A number of constituents have contacted me with a range of concerns about the migration crisis and the Calais Camp. Uppermost among the humanitarian concerns raised is the plight of unaccompanied child refugees.
The UK Government pledged to assist 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, many of those will be vulnerable people who are in registered UN refugee camps on the borders of Turkey who, for example, may need medical assistance that we can provide here in the UK. So far, identifying and placing those people has been slow. The priorities under the UK’s scheme, assisted by the UNHCR include:
• women and girls at risk;
• survivors of violence and/or torture;
• refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs;
• refugees with medical needs or disabilities;
• children and adolescents at risk;
In the first instance, the UK, and the UN, will always try to keep families together and in a safe zone, close to home, so that they can return when the conflict ends, which is why the official UN refugee camps on the Turkish border are helping hundreds of thousands.
The migration crisis has challenged very major European country, not least because 1.25million people registered asylum claims in Europe during 2015. We know these numbers have been exploited and assisted by people smugglers; and the overcrowded, unsafe boats they use has left several thousand drowned in the Mediterranean, including many children. Around 40,000 claims have been granted in the UK. Only 5 per cent of those applications approved in the UK were Syrian refugees.
The plight of unescorted children is a source of great concern. This ranges from children put on boats by parents who cannot afford the cost of the illegal passage for all family members; to young Eritrean men leaving their country, before the reach the age of 18, to avoid being conscripted into their army. Eritreans are the second largest nationality at the Calais camp.
The Home Affairs Committee also highlighted that the Calais Camp was a dangerous environment, particularly for children, and that the living conditions were appalling. For this reason, I urge the Government to do everything possible to support the family reunification process. Where children have an immediate relative in the UK or another country, they should be reunited, in the interests of the child’s welfare.
I welcome the good work of Save the Children, working with the UNHCR, the French authorities and other NGOs to support relocation and improve child protection. A youth centre at the Calais camp works with some 250 children. Lone child refugees must be a priority for the UK to resolve, particularly the younger children and girls. Many organisations regard the conditions at the unofficial Calais camp as inhuman and unsafe. However, as the French authorities seek to remove the camp, it is vital they manage the migrant/refugee population responsibly, so that health and child safety are not put further at risk; and families members are re-untied, not dispersed.
In the end, we shall only protect vulnerable children by the UK and EU have a long term migration policy; helping a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict; defeating the likes of Daesh in the region and have a concerted strategy to tackle the people smugglers who cause nothing more than death and misery.