A number of constituents have contacted me regarding unaccompanied children from Europe. This is my response:
I agree that we should do what we can to help unaccompanied refugee children. I am pleased that the Government began work to implement the Lord Dubs amendment immediately after the Immigration Bill gained Royal Assent. Since then the Government has been working to transfer children who met the criteria in the Immigration Act, and I am very glad that some have already arrived in the UK and started new lives.
I have been assured by the Government that it continues to work with the French, Greek and Italian authorities and others to speed up existing family reunification processes or implement new processes where necessary for unaccompanied children. A UK official has been seconded to Greece, there is a long-standing secondee working in Italy and the Government, having established a permanent official level contact group, will be seconding another UK expert to the French Interior Ministry.
A dedicated team has also been established in the Home Office Dublin Unit to lead on family reunion cases for unaccompanied children. Transfer requests under the Dublin Regulation are now generally processed within 10 days and children transferred within weeks. Over 120 children have been accepted for transfer this year from Europe.
The management of asylum claims and the protection of unaccompanied children in Calais is primarily a matter for the French authorities. A French non-government organisation, France Terre D’Asile has been charged with identifying isolated children with UK links. Both Governments are clear that unaccompanied children in Calais in need of protection should claim asylum in France. The UK will consider requests to take responsibility of an asylum application made in France when lodged by a minor with close family connections in the UK, and both Governments are committed to ensuring such cases are prioritised.
There has been much cooperation between the UK and French authorities to improve the operation of the Dublin process. Since the beginning of the year out of the 120 children who have been accepted for transfer from Europe under the Dublin family reunion provisions, 70 were from France.
You are right that we must focus on protecting innocent children, and that is precisely what the Government’s refugee policy is doing. For example, in the year ending June 2016, 49 per cent of those resettled under the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme were under 18 years old. The Home Office has also announced a new scheme to resettle vulnerable children from the Middle East and North Africa region, working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in designing this scheme.