Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers and refugee resettlement.
I was deeply saddened by the loss of life in the Channel as a boat carrying migrants sank in French waters near Dunkirk. My thoughts at this terrible time are with the loved ones of those who died. This awful incident highlights the danger of crossing the Channel by small boat and the ruthlessness of the criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people.
The French authorities are leading the law enforcement response and the UK Government is fully supporting this. The Government is determined to bring to justice the ruthless criminal people smugglers whose actions endanger lives. The Home Secretary has been clear from the beginning that the criminals exploiting vulnerable people will be stopped and I offer my support to this important work. The fatalities were especially sad because the crossing being attempted was unnecessary – the family were already in a safe country, France, and they could have claimed asylum there.
The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettle more refugees than any other in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. Since 2015, the Government has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection through our refugee resettlement schemes, with around half being children. These refugees are resettled directly from conflict zones (such as Syria) rather than from safe European countries such as Italy or France as the previous s67 Dubs amendment did. I believe that it is most important to prioritise those refugees in dangerous situations, not those already in Europe.
I welcome the fact that the Government already provides safe and legal routes for people needing protection or seeking to reunite with their families. In the year ending June 2020, over 6,320 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the last 5 years. From 1 January, these very effective and fair family reunion rules will also apply to relevant family members of UK refugees where the family member in an EU state, replacing the EU’s Dublin rules. Unless an alternative agreement can be reached with the EU in the meantime.
The Government has been clear that a negotiated reciprocal arrangement between the EU and the UK for the family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking asylum is the preferred approach. However, due to the importance of the issue it is the responsibility for Ministers to have a plan if this preferred approach is not possible. Therefore, I welcome the fact that in the event of a non-negotiated outcome, the Government will seek to pursue new bilateral negotiations on post-transition migration issues with key countries. This will include new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
You may be pleased to hear that the Government has announced it will also conduct a review of safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, refugees and their families. I am aware that many feel a statutory commitment is necessary. I do therefore welcome the fact that the Government has made a statutory commitment to review safe and legal routes, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The Government will also publicly consult on legal routes including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. In addition, Ministers will make a statement providing further detail of the review and consultation relating to legal routes before Parliament within three months of the Immigration Bill achieving Royal Assent. Ministers will also prepare a report on the outcome of the review, publish that report and present it before Parliament.
It is also important to note that the UK will continue to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the transition period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.
I understand your concerns and agree that when it is safe to do so the UK should recommence refugee resettlement. I welcome the fact that the Home Office is evaluating how to respond and is continuing to discuss this with international and domestic stakeholders.
It is important that this is not rushed as plans to restart resettlement are dependent on a number of factors. These include the lifting of restrictions imposed by governments of host refugee countries, local authority and central government capacity and the recovery of the asylum system from the impact of COVID-19. It is good news that the Government is taking action, but I will continue to push Ministers to restart resettlement as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.