A Bill to make provision for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom to be granted to the family members of refugees and to refugees who are family members of British citizens and settled persons, to provide for legal aid to be made available for refugee family reunion cases, and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Hamwee, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
My Lords, our society recognises the plight of refugees and our moral obligations, including giving practical expression to our humanitarianism. Our culture recognises the importance of family—as do most cultures. This Bill recognises both.
I first acknowledge the Government’s contribution by way of funds in the Middle East and elsewhere. Pursuing the provisions in this Bill is not to deny either the significance of that contribution or the good example set by the UK, but it is not a complete answer. Many refugees from Syria are still in the region and there is an enormous strain on the neighbouring countries: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon—which is about the size of Wales and hosts a refugee population amounting to around 30% of its total population, and is not in fact a signatory to the refugee convention. If those countries can do so much, we should do our bit. In 2016, the UK received 3% of asylum applications made in the EU. Per head of population, the UK ranked 18th in the EU, with 0.6 applications per 1,000 people. In the same year globally, 20 people became newly displaced every minute of every day.
I know the Government take the view that the Bill seeks little that is not done already, so I will take it clause by clause. Clause 1(1) provides that a person who has refugee status or humanitarian protection may apply for permission for family members to join him—when I say “him” from time to time, I generally mean “him or her”. Indeed, that is the position in our current Immigration Rules, but they are rules, not primary or secondary legislation—not something Parliament can amend or reject. Rules are an executive instrument, subject to change without Parliament’s involvement.
The first three groups of people listed in Clause 1(2) can, under the current rules, be sponsored, but only by an adult. People in the other categories may be given leave—that is, leave to enter or remain in the country— by discretion. I do not think it unreasonable for a refugee to have a right to be joined by family members, and it could not be said that those listed in Clause 1(2) are distant relatives. Where there is discretion there are bound to be inconsistencies—if leave is given at all, of course—in the type of leave or length of stay granted; family members may get different lengths. There may be a residency criterion—for instance, for housing.
Some noble Lords were at a meeting last week in Parliament and heard Khalil, a very mature and tall teenager, tell them that he had reached the UK alone. His parents and siblings came later and separately and eventually they were together, albeit briefly. He said, “They’ve been told they have to go back to Birmingham because that was where my Mum was sent to live when she was an asylum seeker, and because I came as a refugee child on my own, I have to live in Essex, so we are still not together. My brothers and sisters are at school in London and my dad is working in a restaurant. If we had to move to Birmingham, then they would miss out on schooling once again and my dad would lose his job and have to find a new one, which might not be easy. The reason we’re still separated, even though we are in the same country, is because I couldn’t apply for family reunion when I came to England, and that’s the reason I’m still living on my own”.
Home Office caseworkers have guidance and must consider,
“exceptional circumstances or compassionate factors”.
The guidance tells them:
“Entry clearance or a grant of leave outside the Immigration Rules is likely to be appropriate only rarely”.
I heard, for instance, of a disabled person with a carer who is a family member who was allowed leave. “Exceptional circumstances” is a term we are used to considering in various contexts, but often these circumstances are in fact the norm in this situation. One of the people who may—I stress “may”—be given leave is an unmarried child over 18. The position of a 19 year-old daughter or son alone in a refugee camp without family support is something that would worry any of us.
At the meeting to which I referred, we also heard from Maya, a hugely impressive young Syrian. She spoke no English when she arrived but, four years on, and very fluent, she is studying aeronautical engineering. So many of the young refugees I have met have been keen to contribute to society and are model citizens. Her father took the initial journey by himself and she and her mother later joined him under the current rules, but only after several attempts to get visas from the embassy in Beirut, having travelled from northern Syria, been held up at the border and arriving late at the embassy, where they were told that, as they had missed the appointment, they could not be dealt with, so that difficult and dangerous journey had to be repeated in both directions. She said, “There was no respect at the embassy; no respect for our papers”. Dangerous journeys to embassies and consulates to make applications are a common story. Travelling through war zones is not like catching a bus at the end of the road.
Then there are the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, whose situation has particularly caught the public imagination. I do not want to dehumanise them by using the acronym UASC. Rule 319X currently applies and its existence is implicit acceptance of the importance of family, though the need for,
“serious and compelling … considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”,
seems to go in the other direction and suggests exceptionality. However, it is not an alternative to the provision in Clause 1(3) of the Bill. Among the other requirements are that the child can and will be accommodated with a relative—usually in this situation an aunt, uncle or sibling—in accommodation “owned or occupied exclusively” by that relative, and will be maintained by that relative,
“without recourse to public funds”.
Often these criteria cannot be met by the relative. In addition, the child must hold a valid entry clearance or leave to remain on arrival—I have referred to the difficulties in getting documentation—and a substantial fee is payable.
In the case of child asylum seekers, we are told by the Government that if we were to allow them to sponsor their parents or other family, this would act as a “pull” factor and they would be sent here by family so that the family had a way in. I will leave aside whether it is consistent to argue this at the same time as arguing that what the Bill would do already applies. I will also leave aside the fact that there are enough “push” factors—but what evidence is there for this? I think that my noble friend Lady Sheehan will say a little more about this.
I can understand that, once a child has reached Europe, the UK may have more of a pull factor than some other countries—although this is not invariably so. However, that is quite different from what is called a “perverse incentive” to send a child out of his own country—and, frankly, I do not buy it. The more we learn of the situation in France, Greece and elsewhere—we recently debated in this House the situation post the Calais Jungle, including very disturbing findings by the Refugee Rights Data Project and the Human Trafficking Foundation: the clue is in that organisation’s name—the more manifest is the need for safe and legal routes to reduce opportunities for criminals to exploit and abuse. Without safe and legal routes, children are destined for abuse.
Giving the right to a child refugee to have his family join him would not be novel. The EU directive on the right to family reunification does so, although we are not a signatory, and Clause 1(3) is based on this. To use another phrase with which noble Lords will be familiar, what in the following situation is in the “best interests of the child”—a child whose father has been killed in Afghanistan and whose mother sends him away for his protection? He is a child in need of protection under the Geneva Convention and it is in his interests to be joined and cared for by his family.
Noble Lords may wonder why I have not mentioned Dublin III. We are concerned with the position post Brexit, but that is a regulation dealing with arrangements between states regarding the transfer of asylum applications. It is a related but parallel issue. I have included an exception to the rights in Clause 1 if that would be in the interests of national security, and applied this also to Clause 2, which concerns British citizens with family members who have a protection need. The problem came to prominence just before the Calais Jungle was broken up. A father was settled in the UK. His daughter was in the Jungle, but he could not meet the fees and income requirements of our family visa rules and so he, the holder of a British passport, went to live in the Jungle to look after his daughter.
Clause 3 allows for the Secretary of State to make regulations,
“to extend the definition of a family member, and … provide for requirements for evidencing family membership or dependency”.
I referred to evidencing, which is not as simple as Ministers ordered during the passage of what became the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. In debates on the Bill, Ministers said that keeping family reunion cases in scope would cost £5 million a year. I leave it to noble Lords to take their own view of that amount. Documents may not be available; they may have been left behind or may never have been provided in the country of origin. DNA testing would help; the Government used to fund it, but no longer. Indeed, the chief inspector has recommended its reinstatement. I mentioned travel to a UK embassy and back, which can be a dangerous journey in itself. Centres have been set up in France to help refugees—I had understood in conjunction with the UK, but we hear of difficulties in reaching them and of various practical problems. The last I heard was that the UK had sent over a single official to assist. I hope that that is wrong.
If everything I have mentioned is already our law, it is not working in practice. Hard cases make bad law, but bad law—or no law—makes hard cases. The EU directive on the right to family reunification states in a recital that it is,
“a necessary way of making family life possible. It helps to create sociocultural stability facilitating the integration of third country nationals in the … State, which also serves to promote economic and social cohesion”.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on achieving this debate with her important Private Member’s Bill.
There are, I think we are aware, 65 million refugees in the world. How we handle the refugee situation is one of the greatest challenges to all of us—although the majority of them are miles away, nowhere near the United Kingdom. It is as well to remember that even with the Syrians, there are about 3 million in Turkey and about 1 million each in Jordan and Lebanon. So when people say to me, “Why are we worried about unaccompanied child refugees coming to Britain?”, I say that it is such a small number compared to those in the region itself.
I will digress from the subject of the Bill for a moment. I was in St James’s church, Piccadilly, at the invitation of the vicar two days ago. There is a wonderful installation in that lovely old church, in which clothes discarded by refugees who arrived in Lesbos hang from the ceiling. It is a powerful image indeed, showing what it means to be a refugee. One wonders what happened to all the refugees whose clothes are hanging up there in that installation.
The important thing in this is public opinion. I firmly believe that we have to keep public opinion on our side if we are to deal humanely with refugees. I still believe, certainly as regards refugee children—and refugees as a whole—that public opinion, if informed of what is going on and of the experiences that refugees have been through, is still, by and large, on our side. I have been involved quite a bit in talking about refugees, and I always say, “I must bear in mind that public opinion has to be with us, then we can be much more humane and can do better things”. On this issue in the Bill, public opinion is certainly on our side. All we have to do is to explain to the public what the position is and how individuals are affected. They will not all come round—I have had a few abusive tweets and so on—but on the whole, public opinion is supportive.
We have to bear in mind that every refugee has gone through a period of uncertainty at the least; sometimes their experiences have been terrible. I was talking to a Syrian boy some months ago who told me that his father had been killed, virtually in front of him, by a bomb, either in Aleppo or Damascus. I asked him about the rest of his family and he said that he did not know. But suppose that the rest of his family have escaped from the carnage in Syria and that his mother, and possibly his siblings, are somewhere in Greece or Turkey. Will we say that the Bill should not apply and that the family should not come to join that young boy here? Of course we cannot say that—it would be inhumane. Yet, save for exceptional circumstances, that is exactly the position—and that is what the noble Baroness’s Bill seeks to remedy.
Of course, there are other uncertainties as well. If a child reaches the age of 18, there is no assurance that they can stay in this country, which is a key issue. However, the main issue for many refugees is separation from family. The child leaves, and then he—it is more often a boy than a girl, because usually only a boy takes the risk of undertaking the terrible journey and can make it in these difficult circumstances—will possibly end up in Dunkirk, Calais or Greece, and maybe will come here. What can he do then, if he cannot be joined by his family? I cannot think of anything more painful. As for his family, do they sit it out in Greece, Turkey or Jordan and just say, “We are never going to be able to join our son in Britain”, or do they make the dangerous journey themselves, subject to trafficking and other things? It is a terrible dilemma to put a family in by saying, “You can either stay in these circumstances separated from your child or you can undertake a dangerous journey”.
The Home Affairs Select Committee said this clearly:
“It seems to us perverse that children who have been granted refugee status in the UK are not then allowed to bring their close family to join them in the same way as an adult would be able to do. The right to live safely with family should apply to child refugees just as it does to adults”.
Surely that is the total argument as regards children. There are other aspects in the Bill, but this seems to be the main one. That is the case, and the Government need to be able to respond to the case of the Home Affairs Select Committee. We will hear arguments about pull factors. We hear such arguments every time anything is said about refugees. There are also push factors. There may be an element of a pull factor, but it is not much of one compared to the humanitarian need to do something to deal with these terrible family separations.
We are told that there might be exceptional circumstances. That is fine; if the exceptional circumstances apply often enough, maybe that would be all right. But it is still uncertain—and even if they applied, they would not give the protection that there would be if people came as of right to be united with their family member. Indeed, the Government themselves said, as the noble Baroness quoted, that exceptional circumstances in these cases must be very rare. Of course, the complexity of the situation is such that, without legal aid, it is very difficult indeed to make much progress.
That is the argument. The Dublin III provisions do not cover all cases—only a small number—and in any case they apply only when a child somewhere seeks to join their family, not when a family seeks to join a child. So there is a clear, humane and humanitarian case in favour of the Bill. I believe that if it were put to the British people, they would support it. That is why we should support the Bill.
My Lords, I support the Bill and commend my noble friend Lady Hamwee on her tenacity and stamina in trying to improve the lot of refugees and asylum seekers. The Bill is just one example of the work she does in this area. It is also a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has perhaps done more than anybody in this House in this area.
My noble friend talked about moral obligations and our humanitarianism. Call me cynical—after 30 years in the police service you tend to become a bit cynical—but, for me, often in politics the number of votes a measure is likely to win or lose determines whether a Government will support it. However, with some issues, our desire for political advantage should take second place to our moral obligations and humanitarianism. This is one of them.
It is difficult to imagine the trauma of being separated from your family, your children or your parents, for example, in any circumstances. Knowing that they are still in a dangerous part of the world where they could very easily be killed or seriously injured and that the already painful separation could become permanent must be even worse. Imagine having to take the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and across Europe, eventually seeking asylum in a foreign country far from home where you may be unable to communicate very easily and where you feel hostility from a Government who express the wish to make the UK a hostile place for illegal immigrants, and then to be given little or no hope of ever seeing your family again.
Some of us, apart perhaps from the noble Lords among us who are lawyers, would hesitate to engage in any formal legal process involving a court or tribunal without legal representation, even in this country. Imagine being stranded in a foreign country where you have no knowledge of that country’s legal processes, cannot speak the language and cannot afford to employ a legal representative. What chance would any of us have of navigating complex legal processes in an attempt to be reunited with our family?
Now imagine that all those scenarios are happening at the same time: separated from your family, traumatised by the dangers which you have fled from and which your family members still face, still traumatised by the perilous journey you have undertaken, arriving in a hostile foreign country and being faced with a legal process you have no understanding of and no help in engaging with. If that were not bad enough for an adult to cope with, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, as we have heard, have no recourse to bring their parents or other family members to join them unless there are exceptional circumstances. Of the 28 European Union countries, only Denmark and the United Kingdom do not allow applications for reunification from asylum-seeking-children—something that, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has just mentioned, the Home Affairs Select Committee described as “perverse”.
Talking of perversity, it is only while someone is a refugee that they are able to bring other family members to the UK without having to have a sufficiently high income to qualify to do that. If a refugee does everything this country asks of him or her and is granted British citizenship, they are then prohibited from bringing their spouse to the UK unless they reach the spousal visa income threshold. If they were to string out their asylum application, they would not have to earn a high salary to achieve that end.
This Bill addresses all those issues. It allows unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor their family members to join them; it allows former refugees the right to sponsor family member asylum seekers under the refugee reunion rules; and it reintroduces legal aid for refugee family reunion cases. What are the Government’s objections? The 2017 Conservative Party manifesto, on page 65, says that,
“solidarity is a Conservative principle, growing out of family, community and nation—all things that Conservatives believe in and work to conserve”.
If the Government truly believed in family and truly worked to conserve the family, they would support this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has said, we are not talking about large numbers here. I support the Bill and I ask the whole House and the Government to support it as well.
My Lords, I had the great privilege and good fortune that, when I decided to return to the UK to marry my husband, who was of New Zealand extraction of British parents, I did not have to prove that I had an income. I was allowed to come here because I had spent the largest part of my life as a student in this country, and it was accepted that I could come back and live here. Therefore, when I married my husband, he knew that I did not do it for a passport.
The assumption that the dependants and families of immigrants are in need of resources is perhaps worth considering in some detail. First and foremost, I contend that it is only the brightest, the best and the most enterprising who ever decide to move, because the logistics of getting oneself from A to B, particularly if it involves a family, require good tactics, good knowledge, good diplomacy and savoir faire in dealing with all kinds of officialdom across the board.
I also suggest that, once such refugees arrive here, they have much to give. Both my brother and I decided to stay in the countries where we had studied—he in the US and I in England—so after the Iranian revolution we were both in a position to ask our families to join us. I do not remember there being any problem at the time with our requiring our families to come and join us. As I said, one of my brothers went to the US. My father decided to go to France, where he was instrumental in setting up the Faculté Internationale de Droit Comparé in Strasbourg. It made very good money for the French Government because a lot of students wanted to live there. My brother heads a research institute in the US, and my youngest brother, who also went there, heads a hedge fund. The youngest, who stayed in France, also owns his own research unit. So there is a wealth of good information that immigrants bring, even if they arrive as dependants or otherwise.
In addition, the moral economy of kin dictates to all of us that we should protect our own. Therefore, when immigrants arrive, whether they be children, close relatives or distant relatives, we see it as our duty to care for them as our own. If you go to somewhere like Bradford, you see how rewarding that is.
Not only do I think that immigrants have contributed considerably to the food industry in Britain and to the palate of the British but I suggest that they bring a whole variety of different perspectives and outlooks. In this world we need to celebrate differences. They are enriching. Different ways of doing things help us to see better and they add wider dimensions to our lives. It is beneficial to us all to celebrate differences, and I think that we can rely on the moral economy of kin to be sure that those who arrive to join their families will not be a burden on the economy for long.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward this short Bill. There are three reasons why I stand to support her and the Bill. The first is that, when I was growing up, I had a sense of pride in our country because I was aware that people had come as refugees, particularly during and after the Second World War. They had been welcomed into our country and, as other noble Lords have said, they contributed to it greatly. That was all positive. There was a sense that this was a welcoming country—one that people from other parts of the world could look to as a place of safety that would nourish and care for them—and that we as a people were doing something good and right by providing that kind of national home.
We have in recent years, for understandable pressures, changed the attitude. We are pulling up the drawbridge and instead of being an open place that has a reputation for being welcoming we are seen as a place that is hard to get to and, when you do arrive, you are no longer welcome. I do not advocate the kind of open door policy that Chancellor Merkel embarked upon—warmly but ill advisedly—because it has had adverse effects in all kinds of ways. However, I fear that our country is being infected by turning away from the other and into itself and losing its reputation and something of its soul. That is the first reason why I support the Bill. It is a sign, a symbol, an indication that there is a spirit in this country which is open and welcoming for those who need a place to come for safety.
The second reason is the practical experience I have had over a number of years of the splitting up of marriages because one partner was able to live here and the other could not. People have said, “Well, if they really want to live together the partner who has the right to live here should go elsewhere”. That is easily said. A recent example is that of a bright, capable young woman who has been given a contract by Penguin for a book that she has written. She is a British citizen, her parents are British citizens and she lives in this part of the world. Some years ago she married a young man but he cannot come here for a number of reasons to do with our regulations and rules. So she has gone to live with him, but every time she has gone she has fallen seriously ill and ended up in hospital. They have tried again and again but have been unable to get access for him. So she went back out again. I received an email from her a few days ago to say that she was back in hospital. She had not been in touch with me because she nearly died last week with typhoid and malaria. The truth of the human stories, of the splitting up of marriages and relationships, is serious and we need to regard it with due care.
The third reason, the one which moves me most, is the situation of the children. As the director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict I run a group to provide supervision, advice and guidance for younger people—although increasingly everyone seems younger to me—who are working for NGOs, the Foreign Office and organisations where they are experiencing situations of conflict. They are wondering how to manage and cope emotionally themselves and how to understand the dynamics of what is happening.
A member of that group for a time was a young Syrian lawyer who had spent much of her life working in the Middle East for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. When the situation arose in Lesbos and Greece the UNHCR called upon her, saying, “We need you. Can you come? We need everyone who can”. She went out to Lesbos and every couple of days I would get photographs and emails of what was happening there. After that the situation got worse. As the news got less for us, the news got worse for them. She was asked to go to Athens to work with Greek children. Why? Because there were so many refugee children in Greece that the services could not cope with not only the incomers but with Greek children. Everything was beginning to break down in another EU country. We have a responsibility to those children as EU citizens as well as to those who come in.
Then she began to tell me about the hundreds, indeed thousands, of children who are on the road and being used and abused—inevitably so. It is almost impossible for them to find a way of surviving without ending up in the hands of either organised or disorganised crime. So when I hear people saying that we do not want to go down this road because it will only encourage people to come, I understand their concern. However, the fact is that they are already coming—they already have come—and if we do not provide the opportunity for them to live in a family circumstance, we ensure that they go into a life of crime. We are making it impossible for them to grow up in normal families of their own. As a psychiatrist I am not naive about families—they are not always perfect—but they are a lot better than the reality of the experience of these young people who are already in our country and our continent.
We should not allow ourselves to be pushed away from attending to that by the notion that in passing legislation we are opening the doors—we are not. We are setting down rules to ensure that those children who are already here are not condemned to a life of crime because it is the only way that they can survive. That is the responsibility that this Bill is trying to address, and that is why I give it my full support.
My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am delighted that this debate is about families, which is an apt topic as Christmas approaches. I am not speaking of the nostalgic image of a nuclear family around a groaning table; the Christian table is plainer but more welcoming and inclusive, a table around which all are welcome.
Round the table gathers a family. Our country has for so long and so rightly emphasised the family as a—perhaps the—key building block of society. At the present time we seek urgently for social integration, a society where shared values and shared culture bind us all into an ethos of mutuality which naturally, organically, squeezes out extremisms, violence, injustices and hate.
We have found that we cannot really legislate for this, and only to a limited extent can we educate for it. We just have to build it. We have to undermine the divisive idolatry of individualism by growing networks at every level of social reality. About the most effective growing medium for this is the age-old one of kinship—that is, the family.
I have a particular interest in health policy, on which I speak for the Church of England. Time and again I see how utterly vital family support is for health, both mental and physical; how loneliness, for instance, has certain negative impacts which have been the focus of some very welcome attention during the past year.
Into this scene now comes the reality of refugees, as we have been hearing, just as the Holy Family were refugees at the first Christmas. Not the least tragic of the consequences of war, persecution and civil unrest around the world is the tearing apart of families—of children from their parents, of family groups for whom their interdependence is an essential resource as they strive for resilience in the face of dreadful events and such severe dangers.
So people arrive in this country or in Europe, or perhaps come to the attention of the UNHCR in a conflict region. A child may be adrift in a place where he or she is easy prey for traffickers. Parents may be worried sick about their child, whether under 18 or not. The exact configuration of mutual support will vary from family to family; it is not just a matter of parents and their children.
It is very apparent, and not just in the season of good will, that British people are desperately concerned for those who are driven from their homes and divided from their families, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Of course, questions about pull factors and the possibility of abuse of the system are valid, and we all understand them. But to let them drive the direction of policy is to let the exception dictate the rule and run the risk of driving desperate and vulnerable refugees into the unscrupulous hands of criminals.
Others have a greater grasp of the detail of all this than I do, but the barriers we are currently putting up to the reunion of refugee families seem to me to be disproportionate to the benefits that could come for individuals, for families and for our communities as we seek to strengthen family life—a theme, incidentally, which featured strongly in all three of the debates in your Lordships’ House yesterday on vulnerable children, poverty and the right to justice. So if stringent checks are needed, let us not use that as a means of introducing friction into the system and dissuading people from trying to do the right thing for their family. Rather, let us provide the information, the support and, let us hope, the legal aid which will help them to navigate the system.
Because every family and every situation is different, let us not draw the rules so tightly that truly deserving families are disqualified from consideration without any attention to natural justice. For example, it is often not fair that a relative who is under 18 at the time of application is disqualified because he or she reaches their 18th birthday during a long drawn-out application process. Where we rightly build into our rules discretion for their interpretation, with some flexibility to allow for special circumstances, perhaps we can train and support officials to use that discretion to make exceptions not grudgingly but with an eye first of all to fairness.
Although I began with a reference to the Christmas season, this is not a matter of ephemeral good will. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out, it is a matter of our national identity as a hospitable nation which strongly believes in the values of family. This Bill is the natural corollary of those values and I support it most warmly.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for introducing this Bill, and it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I agree with everything he said and, indeed, with all that has already been said in support of the Bill. I have added my name to speak not through any specialist knowledge but because it is such a good cause. It is both morally right and humane to allow more refugee families to be reunited. If one needed economic arguments it could certainly be the case, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, that refugee families who have the comfort and strength of being together are much better able to look for opportunities to be part of and contribute to the country which has given them refuge. But it is humanity rather than economy which drives this Bill.
My decision to add a brief word was reinforced by having the privilege of attending the parliamentary briefing to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee has already referred. Two Syrian refugees, Maya Ghazal and Khalil Al Dabbas, shared their experiences of traumatic journeys to the United Kingdom, their determination to seek refuge and their deep desire to live as a family. It was humbling to hear two young people who had had to face terrible challenges but who had come through their ordeals speak with clarity and conviction about measures which would help them and others like them.
As my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, we used to be an open and welcoming country to those in need of sanctuary, and we have benefited immensely from the skills and dedication of people who came to us in that way. But some of our current regulations make us less welcoming, and this Bill seeks to cut through the cost and complexity of reuniting families and to help us once again to show that we care about those fleeing persecution. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already quoted from the Home Affairs Select Committee but I will just repeat what it said:
“The right to live safely with family should apply to child refugees just as it does to adults”.
The changes proposed in this Bill would affect only a small number of child refugees but would have an immense effect on their lives and prospects.
Others have set out further reasons why this Bill is timely and necessary. As a wealthy country, we have a duty of care to those who have little or nothing, and bringing families together is a measure we should be taking to give them hope and a brighter future. I do hope that the Government will look favourably on the measures here, appreciate the Bill’s intentions and the beneficial effect it could have on young people in great need, and will be able to add their support. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said so far. I am pleased to support my noble friend’s Bill, on the basis of certain principles, the first of which is continuity and comparability with our existing EU responsibilities, or at least the essence of them; the second, reasons of humanity; and the third, rationality.
I turn first to continuity with the principles of EU law in comparable situations requiring the examination of family reunion. The free movement directive, 2004/38, which is on all our lips these days, refers to the spouse, a registered partner,
“direct descendants who are under the age of 21”,
“the dependent direct relatives in the ascending line”.
That is reflected in the citizens’ rights provision of the divorce agreement reached last Friday, which I hope will be endorsed by the European Council today. My noble friend referred to the Dublin regulation, known in the jargon as Dublin III and shortly to become Dublin IV. That is a different situation, of course, because it is about grouping a family for the examination of asylum application, so it is not about residence or settlement, but it is a parallel situation. That regulation puts great stress on the best interests of the child; it should be a primary consideration. It stresses that children should not be separated from family members, including brothers or sisters. Member states even have an obligation to trace family members, including siblings and other relatives, residing in the European Union in order to bring the asylum applications together.
On Tuesday this week in the other place, the Conservative Member Tim Loughton sought, with cross-party support from Tim Farron and Yvette Cooper in particular, to persuade the Government to continue, if we Brexit, the essence of the Dublin regulation which, as he said,
“allows unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to be reunited with their adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as their parents”.
He highlighted how for children who have lost their parents they are,
“the last vestiges of family connection. Quite often, those connections were with siblings, or uncles and aunts. For those young people, it was the only available bit of stability and continuity with their previous existence in places such as Syria”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/17; col. 250.]
The family reunification directive, which of course the UK Government did not opt into in 2003, also has a much wider definition of family reunification than that in the Immigration Rules. It is worth noting that although Ireland did not opt into the directive, it has enshrined in its own domestic law the right of unaccompanied child refugees to act as sponsors for the purposes of refugee family reunion.
The second principle is humanity. One of the guiding principles of the Dublin regulation is that when the applicant is an unaccompanied minor, the presence of a family member or relative on the territory of a member state who can take care of him or her should be a binding responsibility criterion. That is how seriously the issue of family support is taken. In assessing the best interests of the child, member states should take due account inter alia of family reunification possibilities, the minor’s well-being and social development along with safety and security, particularly where there is a risk of the minor being a victim of human trafficking. It also mentions that the views of the minor should be taken into account. A recital to the 2004 free movement directive cites the criteria of “freedom and dignity” as an inspiration to the family unity provisions. This is not just an administrative issue; the recital talks about maintaining,
“the unity of the family in a broader sense”.
My noble friend, in referring to our moral obligations and the recognition of the importance of family in our culture, placed that idea centre stage. It has become a cliché that politicians of a certain persuasion, often of the governing party, routinely invoke family values; my noble friend Lord Paddick cited the Conservative Party manifesto. It is time to apply those values.
My third principle is rationality. It makes sense on grounds of public policy. Being reunited with close family is a way to ensure the welfare and safety of child refugees, as well as improve their chances of integration and recovery. Integration promotes economic and social cohesion, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. Splitting up families and relationships is costly for our society and economy, if we look at it from that level; it is also terribly costly for the people concerned, as highlighted by my noble friend Lord Alderdice. Last week, there was a Guardian article about a teenager from Afghanistan whose asylum application was initially refused because it was not believed that he was under 18 or from Afghanistan. He won his appeal, but he still has no contact with his mother or two brothers. He is trying to get to college. He could thrive much better in our society—and, given the resourcefulness of refugees, contribute to it, as noble Lords have mentioned, including the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
In 2016, the Home Office published updated guidance. However, as mentioned by my noble friend, such cases of discretion will be “rare”. Without legal aid, making an application outside the rules is very difficult due to the complex rules. Separation of families can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, their rehabilitation from experiences of trauma and their ability to integrate in and adapt to our country. As has already been mentioned, the report from the Home Affairs Committee in the other place stressed the bureaucratic difficulty of family reunion and the current sponsorship and visa system. The Government should be doing all they can to help people in these circumstances rather than hindering their chance to reach safety. The report also recommended that the Government amend Immigration Rules to allow refugee children to act as sponsors for their close family.
On the grounds of all those principles, especially the last one, leaving families divided makes no sense and is costly in social and economic terms for us. Such people will be in the best position to start a life in and contribute to the UK, as so many have already done magnificently, if they have the support of their family.
My Lords, in debating the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Refugee Council, which for approximately 25 years has tried to help some 1,000 unaccompanied children each year to navigate our complex processes. I pay tribute to the work, for many years, of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at the Refugee Council. It still goes from strength to strength, as indeed does he.
I want to speak about the problem of unaccompanied children and the alleged pull factor. Until I joined the Refugee Council, I was not aware of the rather cruel anomaly whereby, unlike an adult refugee—who has the right to bring in close family members—a refugee child on his or her own has no such right to be reunited. That seems both illogical and inhumane. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, it is certainly out of line with European practice. Such countries, which, unlike us, did not opt out and are applying the 2003 directive on family reunion, allow unaccompanied child refugees to subsequently bring in their families. As the noble Baroness said, we and the Irish opted out—or rather, did not opt in—so we are in a different position. The Irish are in a different position from us because they had the humanity to apply the system in their domestic law; it is written into Irish law. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that we should write it into our domestic law, following the example of the Irish and the rest of the European Union. It is a little shaming that we are the odd one out.
The number of people who would benefit if we corrected the anomaly is very small, but the benefit to each individual would be very large. Let me cite one example. The Refugee Council is currently trying to help a 19 year-old from Eritrea called Solomon, who came here as an unaccompanied child and was granted refugee status. He has a job, goes to college and wants to bring in his 16 year-old sister, Liwan, who is currently in a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia. He has just been told that he cannot do so. He has been in a camp in the past and knows how grim the conditions are; he knows that his sister is in mortal danger. She is talking of trying her luck on the perilous illegal passage across the Sahara and Mediterranean. He fears that she will die and he blames himself for failing to persuade us to save her—but it is we who are failing these young people and failing to show the common humanity to live up to the standards of the society we like to think we are.
Following the Second Reading debate on what became the Immigration Act 2016, the noble Lord, Lord Bates—for whom I have a very high regard—wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the rest of us taking part in that debate. He asserted that permitting refugee children here to sponsor requests from their parents and siblings to join them,
“could result in children being encouraged, or even forced, to leave existing family units in their country and risk hazardous journeys to the UK in order to act as sponsors”.
That is the pull factor theory. With respect, it is totally lacking in evidential credibility or plausibility and does not reflect well on the Government. Mr Justice McCloskey, overturning in the Upper Chamber the refusal of an application by a 19 year-old—granted refugee status at 16—to bring his mother to join him, ruled that,
“there is no evidence underlying it”—
“it” being the pull factor, which is inherently implausible. It is implausible to suggest that families living a hand-to-mouth existence in the squalor of a refugee camp in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Jordan or Libya sit down at the dinner table and make a cold calculation, coming up with a cunning, multi-year plan to send one of their children through bandits and traffickers, across deserts and ocean, in the hope of reaching our land, navigating our system and securing a right—if the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, passes—to bring in the rest of the family. The world is not like that. That is a strange, sick, Swiftian joke, worthy of A Modest Proposal. Parents do not send the children off. The children—and adults—are driven not by a pull factor, but by a push factor. They are fleeing from intolerable conditions. They are fleeing for their lives.
If the Minister has been briefed to warn us against the perils of a pull factor relating to unaccompanied children, I really hope she will not. She should go back to the Home Office and ask her officials how often they have been to the camps and how many of these cruel parents they have spotted there, plotting to force a child to come here. She might ask her officials why their colleagues in all other EU countries apparently have not spotted these cruel, callous, Swiftian parents. Why does the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child now urge the UK to:
“Review its asylum policy in order to facilitate family reunion for unaccompanied and separated refugee children”?
Why is the whole regiment out of step—except us? Why do we know better than everybody else? Why does the pull factor apply only to this emerald isle?
The best way to convince your Lordships would be for us all to see Ai Weiwei’s striking new film “Human Flow”. Soberly, undramatically but rather movingly he captures the scale, waste, misery and human cost of the current refugee crisis and the factors that drive these people—the despair of their broken societies. Against this huge canvas of human tragedy, this Bill is a pitifully small thing, but passing it would be the right and decent thing to do. I support it.
My Lords, I thought it rather sad that nobody from this side of the House was taking part. I will briefly give my support to the general principles of the Bill. I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, mentioned Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. If your Lordships have not read it and do not read anything else during the Christmas Recess, look it up. It will not take you long. It is the most wonderful, erudite, witty, scintillating indictment of nonsense that you will ever read.
I want to contribute to this debate for three reasons. I remember that in 1945, we had in our own small home a couple of Polish children roughly of my age—six or thereabouts—who came from a camp in Lincolnshire not very far from where they lived in Grimsby to spend the day on two or three separate occasions. My father was on the point of making an application to see whether we could adopt at least one of them when they were mercifully reunited with their family. I can still remember the joy.
When I came into the other place in 1970, I had not been there long when I was very proud to support Edward Heath’s welcoming of the Ugandan Asians. Like the Jews before the last war and those such as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who came with the Kindertransport, that influx enriched our society. We even have at least one of them—my noble friend Lord Popat—among our number in your Lordships’ House. I remember, as chairman of the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry, helping to welcome in Vienna those who got their visas to get out of the Soviet Union and the repressive conditions there, and to come to the West.
We are moving towards Brexit. I acknowledge it as much as I regret it, but the one thing we must not be moved towards is an isolationist position in the continent of Europe. We must remain a leading nation. We are a leading nation with a proud history of welcoming those fleeing persecution. Of course we must be careful in how we vet people in this age of terrorism and so on. But earlier this year when I was on the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee—before I was sacked for voting as I did on the Article 50 Bill—a group of children came before us and gave testimony in a private session. It was deeply moving.
This country, with its proud record going back centuries—welcoming the Huguenots in the 17th century and so on—has a role that it must not abandon. The family unit is the building block of any society. If we can help by having some family units from those countries riven by famine, civil war and strife, we will be living up to our proud history. If this Bill helps us to do so, it deserves our full and unreserved support.
My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lady Hamwee for bringing this Bill to your Lordships’ House. Improving the lot of asylum seekers and refugees in UK is a cause for which she has long fought. I commend her for her tenacity.
We have heard powerful arguments on all sides of the House—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his speech, which allowed me to say “all sides of the House”—of how devastating it can be for families to be separated from close family members and the desperate measures some are forced to take to escape the dreadful situation they find themselves in. As we heard from my noble friends Lady Ludford and Lord Paddick, the Government place great store on family values so I hope they will give serious consideration to the very measured asks in the Bill.
I wanted to speak in this debate for two reasons. First, one of the hardest things I have to listen to was a mother describing having to make the choice between staying in a dangerous situation with her very young children or fleeing to safety with them. The price of safety was to leave behind a young daughter, because our rules say that as an over-18 she is adult and old enough to fend for herself. I have three children all in their early 20s. I utterly disagree that they have the ability to fend for themselves, even in London. The thought of a young girl on her own without the protection even of her close family in a conflict zone is a chilling one, but that is the choice parents are being asked to make.
The second reason is the example of a young Eritrean I met in the Calais camp, in the Jungle. He was on his own, having left home at the age of 15 to flee the oppressive regime there. He wanted to join his uncle in the UK, but this is against the rules. He, like many of the others in northern France, was reduced to playing refugee roulette, trying his luck every night through dangerous and illegal means instead. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, we are talking about only a very small number of children who are unaccompanied and alone in northern France and other parts of Europe. It would not take very much on our part to fulfil our own legal obligations—the Government’s own legal obligations—to bring 480 Dubs children to the UK.
These are only two stories and we have heard a few others, all moving stories of human suffering that is, quite frankly, avoidable. At very little cost to ourselves, as my noble friend Lady Ludford said, we could remedy this situation. I do not know exactly what the Minister will say in her response but in the past, all too often the Government have talked about pull factors. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has addressed that argument and showed that the evidence does not give any credence to the Government’s assertion that the easing of family reunification rules will create pull factors. Too often the Government have said in debates on these issues that those pull factors will encourage more smugglers to operate.
Frankly, the argument about pull factors is a fig leaf and there is not a single shred of evidence to support it. I have evidence for my position and I should like to hear the evidence from the Government for theirs. There is ample correlation between push factors, such as conflict, repressive, hateful regimes and famine, and it is these that force people to do the unthinkable and leave their homes, livelihoods and communities and flee with only what they can carry. Alexander Betts, head of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford wrote in a New Scientist article in September 2015:
“No existing sound research substantiates the political claim that giving people asylum in Europe stimulates more flow”.
In an email to me, Professor Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School of Global Challenges, says, “There is no credible evidence for the Government’s claim on pull factors. The simplest argument against this is that the pull factors have not changed, yet refugee numbers have increased dramatically. The pull factors that are cited for the UK, such as higher wages or attraction to the social security benefits are relatively unchanged over many years, yet refugee numbers have changed dramatically and can be shown to be directly related to the push factors, notably the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere”.
The Council of Europe’s Report of the Fact-finding Mission on the Situation of Migrants and Refugees in Calais and Grande-Synthe, France by Ambassador Tomáš Boček says:
“I was told by the authorities that there was a reluctance to improve conditions because of concerns that this would act as a pull factor, leading more and more migrants to make their way to Calais. However, it seems clear to me that the poor conditions have not acted as a deterrent so far. The current conditions raise potential issues under Articles 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
The EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, published a report last July on unaccompanied migrant children which says:
“We received no evidence of families sending children as ‘anchors’ following the implementation of the Family Reunification Directive by other Member States; we were also told that in some cases unaccompanied children in the UK declined to take advantage of tracing and reunification procedures, even when these were offered. Kent County Council wrote that ‘the Red Cross is used to trace family who are still living abroad although our experience is that there is limited take up of this service from young people’. This is not surprising … many unaccompanied migrant children fear that attempts to trace family members living in their countries of origin could put those family members in danger”.
There you have it: pull factors, whether through improving humanitarian conditions in refugee camps or easing family reunion rules, will not cause people to pack up their lives in a backpack and risk an extremely hazardous journey to come to the UK. To do that they have to be pushed, and pushed hard.
I shall move on quickly to smugglers. Do the rules that currently exist keep refugees out of the clutches of ruthless people smugglers? The Government are correct in saying that smugglers are a real threat to refugees. In fact, even authorities in Europe, with all their many resources, cannot deal with the smugglers that currently operate in Europe, and vulnerable refugees fear them even more. The fact of the matter is that the fewer safe and legal routes there are to process asylum seekers, the more power the smugglers have.
The Human Trafficking Foundation’s independent inquiry in July this year, co-chaired by Fiona Mactaggart MP and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, found no evidence whatever that a safe and legal route to the UK constitutes a pull factor for traffickers targeting vulnerable unaccompanied children. In fact, it found the opposite—that the closing off of such routes feeds the trafficking and smuggling networks. The prices to get to the UK illegally go up, forcing children into situations where they are exposed to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation or a combination of all three. A simple truth coming out of the inquiry is that instead of protecting children who have fled to Europe for safety, the Government are failing them, leaving the way open for smugglers and traffickers to exploit them.
As a number of noble Lords have said, it really comes down to a question of what kind of Britain we want to live in; an open and welcoming country for those seeking sanctuary or a closed one. It is time to stop flouting our duties to some of the most unfortunate people on the planet, step up to the mark as decent human beings and pull our weight on the international stage.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on her Bill, the purpose of which is to provide for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom to be granted to the family members of refugees and to refugees who are family members of British citizens.
In her opening speech, the noble Baroness explained the provisions of the Bill, including the extension of the list of eligible family members who can be sponsored in an application for refugee status or humanitarian protection. The Bill also provides for the reinstatement of the provision of legal aid in respect of refugee family reunion cases, which can be complex and lengthy. The current position under our Immigration Rules is that individuals making an asylum application may include in that application only a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner or children under the age of 18, with those dependants being granted leave to enter or remain in the UK for the same duration as the sponsor if the principal application is granted. Child asylum seekers in this country are not able to sponsor a parent or carer to join them.
As has been said, an objective of the Bill is to reduce the incidence of the separation of family members in the light of the significant adverse impacts this can have, and so address the issue of the vulnerability of unaccompanied children and the exploitation many experience. Eighteen months ago the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee issued a report which, among other things, called on the Government to amend the Immigration Rules to allow refugee children to act as sponsors for their close family. The committee argued, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, that it was perverse that children granted refugee status in the UK were not then allowed to bring their close family to join them in the same way as an adult would be able to do, and that the right to live safely with family should apply to child refugees as it does to adults. This was not a view shared by the Government, who argued that the current family reunion policy met our international obligations and said that there was provision to grant a visa outside the rules, which could be used in respect of extended family members, including parents of children recognised as refugees here, in exceptional circumstances.
However, we are one of only two EU countries that have neither opted in to the EU directive on family reunion, which sets out that unaccompanied child refugees are entitled to be reunited with their family members, nor provided for this in their own domestic law. When she responds, can the Minister provide some information on the number of visas that have been granted outside the rules in exceptional circumstances since July 2016, when the updated guidance was published, and the number of those that were in respect of parents of children recognised as refugees here? Can she also provide information on the terms on which leave to remain has been granted outside the rules in exceptional circumstances, and the extent to which those terms differ from those that would apply in respect of individuals joining relatives in the UK within and through the applicable rules?
I hope the Government will feel able to give a supportive response to the Bill, even though that would be contrary to their approach to date. If they do not intend to be helpful—I am conscious of the way in which they failed to deliver on the spirit of the Dubs amendment—the least they can do is spell out their reasons in some detail, and the hard evidence to support those reasons, bearing in mind the devastating impact, both short-term and long-term, about which we have heard today, that family separation can have on those affected, not least on children and young people.
What impact on the net migration figure do the Government think the terms of the Bill would have? What is their hard evidence to support their conclusion? I ask that in the context that the net migration figure has fallen not inconsiderably recently following the decision to withdraw from the European Union and the hostile climate that that provoked, and in the context that the Government do not apply existing EU rules on movement of people as firmly as they could within those rules and as some other EU countries do. Indeed, apparently the Government do not even know the impact on the net migration figures of not applying those EU rules as firmly as they could. I also ask the question in the context that we have found out only recently that—to put it politely—the Government have been working under a misapprehension about the number of students who stay on in this country beyond the time for which they are permitted to do so. I also ask that question in the context that the Government have no idea of the number of people in this country illegally and focus only on making it harder for this unknown number of people to live in this country illegally.
My final question is about the Government’s estimate of the impact on the net migration figure of the Bill. The Government have had control over the size of the net migration figure for people from outside the EU since 2010 and have had no issue since then with that figure consistently being way above their claimed target of it being in the tens of thousands. This contradiction is no doubt the case because, whatever their publicly declared net migration target, the Government know only too well the benefits that immigrants have brought and continue to bring to this country.
I hope that in the light of all these factors the Government will not try to argue or imply that we do not have the capacity to take into our country the additional people, under humanitarian family reunion principles, who might come here under the provisions of the Bill, unless they are going to provide hard evidence that the figure would be way above what anyone might have anticipated. That would be totally contrary to the Government’s overall approach to net migration, which in reality has been somewhat different, as far as the overall figures are concerned, from the public impression they seek to give, for electoral purposes, that their policy is to bring that figure into the tens of thousands as a matter of priority.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for raising this very important issue, which we oft discuss in your Lordships’ House, and noble Lords for the many thoughtful and passionate contributions to the debate. I think it would be useful if I state up front, particularly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, and my noble friend Lord Cormack, that I totally agree that immigration—and I say this as an immigrant—has enriched the UK, particularly for refugees who have made the UK their home.
Since 2010, we have granted more than 100,000 refugees permanent residence in the UK. In the year ending September 2017, almost 9,000 children found shelter, security and safety in the UK—49,000 since 2010—and we are committed to resettling up to 3,000 vulnerable children, together with their families, from the Middle East and north Africa region, and 20,000 vulnerable refugees by 2020, around half of whom will be children. Those are the facts to date. In comparing ourselves with the EU, I think we can stand proud because in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees—adults and children—than any other EU member state, and more than a third of all resettlement to the EU was to the UK. We are a welcoming country and we remain a welcoming country.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked how many visas have been issued outside of the Immigration Rules in family reunion cases since we published the new guidance. I can give him the figures for 2015 and 2016. In 2015 we issued 21 visas outside the Immigration Rules. In 2016 we issued 49. Up to September 2017 we have issued 49. Whether there are exceptional circumstances depends very much on the facts of each case but may include, for example, an adult dependent son or daughter living in a conflict zone or a dangerous situation with no other relatives to support them. Since we published the guidance in July 2016, entry clearance officers have referred an increased number of applicants for a grant of leave outside of the rules. These have included children aged over 18 from various countries, such as Syria, Iraq and Sudan, who are not living an independent life and who applied as part of a family unit.
My noble friend Lord Cormack made the important point that we must not turn inwards. Britain has always been an outward-looking country and we will remain so on leaving the European Union. We will continue to uphold our international obligations and welcome refugees to our shores, as we have done throughout history, as my noble friend pointed out.
I have listened to concerns for those separated from family members by conflict or oppression. No one could fail to be moved by the thought of close family living in conflict zones or dangerous situations. That is why this Government strongly support the principle of family unity and we already have a comprehensive framework for family members of refugees to be reunited here. This is set out in the Immigration Rules and our family reunion policy, rather than primary legislation. This policy has seen more than 24,000 partners and children reunited with their refugee family members in the past five years. There are rules already in place for extended family of refugees in the UK to sponsor children where there are serious and compelling circumstances, and for British citizens to bring family here so that there is no need for children, in particular, to make illegal and dangerous journeys to get to the UK, as many noble Lords have acknowledged.
The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kerr, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hamwee, talked about the pull factor and the Government not having evidence of that. I absolutely accept that there are push factors but it is important that we do not create further incentives for asylum seekers to choose to come here illegally rather than claim asylum in the first country that they reach. It is important to note that the push factor of civil war or persecution is the deciding factor in whether or not an individual flees their country, but we must do all that we can to support those in need of protection to claim asylum in the first safe country to avoid these dangerous secondary movements.
We know that changes in policy impact on asylum seekers’ choices with regard to those secondary movements. In 2015, Germany, for example, saw its asylum intake increase by 155%. More than 20% of people who sought asylum in Germany in 2015 were from countries in the Balkans, which thankfully have not seen conflict for more than 20 years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about our no longer funding DNA tests for family children. There is no requirement to provide DNA evidence or any other type of evidence, because we recognise that documentary evidence may not always be available, particularly in countries where there is no functioning administrative authority. We have improved our guidance to highlight the challenges that applicants may face in this regard.
Noble Lords highlighted the fact that the family reunion rules provide only for immediate family members, but our policy caters for extended family living in precarious and dangerous circumstances. There is provision to grant visas outside the rules—I have given those figures to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—in exceptional cases and published guidance for caseworkers makes that clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about former refugees being unable to sponsor family members under family reunion. Most refugees will complete six years’ leave to remain before they can apply for British citizenship and they can sponsor their family members at any point during those six years. But there is also provision in the family rules for British citizens with exceptional circumstances. I can write to him further about this if he wishes.
I must be clear that the rules will remain in place after our exit from the European Union. Some have sought to argue that so-called family reunification under Dublin may no longer be available post Brexit. However, Dublin does not confer immigration status simply because an individual has a family member in the UK; it is a mechanism for deciding the member state responsible for considering an asylum claim. Those transferred under Dublin may need to leave if they are found not to need protection. Our family reunion rules will continue to enable immediate family members to reunite safely with their loved ones in the UK, regardless of which country those family members are in. In addition, those recognised by UNHCR as refugees may be able to join close family members here in the UK through our mandate resettlement scheme. Individuals are referred to UK Visas and Immigration by UNHCR where resettlement to the UK is deemed appropriate. We need to ensure that existing schemes are used to full effect to benefit family members living in regions of conflict. For this, we must rely on UNHCR referring more people for resettlement under these schemes.
I can assure your Lordships that we are listening to concerns about family reunion and discussing with NGOs how we can make improvements as part of our wider asylum and resettlement strategy. Our starting point, however, is that family reunion is a matter for Immigration Rules and policy rather than primary legislation. I believe that those rules already cater for certain types of cases that noble Lords are concerned about, although I agree entirely that we need to ensure that the policy is delivered in practice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to Immigration Rule 319X regarding unaccompanied children. I assure her that we are looking at that rule and whether improvements can be made. Home Office officials are discussing this with the NGOs, including organisations such as UNICEF.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that our policy is perverse and out of step with the rest of Europe vis-à-vis children. Our family reunion policy meets our international obligations and allows thousands of refugees to be reunited with their immediate families. We regularly review family reunion policies in other member states and note that some are seeking to impose more stringent requirements. I have already laid out some of the figures, but it is important that our system does not encourage asylum seekers who have reached a safe country to choose to move elsewhere. We must avoid illegal migration from safe countries, which undermines our efforts to help those most in need.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Dubs, talked about reinstating legal aid in family reunion cases. We are committed to providing clear guidance and application forms to support customers through the family reunion process. Again, we are working closely with key partners such as the Red Cross and UNICEF to further improve the process for considering family reunion applications, so that people understand what is expected of them and to ensure that policy works in practice. Legal aid is paid for by taxpayers and, as noble Lords will understand, resources are not limitless. It is important that it is provided for those most in need, including those who claim asylum.
Our focus remains on those who need protection and those fleeing conflict. I am of course aware of the importance to those recognised as refugees in the UK of having their family join them here to support their integration. That is why our policy allows immediate family to come here, whether they need protection in their own right or not. More importantly, this Government’s significant resettlement commitments are designed to keep families together. It is worth reflecting on the contribution that the Government have made to support those fleeing conflict and oppression. I laid out some of the figures earlier, but we have expanded our resettlement commitments to resettle more than 23,000 people by 2020. In addition, we have committed £2.46 billion of humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian conflict.
In conclusion, we already have a comprehensive framework to provide safe and legal routes for family to reunite here. Instead of primary legislation, we must ensure that our existing family reunion policy is delivered in practice. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made that point right at the outset. This includes granting visas outside the rules in exceptional circumstances and using our resettlement schemes to full effect, so that we help those who need it most. I thank the noble Baroness once again and ask her to continue to work with the Government to see whether there are any other ways in which we can build on the existing family reunion policy and process, without the need for primary legislation.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has supported the Bill and I thank the Minister not only for her response but for that last offer. I am happy to work with anyone, however much I disagree with certain aspects of what is being done.
The Government’s exposition of a positive response to refugees does not really accord with what speakers have heard and know and have told the House. No doubt that is because so many people are affected. Much reference has been made to the pull factors and in response I will adopt the term of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: implausible. I am not clear why primary legislation is a bad thing in this situation, and with regard to the rules, I simply repeat—because I do not want to make my speech all over again—that exceptional circumstances have become normal circumstances, so you cannot apply the exceptionality factor.
The fact remains that we have a situation that is of huge concern to all noble Lords regarding separated families, and the comprehensive framework, which was referred to by the Minister, is not doing the job we all want to see. The threads which have run throughout this debate include how we wish our country in 2017 to be and to be perceived, including as one that expresses its humanity and the value of family, as well as practical reasons, including those which are not actually altruistic about the enrichment of our society. Reference was made at the start of the debate to informed public opinion. Politicians need to take the lead in informing public opinion and in debating with the public. I hope that noble Lords will agree to give this Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
My Lords, I move this amendment for two reasons. First, I believe that legislation and the privilege that we have in introducing Private Member’s Bills should be taken very seriously. By this I mean that legislation is something that requires precision for implementing the intention. From that, it follows that the intention should be reasonably clear and realistic. In this, legislation is crucially different from debate on resolutions, propositions or aspirations. One can, for example, debate the need for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, but to put forward legislation for that is unlikely to be helpful. It is perfectly reasonable to debate all sorts of views on immigration but proposals to uncap it in an unmeasurable way are really not suited to a declaration of policy, let alone legislation.
I remember as a journalist when I had to attend all the party conferences, in 1976 at the Liberal Party conference—the first conference that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, had when he was leader of the Liberal Party—the Young Liberals, who are always inclined to anarchism, had a resolution that there should be completely free immigration into the UK. The noble Lord rebuked them, saying that if they wanted the party to have those sorts of policies they should find another leader. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was a Young Liberal at that time.
The second reason why I am moving the amendment is to probe into the actual figures. Clause 1 specifies nine categories of family members of an individual who have been granted refugee status whose application to enter or remain in the UK the Secretary of State would be obliged to grant unless the refusal was in the interests of national security. Immigration statistics are always complicated, but at its simplest I would point out that the number of people who have been granted asylum over the 10 years up to 2017—and this is the lowest figure—is 56,921. Each, I suggest, would be likely on average to apply for entry for more than one person. In the ninth category of people in Clause 1(2) are included,
“any dependent relative not otherwise listed in this subsection”,
so it is really pretty open wording. No limit is really envisaged.
I believe that any Government are obliged to limit immigration to a number that can be absorbed into the community. My definition of “absorbed” in this context is for the basic state provision of housing, health services generally and education to be able to be provided without diluting, to an extent that is democratically unacceptable, the standard of living of those already resident in the UK. I recognise at once that my own amendment of up to two family members could well amount to over 100,000, and that would probably be over my own measure of “absorbed”. In that context, I remind your Lordships that the latest 12-month figure for net migration into the UK is 244,000.
In practice the Bill would open the door to large numbers of economic migrants. We know that the potential number of those from Africa alone is measured in the millions and it is not really possible to estimate it. All that can be said is that market forces suggest that migration would continue until the standard of living in the receiving country was no longer high enough to attract economic migrants—thus, the only way of limiting those who want to come is by restricting numbers.
I must mention one other deeply worrying aspect of immigration control in the UK: the capacity of the Home Office to administer it. It is now 12 years since the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, famously declared on 4 May 2006 that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”. It is sad and deeply worrying that this is clearly still the case, and I am not talking about the deplorable incompetence over the “Empire Windrush”. On that matter, I am wholly on the side of the migrants. In my 20s I was lucky enough, in my first job working for a British chemical company, to be posted for over a year to the Caribbean, living out of a suitcase and travelling from island to island, selling pharmaceuticals to doctors in what was then the British West Indies. I got to know many West Indians and learnt that they have the best sense of humour of any people in the world, and I like and respect them enormously.
I am talking about the fact that it seems that the Home Office immigration service is systemically corrupt. In a Written Answer on 10 January 2012, the Home Office revealed that over the previous five years there had been,
“29 convictions of Home Office staff in connection with their official activities”.—[Official Report, 10/1/12; col. WA36.]
The great majority, nearly all from the immigration department, resulted in prison sentences, two of them for nine years. I fear that that is continuing. As recently as 5 April the Times carried a report of a Home Office official, Mr Shamsu Iqbal, who had been found guilty of falsifying the records of over 400 people, amounting to some £6 million of profit to him and his colleagues. Surely one must ask why the Home Office recruitment and vetting procedure has not been tightened up between the previous figure and today.
At any rate, this Bill is aspirationally attractive, and all of us who have any liberal sensibilities like the idea of families being able to be joined together, although it may well be that better facilities are needed for that purpose. However, the Bill as drafted would make immigration an open season for doubtful and corrupt activities, leaving Ministers little opportunity for questioning what was happening. My amendment would be a small, though probably still too large, step in enabling a practical limit to be imposed. I beg to move.
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak at this stage. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the opportunity to return to the Bill, especially because it enables me to give a plaudit to the Government. The Minister would not have expected that.
We have debated the subject of family reunion on previous occasions, but I think the most recent was during the course of the EU withdrawal Bill, when the Minister responding to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and resisting his amendment, did not mention the pull factor, which on every other occasion that I can remember the Government have included in their argument. I do not subscribe to the pull factor, described by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, as implausible. I hope that that was a significant omission.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is concerned that the Bill is too wide. It is certainly not intended to provide an open season or opportunity for corruption. I had read his amendment as suggesting that he thought there would be disproportionate numbers of family members of refugees—let us remember that we are talking about refugees, not migrants in the wider sense—and that that was why he would limit the number under Clause 1 to two per refugee.
I will comment on the numbers, but will first focus on the Bill’s objective, which I think will itself answer the noble Lord’s concerns. He called for precision, so I shall be precise about the objective. It is to enable families separated by circumstances which have led to refugee status being granted to an individual—in other words, very particular, extreme circumstances—to come together again. Although this may benefit the individual refugee who has reached the UK, that is not the whole picture. We all understand the concept of family and the importance of family life to a young person’s development. We talk about integration, which I think would be very difficult for a child or young person without a family.
There is any number of permutations, but let me get put just three to the Committee. A father reaches the UK as a refugee, leaving a mother and a son aged 17 and an unmarried daughter aged 22. Who of those three should remain in the war zone or a refugee camp, which is not a safe place, or try to make it alone, possibly with the intervention—I was going to say help—of smugglers? All of them are vulnerable.
Teenaged brothers leave their country of origin. They become separated en route and one makes it the UK. Eventually, he establishes that his parents and his baby sister are still alive in his original country. Where does one put the dividing line in that family?
A single boy reaches the UK. His father died in the war from which the boy escaped. His widowed mother is caring for three siblings. One could go on.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is seeking to find a happy medium, and that is the way that I would generally approach an issue, but I do not think it works in this context. He mentioned some migration figures and I am aware that he has asked a number of Questions for Written Answer, but I do not think that the numbers in those Answers or what he has said today give directly applicable detail.
I remind the Committee that on Second Reading, the Minister told the House the number of visas issued in family reunion cases outside the rules—because that is possible. They were 21 in 2015, 49 in 2016 and 49 up to September 2017. I understand that when the British Red Cross considered 91 cases involving 219 family members outside the UK, the family range was from one to eight and the average—noble Lords with a mathematical turn of mind will have got there—was about two and a half members per case.
For the Syrian resettlement programme, when the UNHCR submits families to the UK Government, our Government will accept families of up to six members —above that, they take the matter case by case. In 2014, Care International measured the average family size of Syrians and very vulnerable host families in Jordan and found it to be 5.8.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, mentioned dependants, which is the last category in Clause 1(2): a dependent relative not otherwise listed. Dependants are not an unlimited group of people. The Home Office, the courts and indeed common sense interpret that word realistically, which means fairly narrowly, not in the way suggested.
I would like to think that the Bill will assist large numbers of people, but I doubt that that is the case, which is not to underestimate the importance to each individual affected. I understand that in Germany it was estimated last year that the profile of Syrian refugees was such that between 0.9 and 1.2 family members could ask for reunification. In the Netherlands, in 2016, the estimate was 1.2.
Last year, 794 children—that is those under 18—and 206 aged 18 were granted refugee status in the UK, so we are not talking large numbers at all. Kent County Council—and it should know—says that many unaccompanied children fear attempts to trace their family members in their country of origin because this could put those family members in danger, so they do not do so.
Noble Lords will understand that I am not saying that a limit on the numbers as proposed in the amendment would be okay because it would have no effect—I am not; I am merely trying to paint the picture.
I draw the Committee’s attention to who is family for the purposes of the Bill under Clause 1. It is not open-ended, it is not extensive, it could not be said to be an extended family. There are no cousins, for instance. The list in the clause is that set out in the EU directive on family reunification—to which we are not signatory. We are not talking about economic migrants, as has been suggested, because the sponsor must be a refugee.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, mentioned the capacity of the Home Office. I will leave it to the Minister to respond to that.
I am pleased that the noble Lord accepts the premise of the Bill that families belong together and that our country has a moral duty to recognise them. Accepting the thrust of the Bill and in the light of what I hope he will read as reassurances, I hope that he will accept that the amendment would not be appropriate.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment, which has already been ably opposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I apologise that I could not be here on Second Reading, because I strongly support the Bill. The noble Baroness spoke about the importance of family reunion to integration. I was a member of the inquiry set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees into integration, and I shall say a little about what we found, because I think it is relevant as we discuss the amendment.
The evidence that we received from a wide range of organisations underlined the psychological impact. Here I am talking particularly about the psychological impact on minors who are not allowed to bring any family into the country. Then there are refugees who are here, who have families still in conflict areas or who are still at risk, who are worried sick about what is happening to their families. On the children not allowed to reunite with parents and siblings, Coram Children’s Legal Centre said that it would continue the trauma and suffering of separation and loss. A number of people brought home to us the general impact on integration—that barriers to family reunion create barriers to integration. It is in all our interests that refugees are able fully to integrate into our society. In our findings and recommendations, we argued that,
“successfully being reunited with family members is an important step in helping refugees to integrate”.
We also argued that,
“the definition of family in the Immigration Rules remains very restrictive. Additionally, the lack of family reunion rights for unaccompanied children is a barrier to their successful integration”.
We recommended that they should be allowed to sponsor parents and siblings.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, spoke about statistics and numbers, but we are talking about people. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly said that we were not talking about immigrants—although, of course, migrants are also people. We are talking about refugees, and she gave some very pertinent potential examples. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to think back to when he was an adolescent and put himself in their shoes—a young man who has left his country, for whatever reason, as a refugee. He is here in a strange country, his parents are still in danger, and he has two younger siblings, also in danger. How would he make the choice? Surely, to be asked to make a choice like that as a young person would just increase the psychological suffering. Whoever you chose, you would feel that you had left behind your mother, father, brother or sister, and you would live with the consequences. You would feel guilty about the people you had left behind, rather than those you had been able to bring in. That would increase the psychological trauma and suffering for these young people. We have to try to put ourselves in the shoes of people who are in a really difficult situation. To ask a young person in particular—but anyone, actually—to make that kind of choice about their family as to who they would save or not save is inhumane and cruel.
I speak in support of the Bill and against the amendment. I recognise the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has raised about pressures on public services, but these children will be in care, so they will need a foster carer or perhaps be in a children’s home. If they have a family member with them, the public purse will benefit in that regard.
From a humane point of view, I worked in a hostel once a week over a period of time and saw a young girl from Afghanistan, and she was always quiet and depressed. She spoke no English—she spoke only a very limited dialect of her language, and the only other speaker was somewhere way off in the East End, so she was very isolated. One evening I arrived and she was in tears, because she had had news that the town that her parents lived in was being shelled, and she was concerned about them. The examples given about the hardship and emotional trauma for these young people ring very true to me. Simply from a humane point of view, anything that can be done to reunite these children and young people with their parents has to be welcomed, so I support the Bill.
I am a little surprised at the amendment, because I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and have enjoyed working on committees with him in the past. I think that his concerns are exaggerated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has covered all the points, and I stress just two. First, the category that we are talking about is very limited—it is self-limited. We are talking about only those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection under the Immigration Rules; in other words, we are not talking about economic migrants or anybody here illegally. We are talking about a very small category, clearly defined in Clause 1(1).
Secondly, the effect of insisting on family break-up would be likely to be serious, and I do not think that it would reflect terribly well on the kind of society that we were, or are. For children who came in 1938, Hungarians in 1956 or Czechs in 1968, we did not impose this kind of family break-up requirement on those here legally as refugees, and I really do not think that we should start.
I share the delight of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we heard nothing about the “pull factor” last time we talked about this—and I really hope that we will not hear anything about it today.
I speak briefly in support of my noble friend’s Bill and against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The Bill is about united families and his amendment would see families split in different ways. The Bill really does not open the floodgates to hordes of ravening immigrants. As my noble friend set out, we are talking about small numbers, and this is a small and measured way of helping refugee families in trouble and distress to be together. We have had some excellent briefings from SOS Children’s Villages, which says:
“Children who have been separated from their families are some of the most vulnerable, having lost the people primarily responsible for making decisions on their behalf, guaranteeing their safety and supporting their development to adulthood”.
It is both heartening and heart-rending to read the tales of some of those children, who have battled against the odds with courage and determination and, for the small numbers involved, the measures in this Bill could be transformational.
This is a humanitarian Bill in the best traditions of the society that we should aspire to be, which welcomes those in need, cares for refugees and offers hope and support, particularly for children who have already suffered so much. These are people who can and will contribute to the community; in the past, these are the very people who have contributed not only to the community but indeed to the economy. It is the right and moral way, and I urge the Government to support the Bill unamended as it passes through the House.
I am very sorry that, unavoidably, I was unable to be here for Second Reading, and I shall not make a Second Reading speech now. Obviously, I am not happy about the amendment. As for the criticisms made by the noble Lord of the Home Office, I think that the Home Office will have to sort that one out. I am not sure that any of us is really qualified to know very much about the internal workings of the Home Office, except the Minister—so she can deal with that.
The amendment, if passed, could have very sad consequences for a small number of people. I said to a Syrian child refugee, “What about your family?” I speak from memory, but this was roughly the situation. He said that he had a father and sibling somewhere in Turkey and a mother still in Syria. What would happen if we said to him that he should choose between those three? It would be an impossible and agonising decision. We cannot impose that on anybody. It would break the young man’s heart. How could we advise him? We could not—we could only say, “This is a desperately unfortunate situation”. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, does not mean it to have that consequence, but I suggest that it would. I am not happy about the amendment and hope that the House rejects it.
My Lords, I rise in support of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and against the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I have two things to say, the first of which is about pull factors. I hope, as other noble Lords have said, that we will not hear much more about them. I want to add a little bit more evidence and maybe give some succour to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, with what I am about to say. The EU’s family reunion directive, passed in 1999, has been signed up to by all member states apart from Britain, Denmark and Ireland. Ireland in fact went ahead and put the measures into primary legislation domestically, and it is now only Britain and Denmark that remain outside that directive. The evidence is that, over the last 10 years, those countries that have signed it have not seen a spike in family reunion applicants. I hope that will put the noble Lord’s concerns to rest a little.
I want to say a bit about the benefits of migration because, too often, we have these debates and we all defend migration, but we should talk a little about what migrants do for us. I will use the word “migrants”, because that was the term used in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Researchers who study human migration say that countries fear that letting in some refugees will encourage more and that migrants will be an economic burden. Yet the evidence shows that both beliefs are false. Even without a worker shortage, migrants need not be a burden. On 4 September 2015, the World Bank, the UN International Labour Organization and the OECD club of rich countries issued a report concluding that,
“in most countries, migrants pay more in taxes and social contributions than they receive”.
In a study in 2014, researchers at University College London found that both European and non-European immigrants to the UK more than paid their way. Non-Europeans living in the UK since 1995 brought £35 billion worth of education with them. Those who arrived between 2000 and 2011 were less likely than native British people to be on state benefits, no more likely to live in social housing and contributed a net £5 billion in taxes during that period.
So the question is, why do doors stay shut? The reasons, say the researchers, are not economic, but fear of the cultural impact of foreigners. But all the evidence shows that, with a positive attitude in communities and good leadership, the host community and migrants both benefit. I will just end by saying that there are articles in Psychology Today that show the psychological benefits to the host communities of having a welcoming attitude to migrants. I also cite the example of a small, remote island in Finland, called Nagu, which welcomed refugees. The residents there are very grateful to the refugees for enriching their lives.
My Lords, I am in general agreement with those who have spoken against the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, which is, I think, draconian in the way it is framed. I would like some comment, however, on the scope of Clause 1(2), where nephews and nieces and so on are included. The number that could be involved is really quite large and may make this Bill’s passage more difficult if it is expressed in that large way. The Secretary of State is required to grant an application other than on grounds of national security. I just suggest that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good, and there is just a danger that, with the Bill as framed, you could have 20 or so family members making an application. In the realpolitik of our society, that is just unlikely to get through. On the other hand, I think that the principle of hospitality and welcome needs strongly to be affirmed. The rather narrow amendment here is resisted, but I do have some hesitations about the breadth of the Bill itself.
My Lords, I rise to make clear that I do not support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Though I like and respect the noble Lord very much, I cannot support him in his amendment today. I very much support the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who set out very carefully and clearly why the amendment should be resisted, as did all other noble Lords who have spoken, including my noble friends Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lord Dubs.
I would understand the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, a bit more if this Bill were saying that any refugee granted status to stay in this country could bring family members to the UK, but it does not say that at all. It says that they may make an application. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will assure the House that when somebody makes an application to the Home Office, there are some very robust procedures in place. It is not a free for all. I am sure that she will tell the House that, as she will be very well aware of what you have to go through to get an application to enter this country. We discuss matters about the House Office almost every week in this House, and sometimes many times a day. We do not normally say that it is a free for all at the Home Office and that it is far too lenient; we often say quite the contrary about how it operates and can sometimes be very frustrated about the environment at the Home Office, which we think can sometimes be a bit harsh in how it deals with people. I am sure that the Minister will mention more on that.
I also very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, who talked about migrants. I am very well aware that the Minister is a migrant herself; she came from Ireland as a child. I am the eldest son of a migrant; my parents also came from Ireland to find work here. I am sure that we would find that many others here are the children or grandchildren of migrants. Migrants have made a very great contribution to our country. They have done wonderful things here and made our country a much better place. I therefore do not support the amendment today, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it in due course.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her continued, insistent interest and support for changes to the family reunion immigration rules and I reassure noble Lords that I have listened, and will continue to listen, to the many thoughtful and very compassionate contributions that we hear in this House every day. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the NGOs whose support of the proposed changes have provided valuable insight and constructive challenge on this issue. It should go without saying, but I will repeat it because it is a crucial point: individuals and communities—which of course includes refugees—who have made their home here over generations have always been and will continue to be welcome. They provide an invaluable contribution to our social, cultural and economic life.
It is worth briefly reflecting on how much this Government have done, particularly in the region, but also here at home, to help refugees from countries such as Syria. We are on track to resettle 20,000 refugees from Syria and a further 3,000 children and families from the wider MENA region. We have also committed £2.46 billion of humanitarian aid to the Syrian conflict. I also want to provide some context. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Lister, said that we have had few grants of leave outside of the rules. If I go back to 2016, after listening to concerns about how the provisions for leave outside the rules operated, we introduced changes to clarify our guidance. This now makes clear that the policy will apply to adult dependent sons or daughters aged over 18 living in conflict zones. Around 65 visas for leave outside of the rules have been granted over the last three years. We are working to ensure that this policy works as well as possible in practice. In 2010, the UK resettled around 750 recognised refugees. Last year alone, we provided 6,000 people with protection under our resettlement schemes, around half of whom were children. These are the most vulnerable families, who have been safely and securely resettled and supported in rebuilding their lives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords said, these are human beings and not numbers.
We have provided nearly 50,000 people with protection status in the UK since 2010, who are entitled to apply for their qualifying family members to join them. We provide all those with refugee status, as well as their family members who join them under our family reunion policy, with housing and full access to benefits and healthcare. Over the past five years we have issued 24,700 family reunion visas. The Government take extremely seriously the principle of family unity for refugees in the UK who have fled persecution and need our protection.
I recognise and commend the Bill’s intention of supporting refugee integration and well-being. However, I ask noble Lords to carefully consider the wider implications of significantly expanding the Government’s framework for refugee family reunion. The Bill as it stands would provide for anyone in the UK currently holding refugee status, as well as those to whom we grant refugee status in the future, to sponsor a much wider range of family members. It would also provide extended rights to sponsor refugee family members for British citizens and other settled persons. The Government have always been clear that we need to focus our finite resources on helping the most vulnerable refugees and their families, including those who are already recognised as refugees in the UK. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with that principle. But the expansive provisions in the Bill would undoubtedly impact on our ability to do so.
It is extremely difficult to estimate how many people would choose to apply under the expanded rules, and the Bill gives no estimate. However, it would potentially allow tens of thousands of people to be entitled to come here. Despite the well-intentioned points that noble Lords have made this morning, these proposals would lead to the UK’s family reunion policy being open to many more people who may have no protection needs in their own right and are not necessarily in precarious positions, and regardless of whether they were part of their sponsor’s immediate family before they left. This is likely to have significant cost implications for local authorities and public services. Currently, there is no estimate in the Bill of the numbers of people likely to qualify, or of its potential cost in terms of school places, housing, access to the benefits system or the NHS. The NAO has estimated that we will spend £1.1 billion—
I have been listening carefully. Is the Minister aware that Germany has admitted 1 million Syrian refugees and has just passed legislation very similar to that put before us today by my noble friend Lady Hamwee? Crime there has gone down, unemployment has gone right down and its economy is booming. How does the Minister respond to that?
I recognise totally what the noble Baroness says and what Germany has done. It has caused problems in Germany, and what the Government of the time decided to do has caused integration challenges. But I recognise exactly what the noble Baroness says. I have not mentioned crime or unemployment today; I was simply talking about infrastructure such as public services. I was not going there and I would not want to. I know that the noble Baroness is a very compassionate person indeed.
I have lost my place. I was talking about the extended family reunion rights for British citizens. I will now move on to another point, which I have also lost. I am very glad that the noble Lord is about to intervene.
The Minister said a moment ago that the Bill would allow many thousands of people to come to the country, but all it does is to allow them to make an application. There is quite a distinction between those two things. Perhaps she could confirm that.
The noble Lord is absolutely right, and I also said that it is difficult to estimate. Of course people could make applications, but they would be doing so under the legislation we have passed. However, I made the point that it is quite difficult to get exact numbers.
I recognise the potential implications of the Bill highlighted by the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, which would seek to limit the number of family members that could be granted leave under the Bill to a maximum of two. It is a recognition of the wider impacts the Bill may have. As I think every noble Lord mentioned, it could have a divisive effect on families and on the people in the position of having to make those awful decisions. While the current provisions are more narrowly defined in terms of family members who may qualify, this is not limited to a specific number of individuals. I think that is why noble Lords probably took issue with my noble friend’s amendment. This clearly demonstrates the complexities around this issue and why it requires careful consideration, which is what the Government are doing.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the Home Office being corrupt, which is quite a strong allegation. He then moved on to the capacity of the Home Office—what has the Home Office done to improve vetting and recruitment procedures? The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, helpfully pointed out that for anyone to get through the Home Office procedures involves a very rigorous process, which is why I am at this Dispatch Box so much, now almost every day of the week, including Friday. As regards vetting in the Home Office, it follows the Cabinet Office vetting process, which is standard across Whitehall. All Home Office staff are bound to adhere to the Civil Service Code, and the Home Office is determined to uphold the highest standards for our staff.
We have all seen the tragic consequences for people, and particularly the terrible sight of unaccompanied children who take dangerous journeys, most likely in the hands of traffickers. While I fully commend its intention, the Bill is likely to place in danger an increased number of those people it seeks to protect. I have not mentioned the P word, because I do not want to dismay the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, but I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise the point I am making. Rather than refugees seeking protection in the first safe country they reach, the Bill creates a perverse incentive for them to make perilous journeys to the UK in the hope of subsequently bringing their family here. We must ensure that we do not put more children in harm’s way, and we are doing this already through resettlement of children and their families direct from the region. We know that policy changes can and do have an impact—
The Minister got just too close to mentioning the unmentionable. Is it really plausible that, say in Idlib, if it is under siege in six weeks’ time, the family sits around the dining table, pick a child and tell it that it must set off across the battle lines and the Mediterranean, to try to get into England so that it can then pull the family into England? That is implausible. We are talking about refugee reunion and about children. We really must stop talking about this wildly implausible pull factor. They come here to escape being killed; they do not come here in order to become a magnet for the rest of the family.
I do not dispute a word of what the noble Lord says—that people’s intention in coming here is to flee the terrible things happening in their countries. I am saying that we have all seen the horrible pictures of children who have made these journeys and have either died or got themselves into terrible danger on the way. We talk about this often.
Is the Minister aware that the independent inquiry of the Human Trafficking Foundation in July last year found exactly the reverse of what she said? It found that the fewer safe and legal routes there are to process asylum seekers and refugees, the more power the smugglers have.
I am slightly confused by what the noble Baroness is saying. I do not think that anyone would dispute that a child sent across the Mediterranean is very vulnerable to traffickers. I will give an example of what I mean by that. Immediately following the recent UK-France Sandhurst summit and the press reports suggesting a further transfer of minors to the UK, the number of children arriving in Calais more than doubled, from 59 to 137. There is no disputing that children who travel alone like that are in danger from all sorts of unintended consequences of our wanting to give them support and refuge. Although civil war or persecution is the absolute deciding factor in whether an individual flees their country, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, it does not explain the decisions made in undertaking dangerous secondary movements.
This Government have invested significantly in supporting the most vulnerable refugees through our resettlement programmes. These are safe and legal routes to protection and are designed to keep families together without the need for migrants to embark on dangerous journeys or to put their children in the hands of criminals who exploit them. We should not create potentially perverse incentives outside of those schemes, as this Bill proposes.
Nor must we lose sight of how the family reunion policy fits within wider asylum and resettlement work. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his place, because that includes implementing Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. The Government have committed to the transfer of 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK under Section 67. Over 220 children are already here and transfers are ongoing. This is in addition to current commitments under the Dublin regulation. Work continues with member states and relevant partners to ensure that children with qualifying family in the UK can be transferred quickly and safely to have their asylum claim determined in the UK.
There has been much debate about what will happen after we leave the EU if the family reunification provisions under the Dublin regulation are no longer available. Retaining the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulation post EU exit was the subject of the recent amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I state again that the Dublin regulation does not confer immigration status; it is a mechanism for deciding the member state responsible for considering an asylum claim. Anyone transferred under the Dublin regulation will be expected to leave the UK if they are found not to need protection. The family reunion rules will continue to enable immediate family members to reunite safely with their loved ones in the UK, regardless of the country in which those family members are based.
Finally, the Bill makes provision for legal aid to be reinstated for family reunion cases. The Government are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of legal aid reforms, including an assessment of the changes to the scope of legal aid for immigration cases. The review will report later this year. It is important that we do not introduce legislation that pre-empts the outcome of that review, which needs to run its course.
I will just pick up on some other points on which I have had pieces of paper passed to me. One noble Lord mentioned the EU comparisons. We understand that on 1 August this year Germany will introduce a new migrant family reunification law for those with subsidiary protection. It will provide rights to family reunion where there were no rights before. The media have reported that some 26,000 inquiries about this new law have already been received by the German Government. I have probably made that point slightly out of step with where I should have said it in my speech.
I conclude by reassuring noble Lords that we will continue to listen to concerns about family reunion. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whose efforts in this area are consistent and determined and come from absolutely the right place. However, our starting point is that family reunion is a matter for the Immigration Rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, and for policy rather than primary legislation. I look forward to carrying on working with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, together with all other noble Lords, on this very important and sensitive issue.
Before the noble Lord responds, this is not the moment to continue the debate, although I could take issue with a number of the Minister’s comments. However, criticism has been made of the fact that there is no estimate of numbers or costs in the Bill. I accept that there is no impact assessment, and it would be difficult for someone like me to undertake one, but if that is an offer from the Minister for me to go into the Home Office and spend time with officials to work on the detail, I would be absolutely delighted to do so.
My Lords, again before the noble Lord responds, is it not right to pay tribute to the caseworkers? This debate has highlighted the immense challenges they face in making their judgments. Does the Minister not agree that it is right for us to pay great tribute to their work? Can she assure the Committee that, when she looks at capacity in the Home Office, she will ensure that those caseworkers get all the emotional support and time they need to reflect on their work so that it does not overburden them, perhaps contributing to the poor outcomes from casework that we occasionally see?
My Lords, the Home Office often comes in for negative comments, so it is always nice to hear noble Lords pay tribute to the dedicated staff who work tirelessly for the right reasons and for the right outcomes for the people who apply. I look forward to the analysis of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think we all agree that underlying the Bill are the humane intentions which we all support. Every example given was fully valid and I support them all. However, the fact remains that the Bill removes from the Home Office the powers and opportunities to control the total number of people who come into the country. I have indicated that I have a pretty low opinion of the Home Office’s capacity in this respect, but the right reverend Prelate put his finger on this point, which I mentioned in my speech: the only ground on which an application can be stopped by the Secretary of State is that of national security.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, applications are available, but if there is no government check—the Bill explicitly and deliberately removes the government check—and if the Government do not have the ability to make the final decision, which of course is subject to every sort of lobbying and debate and all the rest of it, you are abrogating the overall control of immigration which I believe the people of this country would always insist upon. That is the fundamental error of the Bill.
My amendment was merely intended to draw attention to this and to reduce the possible number. I have said already that I thought 100,000 would probably be too many to be allowed in, but the Government must take on more clearly a policy on how many people and in what circumstances because I am by no means sure. The Government have always said that they want the brightest and the best, and that must be right for the country. None the less, there are strong humanitarian arguments for individual refugees to be able to be reunited in this country with their families. But it is about the way in which that is done and the avoidance of it being sidetracked by those with less creditable motives. It is important that we safeguard against that, and the only people who can do so are the Government and the Home Secretary.
There is a deep flaw in the Bill, but, equally, it has been worth while, and I hope that this has been a worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.