I have had some emails asking why I voted with the Government yesterday on the Immigration Bill. There are several reasons which I will set out here.
Firstly, the Government has already listened to Parliamentarians, NGOs and the public and has launched a new resettlement scheme ‘Children at Risk’ from the Middle East and North Africa Region. The UNHCR has recommended that it should not target unaccompanied children along but extended to all ‘Children at Risk’ as defined by the UNHCR and will extend to other nationalities in the region and not just limited to Syrians. This will mean a further 3000 individuals will be resettled in the UK on top of the 20,000 Syrians we are already starting to take under the Syrian resettlement scheme.
Secondly, it is really important that we send out a message to vulnerable families and children that they do not need to take the dangerous and expensive journey across the Mediterranean. I am concerned that if the message goes out that we are taking more from Europe, it will encourage families to put their children on boats unaccompanied and that includes the young men who largely make up the group in Europe. Colleagues who have visited Calais tell me that people there say if that option had been there before, they would have stayed in the refugee camps to apply for asylum rather than spending money travelling in horrendous conditions.
We are working closely with our European partners (another reason for staying in Europe) to process migrants in Greek reception centres and are providing equipment and medical supplies alongside our maritime commitment in search and rescue in the Aegean and Mediterranean. DFID has created a £46m fund to support refugees and a further £10million Refugee Children Fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe and identify those who have families in the UK so we can process reuniting them with their families. This has already led to a significant increase in the number of children reunited with family in the UK. In the last six weeks, 24 cases have been accepted for transfer from France under the Dublin family unit provisions.
While I understand people’s concerns about any child that is vulnerable in Europe, I believe that this is the right course to take and therefore support what the government is doing to help with this terrible problem. I will, of course, continue to monitor the situation and work with charities and NGOs to make sure that what we are doing is effective.