Unaccompanied child migrants Contents

2Children coming to the UK under the Dubs and Dublin processes

6.During the passage of the Immigration Bill (now the Immigration Act 2016), an amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs with the objective of requiring the Government to commit to providing further assistance to unaccompanied children in the Calais camps and in migrant arrival points in European countries, particularly in Greece and Italy. The Dubs amendment as initially tabled called for the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.8 The House of Commons rejected this amendment; it was then retabled and accepted by the Government in the following terms:

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.9

7.In announcing that it had accepted this approach, the Government made clear that children registered in Greece, Italy or France before 20 March 2016—the date of the EU–Turkey agreement on migrants—would be eligible for resettlement under the initiative. The Government stated that it was “not putting a fixed number on arrivals, but will instead work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled”.10

Government announcement on the number of children to be accepted under the Dubs scheme

8.The Home Office issued a Written Statement on 8 February 2017 which provided an update on the number of unaccompanied child migrants to be received in the UK under the Dubs amendment. The Statement set out that, in accordance with Section 67 of the Immigration Act, the Government would transfer “the specified number of 350 children pursuant to that section, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision”. This effectively placed a limit of 350 on the total number of children to be accepted under the Dubs process. The 350 figure included over 200 children already transferred from France during 2016, meaning that only 150 further places remain available. The Home Office indicated that it would announce “in due course” the basis on which the remaining children up to the specified 350 would be transferred.11

Concerns about legal schemes acting as a “pull” factor for child migrants

9.When the Government announced the Dubs arrangements for receiving unaccompanied children, it stated that the process would apply only to children who were in the EU before the date on which the EU–Turkey agreement on migrants was signed (20 March 2016) because this retrospective aspect of the scheme would “avoid creating a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers”.12 In responding to an Urgent Question on 9 February, the Home Secretary reiterated this view more than once. She said that continuing to accept children under the Dubs amendment “indefinitely” acted as “a pull” which “encourages the people traffickers”; and that “if we continue to take numbers of children from European countries, particularly France, that will act as a magnet for the traffickers.”13

10.In contrast, witnesses from organisations working with child migrants told us that legal schemes such as Dubs have the opposite effect, in that safe and legal migration routes disrupt the activities of people traffickers; and they emphasised that children were more likely to turn to traffickers if they believe that their legal options, such as the Dubs scheme, have been exhausted. Lily Caprani of UNICEF told us “where there is not a safe and legal route to make them safe, [children are] going missing and sometimes falling into the hands of traffickers, smugglers or others who would exploit them”. George Gabriel of Safe Passage agreed that “there can be no doubt that closing a safe and legal route results in further pressures on them [children] to enter trafficking and smuggling networks”. 14

11.In his statement published on 22 February, the Anti-Slavery Commissioner said:

One important method of protection is providing refuge for children in the UK through safe migration routes [ … ] Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 opened up an important safe and legal route to refuge in the UK for unaccompanied refugee children without family in the UK, providing it was in their best interests. I have been informed of a number of cases whereby through this route children who had been exploited en-route to Europe are now living safely in this country.

Mr Hyland also asked the Government to clarify its view that Section 67 of the Immigration Act was discouraging children from staying in safe centres in France.15

Capacity of local authorities to accept unaccompanied migrant children

12.The Government’s Written Statement said that it had fulfilled the legislative requirement of consulting local authorities on their capacity to care for and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children before deciding on the 350 number. It stated that local authorities had indicated that they had capacity for a total of about 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of the current financial year. However, it was noted that “at least 50” places were being reserved for children arriving under family reunion arrangements which then proved to be unsuccessful, bringing the total for Dubs process children down to 350.16

13.The oral evidence we heard from the Local Government Association and from the Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Cllr Stephen Cowan, cast some doubt on how thorough the consultation undertaken by the Home Office to establish the capacity of local authorities to take more migrant children had been. It was suggested that up to a further 4,000 places might be made available by local authorities if additional central funding could be provided. Councillor Cowan told us: “if I talk to council leaders across London, there is certainly extra capacity. The Lewisham example stands for itself: over 20 places sitting available that have not been picked up”. The Children’s Commissioner for Scotland also indicated that further provision could be made available in Scotland.17

14.Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State in the Home Office, has said that she would “encourage more local authorities that think that they might have places to come forward”.18 The Anti-Slavery Commissioner also emphasised that: “The capacity of local authorities being able to fully support and protect these unaccompanied children is crucially important [ … ] It has been suggested that there may in fact be greater local authority capacity [ … ] I would welcome greater transparency on this crucial issue of capacity”.19

The Dublin system

15.Unaccompanied children also come to the UK under the terms of an EU convention, known as the Dublin Regulation, which determines which EU country takes responsibility for processing asylum claims.20 Generally the first country an asylum-seeker enters is responsible for processing a claim, but there are exceptions where they have relatives living in another EU country. The Dublin Regulation specifies that the state in which a child lodges an asylum claim should try to identify family members (parents or legal guardian), or siblings and other relatives who are legally present in other signatory states and, subject to it being in the child’s best interests, should transfer responsibility for the child’s asylum claim to the state responsible for the asylum claim of those family members.21

16.The Government has indicated that the majority of the 750 unaccompanied children who came to the UK from the Calais camps in 2016 were transferred under an accelerated process based on the family reunion criteria of the Dublin Regulation. The Government describes this as “a one-off process, based on the principles of the Dublin framework but operated outside of it [ … ] in response to the unique circumstances of the Calais camp clearance”.22 The Home Office made clear on 20 February that “the Calais operation”—the one-off process under the Dublin principles—“has now concluded”. The Home Office also stated, though, that it had agreed with the French authorities “that we will review any new information from children formerly resident in the Calais camp to assess whether it would change our determination of their eligibility under the Dublin regulation, to encourage an application”.23 However, the Anti-Slavery Commissioner has commented that the Dublin processes “are not working for children. They are not waiting. Frustration and lack of confidence in the process is a key contributor to increased vulnerability to risk-taking behaviour which leads to greater vulnerability to modern slavery”.24

8 HL Deb 21 March 2016 col 2091. See also Full Fact, Dubs Amendment: 3,000 children? 10 February 2017

9 Immigration Act 2016, Section 67

10 10 Downing Street press release, 4 May 2016, “Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to be resettled from Europe”

11 HC Deb 8 February 2017, HCWS467. The content of the Statement was the subject of an Urgent Question on the following day, tabled by the Home Affairs Committee Chair—see HC Deb 9 February 2017, cols 637–652

12 10 Downing Street press release, 4 May 2016, “Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to be resettled from Europe”

13 HC Deb 9 February 2017, cols 639 and 645

14 Oral evidence taken on 22 February 2017, Qs 1 and 6., See also Qs 5–9; and 58–59

15 Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Statement on protecting unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation, 22 February 2017

16 HC Deb 8 February 2017, HCWS467

17 Oral evidence taken on 22 February 2017, Qs 66; 69–73; 76; and 82–83

18 HL Deb 9 February 2017, col 1859

19 Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Statement on protecting unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation, 22 February 2017

20 The Convention is named after the city in which it was first agreed in 1990. It is also referred to as Dublin III as the version currently in force is the third iteration. See Regulation (EU) No 604/2013).

21 Refugee Council Policy Briefing, November 2015, Dublin regulation and family unity

22 Written Statement on Immigration, HC Deb 8 February 2017, HCWS467

23 The Guardian, 19 February 2017, “Home Office agrees to review asylum claims of child refugees in France”

24 Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Statement on protecting unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation, 22 February 2017

3 March 2017