I attended the debate on Illegal Migration Bill but frustratingly was not called to speak, I did ask the Government a question last when this legislation was introduced, you can watch a clip here or read it here. I voted against this cruel and unworkable piece of legislation but unfortunately it has been passed with 312 votes in support and 250 against it.
Over three years ago I stood in this Chamber and made my Maiden Speech. In that speech, I spoke about the rights of unaccompanied children seeking asylum here as I was very concerned about the safety of vulnerable children refugees after the Dublin 3 regulations were removed by the Government in the not-so-oven-ready Brexit deal.
There was cross-party agreement on an amendment to maintain family reunion, but the Government rejected it.
They said this would be covered in the Immigration Bill. It wasn’t.
They said it would be covered in the Nationality and Borders Bill. It wasn’t.
So here is the opportunity to end the three-year hiatus and do what people up and down the country would call the decent thing and help child refugees.
The Rwandan Scheme has failed before. 4,000 people were estimated to have been deported by Israel to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014-17 and almost all are thought to have left the country almost immediately, creating business for trafficking gangs that sprang up.
When I looked at the small print of the Bill I still hoped that despite its inhumanity it might at least protect some of the most vulnerable children in the world. The explanatory notes of the Bill state ‘The Secretary of State is not required to make arrangements to remove an unaccompanied child from the UK until they turn 18 years old, but there is a power to do so ahead of them reaching adulthood.’ In 2022, 8,700 children came to the UK on boats. What is going to happen to them? Will they be deported at 18? If so, where will they be sent?
This Bill will remove the maximum limit of 24 hours for detaining children, it will remove the right to apply for citizenship for any child whose parents are subject to removal procedures.
This Bill would remove a child’s right to apply for Leave to Remain once they turn 18 if they have not arrived through a non-existent safe route.
We have a proud history of providing safe refuge for children. Lord Alf Dubs came here at 10, Sir Mo Farah at 9.
No wonder this Bill will be heading off into legal limbo as it fails on our international obligations to refugee children.
These are children!
We should be passing legislation that shows the best of this country, the ways in which we are a modern, forward-thinking and compassionate nation, responding to the global challenges and setting an example to the world.
This Bill does not do this.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
- Scrap the Rwanda plan and instead use the money for an elite task force to crack the gangs.
- Make return agreements that work.
- Clear the backlog with a triaging system based on the risk of the country, in order to fast-track applications where appropriate. Labour would upgrade caseworkers and value them so that the recruitment and retention of caseworkers means that there are the people motivated to do this work.
- Put in place resettlement routes that work and, crucially, build better relationships with the UNHCR.
- Tackle humanitarian crises at source and build peace programmes in countries of conflict, including peace programmes in South Sudan and Sudan. People do not want to leave their homes, their lives, their jobs and land. If there is peace and stability they will stay and UK Aid can play an important role in enabling this.
I cannot support this Bill. It will not secure our borders, it will not reform the broken asylum system, it leaves vulnerable children to make desperate journeys to reunite with their families and undermines international co-operation to provide support for those fleeing persecution and conflict.