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

Written Evidence submitted by Safe Passage International (ISSB23)  

Safe Passage International (UK Charity No. 1179608)

Executive Summary

· The Immigration and Social Security Cooperation (EU Withdrawal Bill), in its present form, does not protect the routes to resettlement for unaccompanied children as currently provided for by EU immigration law or other means.

· Safe Passage International believe that the Bill requires amendment to ensure safe and legal routes for children seeking asylum. Otherwise the Bill will be at best a missed opportunity to protect vulnerable children and at worst a tool by which to reduce vulnerable children’s access to resettlement in the UK.

About Safe Passage International

1. Safe Passage International is a strategic legal organisation working to ensure child refugees can access safe and legal routes to asylum.

2. Our legal work focuses primarily on reuniting unaccompanied children with family members in the UK via the EU’s Dublin III regulation.

Children’s stories – The life-changing impact of Dublin III family reunion and the Dubs scheme

3. In November 2017, 15 year old M became the first unaccompanied child to be successfully resettled from Greece under the Dubs scheme. Having travelled alone to Greece from Syria at just 14 years old, M was detained and forced to sleep on a police cell floor, because no other accommodation was available. His UK social worker reported that "available resources in Greece cannot cater for this child’s needs." The Dubs scheme gave M a safe and legal route to sanctuary, and a chance to rebuild his life.

4. K fled Eritrea and after a harrowing journey alone made it to Italy in 2017, aged 12. She had no idea she could join her brother in the UK legally under Dublin III but he worked tirelessly to make sure the Home Office accepted her transfer. She was able to join him with a loving foster family in the UK in May 2018. Now they are both able to be together, studying and growing up in a safe home.

Background – Safe and legal routes to the UK for refugee children in the EU and beyond

5. According to UNHCR, 10,958 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arrived in Italy, Spain and Greece in 2018. [1] Thousands are currently surviving in camps, shelters, hotels and on the streets across Europe. [2]

6. For these children, safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK are essentially limited to: family reunification under the EU Dublin III Regulation if they have relatives in the UK; or being selected for resettlement under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the ‘Dubs scheme’).

7. Between January 2015 and December 2017, 291 minors were transferred under Dublin III to join family in the UK. [3]

8. At least 220 unaccompanied minors have been transferred to the UK from within the EU under section 67 of the Immigration Act, with up to 480 places due to be filled in total. [4]

9. Many unaccompanied children are living in extremely precarious conditions in Europe, at significant risk of physical, psychological, sexual or emotional harm. But once the 480 Dubs places have been filled, under current legislation, unaccompanied children without family in the UK will have no opportunity for safe resettlement in the UK.

10. For children with family in the UK, the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 commits the government to seek to negotiate an agreement with the EU that preserves family reunification mechanisms following the UK’s departure from the European Union. This, however, does not represent a binding guarantee that children will continue to be able to reunite with family members.

11. The EU Withdrawal Act includes no provisions regarding routes to safety for unaccompanied and vulnerable children without family ties, nor for asylum-seeking children outside Europe to join family members resident in the UK.

Concerns with the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal Bill) – Impact on children’s rights to family reunion and resettlement

12. Safe Passage International is deeply concerned that rather than providing clarity, the Bill, in its current form, creates uncertainty regarding the rights of unaccompanied children to reunite with family in the UK post-EU withdrawal. The Bill also grants Ministers new powers by which to create immigration policy that negatively impacts child refugees and children seeking asylum.

13. In addition to repealing legislation relating to free movement, Schedule 1 repeals other EU laws relating to immigration, offering no provisions that protect family reunification for unaccompanied minors following the repeal of Dublin III.

14. Clause 4 provides extremely broad powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations that modify legislation regarding free movement but also for different purposes. This gives the government the ability to amend laws regarding child refugees without sufficient scrutiny by MPs, Peers or civil society.

Recommendations - An opportunity to protect child refugees

15. With amendment to its current provisions, the Bill can be an opportunity to guarantee that safe and legal routes to asylum in the UK remain open for children, as currently provided for under EU immigration laws and resettlement schemes.

16. Safe Passage International would encourage and support amendments that ensure the repeal of EU immigration law does not prevent family reunification for child refugees.

17. We believe that this family reunification route should be available to children both within and outside the EU, so as to ensure that children have equal access to safe and legal means by which to join relatives in the UK.

18. In addition to providing much needed certainty for children seeking to reunite with family in the UK, the Bill is an opportunity to set out the UK’s long-term commitment to child refugees post-EU withdrawal.

19. As the Dubs scheme and other resettlement programmes near their conclusion [5] , we believe the Bill needs to provide clarity on the UK’s future resettlement policy.

20. In line with UNHCR recommendations on the UK’s resettlement capacity, and taking into account current resettlement rates, we encourage amendments that commit the UK to resettle at least 1,000 children per year from within the EU and beyond. [6]

February 2019


[1] https://www.unhcr.org/desperatejourneys/

[2] See for example: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66715; https://www.unicef.org/eca/emergencies/latest-statistics-and-graphics-refugee-and-migrant-children; http://refugeerights.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/RRE_StillOnTheStreets.pdf

[3] Asylum data tables volume 5 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-year-ending-september-2018/list-of-tables#asylum

[4] https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2018-09-06/HL10142/

[5] The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS) are due to expire in 2020.

[6] https://www.unhcr.org/protection/basic/590b09ca4/unhcrs-priorities-for-the-uk-government.html

 

Prepared 25th February 2019