Yvette Cooper, Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, has written to the Prime Minister following his comments on unaccompanied child refugees in Calais at the Franco-British Summit:
3rd March, 2016
Dear Prime Minister,
This afternoon at the press conference with President Hollande after the Franco-British Summit you said that lone child refugees with family in Britain can apply to join their family here, under the Dublin convention.
However this is not happening in practice and urgent action is needed by the British and French Governments to protect these extremely vulnerable children and teenagers from criminal gangs, prostitution, trafficking and abuse.
Charities have said that it is currently taking 9 months for a ‘take charge’ request to be processed. Can you tell me why it is taking this long and what these vulnerable refugees are supposed to do in the meantime?
Charities have also said that so far Britain has not accepted a single ‘take charge’ request involving unaccompanied minors in Calais, and in the past few weeks have rejected two such requests.
Is this true? Given your commitment today to implement the Dublin Agreement how can the Government justify not accepting any requests at all? Can you urgently review the Home Office handling of these take charge applications so that young refugees with relatives who can protect them can get urgent help?
Furthermore, the Government is appealing the ruling from the Upper Tribunal that three unaccompanied children and a mentally ill sibling be allowed to travel to Britain immediately to be in the care of their close relatives while they apply for asylum, rather than wait in the Calais camp with no one looking after their welfare.
Given the extreme vulnerability of these unaccompanied child refugees, why is the Government still appealing against the ruling? And will the Government now drop its appeal against the Upper Tribunal ruling and do everything it can now to work with the French authorities to fast-track the cases of unaccompanied children with family here?
Charities in Calais estimate there are some 150 lone children in Calais who have family here in Britain who could look after them while their asylum claim is being processed.
In January you announced that £10m would be made available specifically for the identification of unaccompanied children in Europe who could be reunited with family, and as you know that was welcomed as a step forward.
Since this announcement, how many children in Calais have been identified? And what discussions have taken place with Citizens UK, Save the Children and Help Refugees, working in Calais to help reunite them with their family as soon as possible?
These children, some as young as 11 and 12, are alone and at terrible risk. According to Europol some 10,000 lone child refugees have simply disappeared in Europe in this crisis.
You and I both have children of a similar age. None of us would conscience our own children living alone in these conditions. Nor would we want them to be vulnerable to abuse, gangs or prostitution. We have a moral duty not to turn our backs on them now, especially when they have relatives ready to keep them safe.
Both you and the French President have rightly recognised that these vulnerable children and teenagers need help, and where they have family in Britain who can look after them they should be reunited.
However both the British and French bureaucracies are badly failing these children now. It is shameful that our two proud countries are proving incapable of sorting this out when so much is at stake. I urge you to end the foot dragging and make sure there is urgent action between both Governments to rescue these children before more of them simply disappear.
Rt. Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce