Local arrangements for safeguarding and promoting welfare of children

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 15 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 12:45, 15 Rhagfyr 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am delighted that the Government Whip has decided that we should press ahead with clause 16 so early on, because the issue and the amendments deserve a thorough hearing. In the short time before, I suspect, the Minister will want to get his lunch, I want to pose what seems to me a central question.

We must all wonder why two young men—two 14-year-old boys—have this week attempted to kill themselves. They attempted it because of a promise made by this country that is yet to be fulfilled. That is a promise to young, unaccompanied asylum seekers, the child refugees whom we have all seen on our television screens in the past year. Those children are the victims of conflicts not of their own making, but now they are in limbo as a direct consequence of decisions made by the Government.

The amendments are about putting right the anomalies and making sure that we can be proud that when Britain stands up and says we will look after children, we will do it for every child, and treat every child equally. The 14-year-old boys who tried to kill themselves this week are from Afghanistan. They are both young men who have spent months in refugee camps in Europe. They both got on buses to go to child protection centres around Europe on the basis of a promise that we made in this House: we would put in place a process to treat those children fairly, and to treat their application for assistance from the UK fairly. Now, a month on, however, they find themselves with little hope—so little hope that death seemed a better option. The amendments are about how we deal with that.

Forgive me, but I do not know how many Government Members have been involved in child refugee issues, so I will set out how we got to the stage of two young men feeling so much despair that death seemed a better option than the limbo we left them in. I will explain why therefore the amendments have been tabled.

Over the past year, 90,000 child refugees have been estimated to be in Europe. The Dubs amendment, which most Members are familiar with, was about taking only 3,000 of those children here in Britain. To be clear, we are not talking about Britain taking every single child refugee in Europe; we are talking only about doing our fair share, and doing it fairly.

Government Members might be aware of the Dublin children—children who have family here in the UK and therefore simply want to be reunited with someone who can look after them. After fleeing unimaginable horror in their home countries via various smuggling routes, they have ended up in places such as Calais. However, we are talking about the children who have no one. The Dubs children are those who have no one left, whether they are orphaned, or their families are in places to which they cannot return. They have no connection to anywhere else in Europe, and they have no one but us to ask for assistance. That figure of 3,000 was about those children with no one to help them.

Before we go to lunch, let me put it on the record that we have made progress in dealing with the issues over the past year, and the Government should be commended for that. About 750 children have now come to the United Kingdom through the transfer mechanism and following the concerns expressed in all parts of the House. The vast majority of those children, however, are Dublin children, children who legally under international conventions have the right to come here anyway.

The amendments that we will be debating this afternoon are about the Dubs children. Those two young boys who this week tried to kill themselves are Dubs children, children who should have a realistic expectation that we will act in their best interest to protect them. This afternoon’s debate is about how we do the best interest test because—I have to tell Conservative MPs this—the Government are moving the goalposts.

On 8 November the Government published guidance that fundamentally undermined the earlier guidance and the commitment made on 1 November by the Minister who is present in the Committee to do what we all think is the right thing: to treat refugee children just as we would any other child—to safeguard them. That safeguarding process must extend to those in Europe whom we have identified as potential Dubs children.

The guidance published on 8 November fundamentally undermines that, because it sets out a restrictive test for the children. What is the test? It is a two-step process. First, the children must be of a particular nationality, either Sudanese or Syrian. Secondly, there is a test of age—they must be under 12, as though when they hit 13 they are suddenly no longer vulnerable. A third test is that they are at risk of sexual exploitation, although how to assess that is not clarified.

Many of the children who have now been left in limbo in France are clearly at risk of exploitation and sexual exploitation through their very vulnerability—because they are on their own and have nowhere else to go. Indeed, a third of those children have now absconded from the centres, because they feel no hope. They are back in makeshift camps in France, waiting to try to get to Britain.

Before the Calais camp was demolished, 40% of the children there were from Eritrea. Most of the children were not from Syria. That is because children are running from conflicts throughout the world. The amendment, therefore, and the issue that we have to deal with in the Bill, are not about Syria; they are about all children in the world who are victims of conflicts. What happens next to them?