Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Refugee Rights Europe (ISSB01)

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-2019 Public Bill Committee

Executive Summary

· The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (hereafter referred to as the Immigration Bill 2017-2019) fails to address the situation for refugees and asylum seekers as the UK withdraws from the EU.

· The Immigration Bill 2017-2019 contains no provision for family reunification for unaccompanied minors with family in the UK (currently legislated as part of the Dublin III Regulation [1] , which will not be retained once the UK leaves the EU).

· Thousands of unaccompanied minors are currently trapped in extremely harmful environments across Europe, many with a legal right to be in the UK through family reunification [2] . Across Europe, children face a lack of access to appropriate shelter and physical and mental healthcare. Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) has also documented a striking absence of available legal advice on asylum and immigration rules, as well as widespread allegations of violence perpetrated against unaccompanied minors by police forces [3] .

· The UK has a duty to protect the rights of the child and uphold human rights under international human rights and refugee law, including but not limited to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which the UK ratified in 1991 and saw enter into force in 1992.

· RRE is concerned that, unless adequate provisions are added through additional amendments, a failure to legislate in the Immigration Bill 2017-2019 for unaccompanied minors in Europe may result in the denial of safe, legal routes for vulnerable children to be reunited with family in the UK following the end of the UK’s EU membership, which risks leading to many more children remaining trapped in harmful environments, unable to realise their rights.

1. About RRE

1.1. R RE is a human rights organisation and registered UK charity. Founded in late 2015, the organisation researches and documents the situation for refugees and displaced people seeking protection in Europe, with a particular focus on human rights violations and inadequate humanitarian conditions experienced. The organisation uses its research findings to advocate for human rights- centered policy development, to ensure the rights of refugees and displaced people are upheld on European soil, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

1.2. R RE is independent of any political ideology, economic interest or religion. We believe in the indivisibility of human rights and we are united by our aim to defend the rights of some of the world’s most marginalised individuals.

2. The situation for unaccompanied minors in Europe

2.1. The following is based on our findings from research carried out in Ventimiglia, Italy in August 2017 ; Calais, France in October 2017 ; and Lesvos, Greece in June 2018 [4] .

2.2. Unaccompanied status: In Ventimiglia, Italy [5] 91.7% of minors interviewed were unaccompanied. Of these, 25% reported they had family somewhere in Europe. In Calais, France [6] , 78.7% were unaccompanied, with 92.2% of all respondents believing that the UK was the best country for them; 29.7% of minors reported that they had family in the UK. Worryingly, 83.3% had not applied for family reunification. In Lesvos, Greece [7] , 2018, 43.5% of minors were unaccompanied.

2.3. Living conditions: During our research in Ventimiglia, Italy, 92% of children interviewed said they usually slept by the river, where 68% said they didn’t have access to food every day and only 4% said they had enough water to drink. In Calais, large numbers of unaccompanied minors sleep in make-shift shelters in the surrounding woodland which are regularly dismantled by French forces. Those identified as minors are placed in to accommodation, although partners on the ground report that this is often full, leaving many on the streets. Conditions on the Greek island of Lesvos are wholly unacceptable, with men, women and children placed in crowded conditions with little to no sanitation facilities.

2.4. Access to healthcare: 48% of children in Ventimiglia had experienced health problems, yet only 16.7% had been able to access medical care. 32.9% of children in Calais reported having experienced health problems in France, often citing the unhealthy living environment and regular use of tear gas. Alarmingly, 21.2% reported that their health problem was a mental health issue. During research in Lesvos, 73.9% of children had suffered from a health problem while on the island, citing living conditions. Of these, 60.9% had not received any medical care.

2.5. Access to information: 92% of children in Ventimiglia, Italy had access to information about their rights and opportunities, while only 16.7% reported having access to information about European asylum law and immigration rules. In France, while many of the children reported having family in the UK, very few had applied for family reunification. This may in part be due to a lack of information and advice, where 82.4% of children said they did not have access to this information. In Lesvos, 52.2% of children did not have access to information about their legal rights or opportunities to change their situation.

2.6. Experience of violence and mistreatment: In Ventimiglia, 52% reported that they had experienced violence by French and Italian police at the border, while 80% said they had been detained. A staggering 93.6% of minors reported having experienced some form of police violence in France, while 72% said they had been detained. In Lesvos, 39.1% reported that they had experienced police violence in Lesvos with 85.7% stating that this took the form of tear gas. 39.1% said hey had been detained since arriving in Greece.

3. Specific concerns relating to the Immigration Bill 2017-2019

3.1 Refugees and Asylum Seekers: RRE is deeply concerned that that the Immigration Bill 2017-2019 contains no reference to the protection of refugees or asylum seekers following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. While such reference is made in Chapter 10, ‘Protecting the Vulnerable’, of the new Immigration White Paper [8] , the Bill does not include concrete safeguards. Moreover, it is not clear whether there will be a public consultation on these elements of the White Paper and whether civil society will be included.

3.2 Family reunification for unaccompanied minors with family in the UK: Once the UK leaves the EU, the legal route to safety provided by Article 8 of the Dublin Regulation III will cease to have effect. While the Government has committed to negotiating a family reunification route for minors in Europe which is legislated as part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, Clause 17 [9] , concrete safeguards must be in place as part of the Immigration Bill 2017-2019.

3.3 Government powers (Schedule 3, Part 1 of the Immigration Bill 2017-2019): Alongside concern over the lack of protection for unaccompanied minors, RRE is alarmed that the provisions in the Bill grant the Government wide ranging powers to change primary legislation without the consultation of Parliament, through the use of Statutory Instruments. Doing so may allow the Government to bring in changes to refugee and asylum law without proper scrutiny by members of the public, civil society and Members of the House.

4. Recommendations:

4.1. An amendment should be made to the Immigration Bill 2017-2019 which safeguards the rights of unaccompanied minors in Europe to reunite with family in the UK. Such an amendment should include a time limit by which the Government must negotiate an agreement with the EU or with individual Member States in order to uphold the rights of unaccompanied children. This time limit should apply at the end of the transition period or in the event of a ‘no deal Brexit’.

4.2. An amendment should be adopted, which would mean that refugees and asylum seekers are excluded from Statutory Instrument powers in Schedule 3, Part 1 of the Immigration Bill, such that no changes are made to the current rights and protections afforded under national and international law, which are not subject to proper scrutiny and process.

4.3. More widely, the UK Government ought to take a greater role in the identification and processing of unaccompanied minors in Europe with family in the UK, in particular the large numbers of minors in Northern France. The Home Office must work to reduce waiting times for family reunification where unaccompanied children in Europe are being forced to wait up to 2 years for transfer in harmful conditions in Europe [10] .

5. Conclusion

5.1 The UK’s withdrawal from the EU must not under any circumstances lead to a weakening of protections for refugees and asylum seekers.

5.2 The Government must uphold its commitments under international human rights law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Optional Protocol, as well as the UN CRC, to which the UK are signatories.

5.3 The Immigration Bill 2017-2019 is an opportunity to ensure that family reunification for unaccompanied children continues following the UK’s exit from the EU, with minimal gap in provision, in order to protect vulnerable unaccompanied children across Europe.

February 2019


Prepared 13th February 2019