On 26 October, the French Government announced that the Calais Jungle had been cleared. The migrants who had previously been living at the camp have been entered into the French immigration and asylum system.
Questions have been asked in recent days about the fate of unaccompanied children living in Calais. There has been a statement in the Commons by the Home Secretary.
The question of the plight of child refugees and migrants in Calais properly arouses strong views. Our hearts tell us we should do everything we can to help those in need. The Home Secretary said:
… we have made good progress to speed up the process for transferring children with a close family link to the UK. More than 80 children with a family link to the UK were transferred from France in the first nine months of this year under the Dublin regulation, but I have been pressing to go even further. The House will recall that on 10 October I stated my absolute commitment to bring to the UK as many children as possible with close family links before the closure of the camp. I also made clear my intention to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Calais who meet the criteria of the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016.
Since my statement, working in partnership with the French, we have transferred almost 200 children, including more than 60 girls, many of whom had been identified as at high risk of sexual exploitation. They are receiving the care and support they need in the UK. I want to make it clear to the House that the Government have sought every opportunity to expedite the process to transfer children to the UK. My officials were given access to the camp to interview children only in the past week and, similarly, we have only recently received agreement from the French Government that we could bring Dubs cases to the UK. Before that, we worked closely with the French behind the scenes, but without their agreement it was not possible to make progress on taking non-family cases from Calais.
Until a few weeks ago, the French Government requested that we did not transfer children outside of the Dublin regulation process. Again, that was due to their concerns that it might encourage more children to come to Calais. That is why, until recently, we focused our efforts under the Dubs amendment on children in Greece and Italy, where we have 50 cases in progress. It is only in recent weeks that that has changed. Looking ahead, we will bring more children from Calais to the UK in the coming days and weeks. As well as the remaining children with close family in the UK, we will continue to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Calais under the wider criteria of the Dubs amendment. We will follow three guiding principles in determining whom we bring to the UK from Calais under the Dubs amendment. We will prioritise those likely to be granted refugee status in the UK; we will also prioritise those 12 years old or under; and we will consider those assessed as being at a high risk of sexual exploitation. In doing that, we will also establish whether it is in each child’s best interests to come here.
This Government takes its humanitarian responsibilities extremely seriously. Work is continuing on both sides of the Channel to ensure that a safe, lawful and efficient process is in place to transfer eligible unaccompanied children to the UK as a matter of urgency and to ensure that they are kept safe during the clearance process.
I wish for our country to be humane, generous and realistic. I also want the introduction of refugees into the UK to be undertaken in a supportive, swift and sensitive way, mindful of local resources and the support that refugees need. The numbers of displaced persons in Syria, at about 11 million in total and 6.6 million internally , far exceed Europe’s capacity to assimilate and support them. The issues are further compounded once economic migrants from elsewhere are considered. I have long argued that open borders are incompatible with universal state welfare and recent EU figures have shown that the majority of those coming to Europe are economic migrants from other, more stable nations.
So where do we draw the line?
In Buckinghamshire, 3667 households are waiting for homes that simply are not available. Seventy six households in Wycombe reside in bed & breakfast accommodation, sometimes with entire families sharing just one room. Limited social housing is often overcrowded. There are 313 children in care in Buckinghamshire already waiting for foster and adoptive parents. (People can find out more about fostering here.)
My heart asks me to campaign to take large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers but it also goes out to those local people for whom we struggle to provide already. My head looks to Germany and Sweden where policies of large-scale openness have backfired, illustrated most acutely by the rise of Alternative Fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany.
The Government’s focus should be on tackling the cause of the European Refugee Crisis. Aid should be directed to where it is needed most: Syria, the Middle East and other regions where chronic instability has led to people fleeing their homes. Our money goes twice as far overseas to provide for more displaced people in their regions than we can in the UK.
The UK continues to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £2.3 billion. Some £105 million of the funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria. The Government is also extending the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Program from 20,000 by taking an extra 3000 children at risk in the Middle East and North Africa over the next four years. Well over 1,000 people have been resettled to date, around half of whom are children: over the next four years, several thousand more children will be resettled in the UK.
I know people of good faith would have us do more. The difficult task of the Government is to do all the good we can with a degree of wisdom about the risks and dangers. I will not appeal to our political opponents but I would ask everyone sincerely concerned about this issue to look objectively at the good work this Government is doing, of which we can be justly proud.