The Scottish and Welsh Governments have jointly written to the UK Minister for Immigration expressing concern about the treatment of unaccompanied child refugees.
According to a UNICEF report children account for over half of the 12 million West and Central African people on the move each year. Of those 6 million+ children 75 % of them remain in sub-Saharan Africa and less than one in five head to Europe.
The report finds that the sub-Saharan African region lacks sufficient protection systems – both within and across borders – to ensure the safety and wellbeing of refugee and migrant children, a gap which will become more pronounced with the projected increase in both national populations and migration. The report recommends that policy makers put children at the centre of any response to migration by strengthening the chain of protection for children between countries of origin, transit and destination. The close cooperation of governments, UN, and non-governmental partners is critical to ensure children’s access to healthcare, education and other essential services, regardless of their migration status.
UNICEF continues to urge all governments, in West and Central Africa, in Europe and elsewhere to adopt the six-point Agenda for Action for the protection of refugee and migrant children:
- Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence
- End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives
- Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status
- Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services
- Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants
- Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation in countries of transit and destination.
The joint letter from Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities in the Scottish Government, Angela Constance and Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children in the Welsh Government, Carl Sargeant state that they are struggling with the lack of information coming from the UK Government with regards to s67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the Dubs amendment); and, s69-72 of the Act (transfer protocol and national transfer mechanism).
The letter goes on to state:
” 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.”
And it goes on to quote the Human Trafficking Inquiry, initiated by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery, published on 10 July
“ 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.’
UNICEF state that in 2016 approximately 350,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe. Close to half of all arrivals by sea to Greece and Italy continue to be women and children, predominately from the Syrian Arab Republic and Afghanistan. On the Balkan route, women and children make up close to 60 % of all arrivals.
In Italy, there was a sharp rise in the proportion of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) among all children that arrived in 2016. The situation in Greece and the Balkans remains equally challenging, with nearly 30,000 children living in overcrowded reception centres. Many children have experienced violence, abuse or exploitation.
This is the biggest humanitarian crisis and movement of people since World War II. Prior to the outbreak of World War II the UK took in 10,000 mainly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig.
That is a part of our history we can be proud of. And yet in 2017 the compassion and international responsibility we had over 78 years ago seems to have disappeared with little over 200 unaccompanied children finding refuge in the UK out of the 480 identified.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame