Child refugees waiting a year for transfer to the UK from Greece, Lib Dems reveal

Hundreds of child refugees granted the right to come to the UK are still stuck in Greece, warns Tim Farron

Tom Peck
Wednesday 19 July 2017 18:31 BST
Lib Dem leader again raised the unacceptable delay of child refugees being transferred to the UK
Lib Dem leader again raised the unacceptable delay of child refugees being transferred to the UK (Getty)

Some child refugees have been waiting more than a year to transfer from Greece to the UK, ministers have been told.

Outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said he was aware of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under the Dubs scheme in 2016 but are "still stuck" in Greece.

Mr Farron also questioned when the Government would meet its "measly" commitment to transfer 480 unaccompanied minors from Europe, noting 200 have so far been given sanctuary.

His remarks came as he asked an urgent question on Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.

It is known as the Dubs scheme after Labour peer Lord Dubs, who was the architect of the policy which requires ministers to make arrangements to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Farron asked how many children have arrived from Greece under the Dubs scheme and if the UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to get the transfers under way.

He said: "I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under Dubs over a year ago, they are still stuck in Greece.

"The horrific truth is that the longer this goes on, the more likely these children will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers.

"According to Oxfam, 28 children every single day are going missing in Italy alone.

"Will this Government step up or continue to ignore the plight of these desperate children?"

Mr Farron earlier labelled the Government's commitment to bring 480 children to the UK under the scheme as "measly" because it could "do so much more".

He pointed to Freedom of Information requests which, he said show, councils have "voluntarily offered to accept 1,572 more children" in addition to those they already support, something Home Office Minister Brandon Lewis said was "simply wrong".

Mr Lewis said: "We consulted with local authorities, which is what we said we'd do when this legislation was before the House; that's what has led to the figure of 480.

"The FOI request you are talking about actually doesn't look at what local authorities can provide, it's actually talking about the 0.7% threshold - which is an entirely different calculation.

"But what we're very clear about is that making sure we do not create a pull factor, but at the same time we do the right thing - as we have done with the £2.46 billion of support, making us one of the biggest contributors with the biggest humanitarian aid project this country has ever conducted to look after the people who need our care the most.

"Instead of playing politics with children's lives, we should get on with looking after them and I wish you would join us in doing that."

Mr Lewis said the UK has a range of schemes which seek to bring 23,000 people over, adding that the Government needs to work with Italy, Greece and France while recognising they are nation states.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the Commons understands the Government's preference to take unaccompanied children from the affected region

But she added: "I've visited the camps in France and Greece and the minister needs to be reminded those children are already there, often living in horrible conditions, and are particularly at the mercy of traffickers and sexual exploitation."

Ms Abbott warned the Government against diminishing family reunification rights post-Brexit, questioning if it will "walk away from its moral obligations".

Mr Lewis said Ms Abbott's final remark "doesn't do her or this House or this country justice".

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton praised work he had seen in Greece, adding: "There is a criticism that it is taking too long to get those children properly processed and assessed who have got a right to be here."

Tory MP Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) asked what would happen to the Dublin III rule when "we move towards this brave new Brexit world".

She asked how many children had come to the UK under the rule already, and said: "How are we going to make sure that those pieces of legislation are embedded in our own laws when we leave the EU?"

Mr Lewis said the Government was "determined to make sure we fulfil our commitments" on Dublin III.

He said: "Obviously as we go through the negotiations of leaving the European Union, exactly what format that will take in terms of technically what that Dublin commitment becomes, it's too soon to say, but we are very determined to stick with the moral and ethical duty that we are deciding to participate in in continuing to provide that support to people that need it most in the way that we do through the Dublin agreement."

Former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the Government for its "shameful" response and urged ministers to "get on with" helping lone child refugees.

She said: "Parliament told the Government to help lone child refugees from Europe when it passed the Dubs Amendment last year.

"I know the Government didn't want to agree to it, but it was passed, and frankly, the way in which they have narrowed the criteria, dragged their feet, failed to even count the council offers properly, is shameful."

Mr Lewis said the Government wants to "give them the right support" and provide families with "the support network to be able to be an important and valued part of our community".

"It is important we do that within what local authorities can actually provide and within the restrictions that they have got and the capacity that they have got, and that is what we are doing to make sure they get the right support.

"In 2016 we did grant asylum or some form of leave to over 8,000 children, and since 2010 some 42,000.

"So we are doing our bit, we want to continue doing that work."

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