Refugee children under threat from new immigration bill
We recently put our support behind a letter to all Dorset MP's regarding the worrying proposed agreement to replace Dublin III family reunion which had been submitted to the EU as the basis of negotiations.
Several members of parliament gave assurances the government’s position on child refugees would not change and that a commitment to this end would be published in the Immigration Bill, published as part of the Brexit negotiations.
However, the Government published the text of their proposed agreement to replace Dublin III family reunion which had been submitted to the EU as the basis of negotiations.
This agreement does not have the same provisions for child refugees, many of whom are living in desperate and dangerous situations sleeping homeless at the side of motorways or in crowded camps on the Greek islands and are at serious risk of trafficking and exploitation.
As it stands, this agreement risks hundreds of the world's most vulnerable children denied ability to reunite with family and left with no option but to take their chances clinging to a lorry, just to reach safety with their loved ones. It is quite simply handing a blank cheque to people smugglers.
Below are some additional notes on this issue.
- The right of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Europe to reunite with family in the UK is guaranteed through provisions contained within the EU Dublin III Regulation. At the end of the transition period, Dublin III will no longer apply in the UK.
- To ensure children in Europe could still benefit from similar rights to access family reunion as those contained in Dublin III after EU Withdrawal, Safe Passage and many others, including politicians across parties, campaigned for and won section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal Act) 2018 which required the UK government to seek to negotiate an alternative.
- However, in December 2019 the Government ‘s Clause 37 to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-2020 replaced the 2018 obligation to negotiate instead with a mere obligation to make a statement indicating their policy. This move was very controversial - a petition to the Government to continue family reunion for refugees reached more than 335,000 signatures.
- During this time, the Government gave reoccurring verbal commitments that they were still intending to negotiate a replacement system for children in Europe and therefore the 2018 amendment was unnecessary. The Government made the statement they were committed to this in March 2020, indicating they were still intending to negotiate a replacement system, although very little detail was included on how it would work.
- Most recently, the Government for the first time published the text of their proposed agreement to replace Dublin III family reunion which had been submitted to the EU as the basis of negotiations.
- Unlike Dublin III which puts obligations on states, this new draft agreement would in effect be entirely discretionary. In Article 4.1 and Article 6.1, it says the UK and EU Member States “may” – not “shall” or “must” - request the transfer of an unaccompanied child. It is not mandatory. There is also no article that requires the UK to accept responsibility for an unaccompanied minor who meets the conditions.
- Before Dublin III made family reunion mandatory, refugees did not have material access to their right to reunite. Dublin III’s predecessor, Dublin II, did have some provision for family reunion. However, without the mandatory nature of Dublin III, only a handful of families were reunited.
- For example, in 2014, only 8 people reunited with their family members in the UK compared to 318 in 2016
- The agreement also has no articles which provide a process of appeal, effectively depriving children on their right to have a wrong decision scrutinized by a Judge. Furthermore, this agreement does not confer any rights to individuals and cannot be invoked in domestic courts. It is therefore not legally enforceable.
- Previously, it has been essential in some instances to make challenges in court to ensure refugees have access to their right to family reunion.
- We know that when child refugees do not have a safe and legal way to join their families, they will make dangerous and desperate journeys in the back of refrigerated lorries or in flimsy dinghies to do so - this agreement as such is handing a blank cheque to people smugglers.
- We also know the public supports family reunion - An Ipsos MORI online poll of 2,100 people, interviewed between 12 March and 3 April showed: 79% of people agreed that child refugees should be able to reunite with a parent living in the UK, compared to just 7% who disagreed.
- According to Refugee Youth Service, in April alone 53 minors in the Calais region reported to have a family member in the UK*
*must include caveat - This data captures RYS’ interactions with minors and is not a comprehensive representation of the population of minors in Calais. They do not visit each site every day, and some minors choose not to disclose their information. Also, information of minors who directly enter state protection is not included.
Find out more from Safe Passage Website - https://www.safepassage.org.uk/
Article about children crossing the channel - https://www.safepassage.org.uk/news/2020/8/11/more-children-will-cross-the-channel-if-government-scraps-family-reunion