bit softer. The wording is new and I hope it will be easier for the Government to ​think about and accept it. It drops the specific number, because the Government were resistant to that. It now says that the UK should,

“support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”,

and that :

“The number of children to be resettled … shall be determined by the Government in consultation with local authorities”.

In other words, I see a process where the Government will discuss with local authorities what resettlement of unaccompanied child refugees is manageable in their own areas. There will be a process of consultation, which should make it easier to move forward. I see a rolling programme and I see the Home Secretary having the power to determine the numbers and how fast the process can go. I do not think anything can be more reasonable than that. I have bent over backwards in the wording of this, with the help of a lot of other organisations, to find a form of words that surely the Government can accept.

Whatever the Government have said about doing stuff in the region, which is good, basically this will leave unaccompanied child refugees in a vulnerable position. They are liable to be lured into trafficking, possibly into prostitution. They are liable to come to all sorts of harm. None of us would want our own children to be subject to that sort of environment, with no hope of moving forward. It is an appalling situation. As a country with strong humanitarian traditions, we can do better. I beg to move.

Baroness Butler-Sloss

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the government contribution to dealing with children, albeit beyond Europe. They have put great resources towards it and I agree with much of what the Government are proposing. The Minister urged me to listen with very great care to what he had to say. He spoke about tackling the task in the way in which the Government choose to tackle it, but it seems to me that it can be tackled in several ways and there is nothing incompatible with dealing with the children from Syria—from across that water—and doing something about the children in Europe.

The “pull factor” has been a very popular phrase among government supporters. We are now told that there is a reduction of some 80% in the number of those coming across from Turkey to Greece. Thank goodness for that. That pull factor must have some less importance now. But what is of the utmost importance is that it says in the Children Act, as it has been said by government—it is said everywhere—that the welfare of children is of paramount concern. We know that across Europe but we also know that there are thousands and thousands of children in Europe who are not being properly cared for.

It is great that the UNHCR is doing what it is doing but Save the Children is concerned. It is now saying that a great many children are at risk. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed out—and it was pointed out earlier—10,000 children have gone missing. Knowing what I do about human trafficking and modern slavery, I am sure some of those children are already being sexually exploited or exploited for forced labour. The longer we wait, the more children will be in danger of sexual and labour exploitation—and some will die.​
Other European countries should play a part and pull their weight. That does not mean that we should not. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, this country, with our humanitarian background, should be showing the way, and the fact that the Government are doing this wonderful work elsewhere does not mean they should take their eye off the ball and away from children in great danger in different parts of Europe. They may be homeless, sleeping rough or without enough food or accommodation ; we hear the stories. Even if the pull factor is applying, even if there is a concern that children should be with their parents— of course—there is no shortage of children who are unaccompanied and alone and need help. My goodness me, should we not be doing something for some of them ?

The Lord Bishop of Leeds

My Lords, I was recently in northern Iraq, visiting internally displaced people and Syrian refugees. In a meeting with the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian aid, we were told that despite the generosity promised by many international donors, only 9% of the money had actually got through. That was not specifically applied to the UK. I do not know how much of the UK’s promised aid has gone but it was 9% overall. So when we hear about the amount of money that has been promised, it does not tell us how much has been delivered.

The second background point I would make is that in meeting refugees and internally displaced people, it became clear that there is a divide by generation. The older people still dream of going back home ; the younger people and their children do not believe that they have a home to go back to. In the areas where ISIS has been, in many cases it has simply destroyed everything. There is no infrastructure. There are no homes or schools. What has been left has often been booby-trapped. So what does it mean to say that we want to help all these people go home, when home may no longer exist ? The communities where for generations they lived together have now been destroyed because of the violence and what has gone on.

My fear in this is that we are going to have tens of thousands of children whose experience of not being welcomed when they are genuine refugees, who have shown extraordinary resilience to leave and get to where they have, will not forget how they were treated. If we want to see resentment or violence among the next two generations in that part of the world, the seeds are being sown now. I feel that the humanitarian demand outweighs some of the more technical stuff that we have heard. I applaud the Government for what they are doing, particularly in relation to the camps out in the Middle East, but they are not addressing the question on our doorstep. I support the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, like others I recognise the contribution that the Government are making in money and personnel, so far as those are being sent. But I regard the dangers of which we have heard—the situation in which unimaginable numbers of children have been caught up—and our moral responsibility as ​outweighing everything. The dangers include the risks of trafficking and exploitation. Was that not precisely what the previous Government set out to counter in their flagship legislation ? Prevention is the best response so relocating, supporting and welcoming children would contribute to that objective. The Minister says that this amendment is not the best or the most effective way but it is not an either/or. Whatever other countries do or do not do, the UK must not just do what is better than others but what it knows is right. This amendment is in the best interests of the children who are the subject of it.

Lord Rosser

I will be brief, since the arguments for this amendment have already been powerfully made. I also endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Dubs and other noble Lords about the measures that the Government have already taken. But while on the one hand the Government say, rightly, that we need to play a role at the heart of Europe, on the other they decline to assist over taking in unaccompanied refugee children in Europe who have fled from war, conflict and persecution and are already alone and at risk, simply because they are already in Europe.

Europol estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children went missing in Europe last year and we know that children are being exploited. The Government maintain that taking in any unaccompanied refugee children from among those already in Europe would increase the so-called pull factor—an argument for which there is no firm, hard evidence one way or the other. But at the heart of the unproven pull factor claim is a policy stance that we should leave all unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe to their fate. That is an unacceptable stance and if my noble friend decides to put his amendment to a vote, we will support him in the Division Lobby.

Earl Howe

I will be brief, since the arguments for this amendment have already been powerfully made. I also endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Dubs and other noble Lords about the measures that the Government have already taken. But while on the one hand the Government say, rightly, that we need to play a role at the heart of Europe, on the other they decline to assist over taking in unaccompanied refugee children in Europe who have fled from war, conflict and persecution and are already alone and at risk, simply because they are already in Europe.

Europol estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children went missing in Europe last year and we know that children are being exploited. The Government maintain that taking in any unaccompanied refugee children from among those already in Europe would increase the so-called pull factor—an argument for which there is no firm, hard evidence one way or the other. But at the heart of the unproven pull factor claim is a policy stance that we should leave all unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe to their fate. That is an unacceptable stance and if my noble friend decides to put his amendment to a vote, we will support him in the Division Lobby.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard

Does the noble Earl not agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right to say that it is not a question of either/or ? Of course all these good things that are being done should be done, but the children we are talking about are there, scattered across Europe and at risk.

Earl Howe

I do not agree with the noble Baroness, because of the risks that I have already outlined. If we were to go down the path that she advocates, we would put children at additional risk. We cannot possibly do that. We are currently reviewing our family reunion guidance to make clear the sorts of cases that might benefit from a visa outside the rules and will publish that in May.

We have all seen squalid conditions in Calais. That is precisely why we are working closely with the French authorities to see to it that vulnerable children are protected. We are working with the relevant NGOs to ensure that the message that children receive is that it is possible to be transferred to the UK under the Dublin arrangement both from Calais and from social care. I would just say that that can happen in a matter of weeks ; it is not a slow process.

Effective communication is of course key. We agree that more can be done to ensure that children are able to access the support they need. The UNHCR already has access to the camps and accommodation centres to inform migrants on the different options of applying for asylum in France and family reunification for those who may have family members in the European Union. That is in addition to the joint UK-France ​communication campaign in the camps, which informs migrants of their rights to claim asylum in France and gives them information on family reunification.

However, the best way to communicate that is to demonstrate that the system works, and that is what we are already doing. How ? One example is our recent secondment of a senior asylum expert to the French Interior Ministry to improve the process for family cases. That has already resulted in a significant increase in the number of children being reunited with family in the UK. In the past six weeks, 50 cases have been formally referred to the UK under Dublin family unity provisions, of which 30 have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France, the majority of whom have already arrived in the UK. Once an asylum claim has been lodged in another member state, we have shown that transfers can take place within weeks.

I think that these results are encouraging, and we are determined to replicate the work of the senior asylum expert in Calais in both Greece and Italy. We are committed to ensuring that the Dublin process works, so that will be in addition to the secondments that we have already agreed and have taken place in both Greece and Italy. We expect to second a further individual to both the Greek and the Italian Dublin units in May.

I have spoken at some length to demonstrate that the Government are committed to making a full contribution to the global refugee crisis—in particular, helping children at risk. The significant aid package within Europe and our practical assistance to front-line member states to ensure that vulnerable children are properly protected where they are in Europe is the correct approach. It is about the children’s best interests. I strongly believe that our drive to resettle children at risk and their families directly from the region will have most impact to safeguard vulnerable children. That is why I am asking the House not to agree to proposed Amendment 87B in lieu.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, of course I welcome what the Government are doing in the region. It is good, and no one has criticised it—except possibly for the small numbers, but that is for another day. However, when all is said and done, the Government will still leave thousands of children in Europe : children who are vulnerable, children who are in an unhappy situation, children who are in danger possibly even to their lives and certainly to their well-being. That will not alter, or only at the margin, if the Government have their way. What the original amendment said, and what I hope the spirit of the new one says, is that we will take our share of the responsibility for unaccompanied child refugees—no more, no less. We will play our part along with other countries. That is the way we should move forward. I beg to test the opinion of the House.  »