The Labour MP Yvette Cooper and the Conservative MP Tim Loughton wrote to me asking for support for their amendment which would have continued the current family reunion provisions for unaccompanied child refugees. This is the answer I gave them.
Dear Yvette and Tim
Thank for your letter encouraging me to support your amendment to the Immigration Bill, which sought to sustain the current family reunion provisions after the end of the EU transition in December. I am writing to explain why I did not vote with you.
Like you, I believe the UK has a moral imperative to help children separated from their families by war or the experience of being a refugee, to reunite. There can be no more pressing obligation. And indeed we have a very good record in this area. Last year we welcomed over 3,000 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC’s) to the UK, more than any other country in the EU and indeed 20% of all UASC resettlements in the EU. We have resettled 478 of the 480 children we undertook to bring to the UK under the Dubs scheme. And we have been one of the only countries to continue reunifications by taking unaccompanied children during the Covid-19 lockdown.
As this shows, there is no desire on the part of the Government to restrict family reunification or reduce the numbers of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children coming here. As we leave the transition period with the EU, we need a new, reciprocal system which is fair to both the UK and the EU. This is currently being negotiated, and I believe it would harm the chances of such a reciprocal system being achieved if the UK unilaterally decided on its own arrangements at this time. If we are unable to agree a reciprocal system we will of course need to design our own model, and I would expect this to be at least as generous as the system we have at the moment.
I am proud the UK is so welcoming to unaccompanied refugee children, and to refugee families. I am particularly inspired by the model of community sponsorship, by which local civil society groups undertake to support refugees and new immigrants, providing a more human and friendly support system and relieving the pressure on the public sector. The Home Office has actively supported community sponsorship in recent years and I very much hope the Government will work to expand the model so that more refugees can be properly supported and integrated into local communities.
With all good wishes