When I wrote last week about a speech made in Birmingham last Tuesday by Amber Rudd I had no idea that my criticism would be followed so quickly by that of her colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Both Houses debated this issue on Monday and their comments are worth a read. In her speech last week Ms Rudd said “There are vulnerable, unaccompanied children in Calais at risk of people trafficking and abuse. Where those children have a relative in the UK, or it is in their best interests to come to the UK, we are doing all we can to bring them over here.” My criticism was not in what she said, but rather that it was dishonest to suggest that more could not be done.
To be fair not all voices in the debate were critical of what has happened so far, Philip Davies from Shipley questioned why these unaccompanied children could not be settled in France, even though their families are in the UK. One hopes that Mr Davies will be held accountable for such remarks at the next election. However many of his colleagues were of the view that much more could be done.
David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield said “With the Calais Jungle earmarked for demolition next week, what is being done to provide safety and refuge for children for whom we have a legal and moral duty of care? ….Last month, the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Select Committee that she would get over to the UK as soon as possible all the children for whom we have a legal obligation, and she has confirmed today that she wants as many of them as possible over here before demolition. Last week, she said that “compassion does not stop at the border”, and she has been reported as saying today that the first 100 child refugees are coming to the UK “within weeks”. Can the Home Secretary provide the assurance today that all children eligible for transfer to the UK will be in a place of safety before the demolition starts? The French accommodation centres are inadequate for children. When it comes to transportation, only 12 got on the bus to the centres on Thursday, and the next bus is not until tomorrow.”
James Gray, Conservative MP for North Wiltshire said “It appears that there has been huge bureaucratic confusion in France, and dockets have been lost. Apparently, there are only four French officials in the camp, which is poor. It is time for the British Government to set up a taskforce, with British officials working with French officials, which should go to the camp, sort out these people, find out who they are, and bring them back.”
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow pointed out “The Home Secretary will be aware that there is a great deal of concern in the House today about the numbers. The voluntary sector has identified for her Department 387 children as being eligible to come here”
Alan Brown, SNP MP for Kilmarnock and Loudon challenged the Government stating “The stark reality is that 80 unaccompanied children have been brought to the UK to date, and we are talking about nearly 400 being still in that camp, with a week to go to demolition. The Government must commit to numbers, confirm that they have the capability to bring in, in a short time, five times the number already brought in, and prove that they are working to identify those people and speak to their relatives in the UK.”
Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP for Slough pointed out “earlier this month, newspaper reports suggested that the French had issued, under Dublin III, a number of take-charge requests relating to children in the camp that had been lost or not responded to by UK authorities.”
In response to some of these comments Amber Rudd explained “My officials have been over in France every other day for the past two or three weeks, and French officials come over here a lot, so that we can work together to make sure that we can deliver the outcomes that we want. As we approach the final clearances, which may be in the next week, the week after that—the French have not set a date—or the next few weeks, we expect to be very much involved in working with them in the camps to make sure that we look after the most vulnerable.”
In the House of Lords Lib Dem Peer Baroness Hussein-Ece asked “how many lone children in Calais with family links in the United Kingdom have been allowed into the United Kingdom in the past 12 months.”
Her question was answered by Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford “My Lords, under the Dublin regulation more than 80 unaccompanied asylum- seeking children have been accepted for transfer from France into the UK this year, most of whom have arrived in the UK. More arrive each week and we continue to work closely with France to consider and implement transfers.”
It was clear from these two debates that whilst much has been done, that there is a huge gap between what is needed and what has happened so far. This presents a challenge to Amber Rudd and her colleagues, who are now faced with making good on their promises, not a conference audience willing to applaud every word and laugh at every weak joke. The rubber is about to hit the road and most of the pain will be felt by people in Calais, the more pressure that can be put on people like Amber Rudd and Susan Williams, the more likely that these children will be rescued before the camp is bulldozed. A day after the debates mentioned above, several senior MPs advocated demonstrations to focus the minds of the Russian Government on Syria, perhaps that is a tactic that will work on them over this Calais issue?