Unaccompanied child refugees
Joint letter to UK Minister for Immigration.
The Scottish and Welsh Governments have written jointly to the UK Minister for Immigration expressing concern about the treatment of unaccompanied child refugees.
Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, Angela Constance and Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant sent the following letter to Brandon Lewis, urging the UK Government to take into consideration the views and issues of the devolved Governments.
Text of letter follows.
Thank you very much for the time you have taken to meet with both of us on separate occasions over the summer months. We both look forward to working with you and we wish you well in this new portfolio. With regard to the meetings which have taken place, you have and will be hearing from both of us separately on the issues that were raised.
Both the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government are subject to UK Government process and procedure with regard to s67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the Dubs amendment); and, s69-72 of the Act (transfer protocol and national transfer mechanism). Due to our mutual responsibilities for these areas in our devolved legislatures, we thought it would be helpful for all parties if we laid out our thoughts to you jointly.
With regard to s67, we have discussed these matters and our experience so far has been the same. From the start of the implementation of this scheme, we have struggled with the lack of information that has been forthcoming from those running this operation. This continues to be the case and we are aware that only a couple of hundred unaccompanied children have been transferred of the 480 placements identified. We are aware of the difficult circumstances that the emergency clearance of the Calais camps led to, and that at present, you are awaiting the outcome of the judicial review which makes it difficult to comment. However, we both feel that overall, the lack of planning and sharing of useful information from coordinators has inhibited our ability to plan ahead. We are seeking assurances from you that steps have been taken or are being put into place to mitigate against a repeat of these circumstances.
We understand you were meeting with your counterpart Ministers in the Member States as a means of resolving the transfer delays and we hope these meetings have achieved a positive outcome.
Separately, we would also like to refer to s69-72 of the Act which would put the National Transfer Mechanism onto a statutory footing in Wales and Scotland. We have discussed with you the requirement for a SI derives from the legal advice that our local authorities have received which describes a local authority’s liability requiring legislative underpinning. We understand this will result in the necessary timetable which allows for parliamentary process and we were pleased to hear of your commitment to pursuing this. We both remain committed to this piece of work and look forward to a satisfactory outcome.
We also note the report of the Human Trafficking Inquiry, initiated by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery, published on 10 July. We highlight statements with which we agree, and whilst we appreciate there is a difference in opinion as to the why and the how from the UK Government perspective, these statements provide for an outcome which we can all support, that of supporting vulnerable unaccompanied children:
‘The inquiry found no evidence that providing a safe route for children to travel to the UK acted as a ‘pull factor’ or encouraged traffickers. Instead the evidence showed that leaving children without safe and legal options left them in limbo, stranded in dangerous and often violent situations. In many instances this resulted in children turning to smugglers, putting themselves at risk of dangerous journeys and of exploitation to pay the smugglers.’
And the recommendation which says: The ‘Dubs scheme’, or Section 67 of the Immigration Act, needs to be open to children in practice and more children need to be included. This will require expanding the criteria so that it doesn’t exclude vulnerable children due to their age or nationality and a revised cut-off date. Most urgent is the quick and transparent processing of these applications. The administration of the Dubs scheme requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers.’
We are grateful for the recent meetings we have had with you, to discuss s67 and wider refugee and asylum seeker matters and look forward to continuing our engagement with you on these important concerns for all of our Governments. We also look forward to receiving replies to our as yet unanswered correspondences.
We are copying this letter to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP and the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns MP.
Carl Sargeant AC/AM Angela Constance MSP
Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Gymunedau a Phlant Cabinet Secretary for Communities,
Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Social Security and Equalities
Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales