Many people have contacted me about the recent vote in Parliament about refugees.
I want to assure people that protecting vulnerable children remains a key priority. Over the last decade, we have seen more than a doubling in the arrival rates of child refugees into the care of local authorities, and we have seen our Government play an ever more active role alongside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with schemes such as the vulnerable persons relocation scheme from Syria and the vulnerable children’s relocation scheme.
To put that into context and to give some figures, in the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and to 41,000 children since 2010. This is more than the vast majority of EU countries have done to help vulnerable children. Furthermore, in the last ten years, the UK received asylum applications from over 23,000 unaccompanied children. In 2018, the UK received over 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children, accounting for 15% of all claims from unaccompanied children in the EU and making the UK Europe’s third highest intake country. Additionally, in the year ending September 2019, 6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee status in the UK. It is clear that we in the UK are already playing our part in helping refugees and I am proud of the support that has been given to thousands of vulnerable people.
Our resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. As of September 2019, over 18,250 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). Over half those resettled via these two schemes have been children.
The Prime Minister made clear the importance this Government places on ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU Member State can continue to be reunited with specified family members who are in the UK, as well as children in the UK with family in the EU, following the UK’s exit from the EU. This remains a negotiating objective of this Government.
The new clause 37 in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was primarily about clarifying the role of Government and Parliament in negotiations. It is vital that we recognise the strength of both the Government’s and the United Kingdom’s position when it comes to ensuring in practice the safety and wellbeing of refugee children. Border policy is, and has always been, a national competence, not one of the European Union. It is absolutely right that the opportunity to fully debate these issues will come in due course, when an immigration Bill comes before the House.
The family reunion provisions are only relevant to a very tiny minority and to those children who are already in the care of authorities in other European countries. In many cases, young refugees who are in the European Union are already within countries that have child protection systems that are very similar or equivalent to—in some cases better than—our own. The arrangements that the European Union has in place, supported strongly by the United Kingdom, mean that there is a very real prospect of reuniting those young people with those with parental responsibility. In the vast majority of cases it will be in the child's best interest to be reunited with mum and dad, who may be in a refugee camp in Jordan or, indeed, in Turkey.
Ensuring the continued family reunification of these vulnerable children remains a Government priority. Indeed, the Government has already made efforts to begin negotiations on this issue, with the Home Secretary writing to the European Commission on 22 October inviting the EU to begin discussions.
It is also important to note that the UK will continue to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the implementation period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.
Alongside the substantial help that we have given to refugees through resettlement programs, it is right to highlight the significant amount of aid that the UK has given to countries within the region who have taken even larger numbers of displaced people. This helps to stop people from undertaking the perilous journey to the UK in the first place and avoid human traffickers.
I appreciate that this is a subject that many people feel passionately about, as do I. As you mention, I have repeatedly said that we have a duty to help those who have been displaced by war and terror. We are fulfilling our duty and I will continue to support the Government in its desire to help and support refugees.