We have agreement from Fay Jones to publish this correspondence
21st February 2020
Thanks for seeing us last week and we look forward to seeing you at any of our welcome days. The next is Llangorse on the 8TH March from 12 til 5 or Cradoc school on 3rd May with similar timings.
We asked Safe Passage about the questions we raised on Unaccompanied children and they made the following points.
Firstly that they were impressed that you were responsive, engaged and open to standing up for child refugees.
Secondly they commented upon some specific points that have been made by you and other MPs
The UK received over 3,000 claims for asylum seeking children, the third highest in the EU
- As one of the biggest countries in the EU, it is not particularly surprising that the UK has high numbers of asylum claims but over the years many smaller countries have taken many more. Sweden, for example, has ⅙ the population size of the UK but received nearly 60,000 asylum applications from unaccompanied children between 2010-2018 compared to the UK’s 19,140 over that period.
- the crucial point around the figures that the government quote is that the vast majority of these children have only been able to claim asylum in the UK after getting here on lorries or through other dangerous routes. As it stands the UK’s immigration system offers extremely limited access to safe and legal routes for child refugees in Europe – family reunion is one of these routes but it remains under threat unless and until the government legislates for a replacement. It also appears to be very slow with children in France with legitimate claims waiting for many months to be granted asylum in the UK.
6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee protection in our country
- Family reunion visas are the mechanism that children who are outside the EU can use to join family in the UK. It is good that family reunion visas are granted to enable families to be together but because of limitations to the visa process, it may not be the best solution for children in Europe after Brexit. Instead, Safe Passage are advocating for a mechanism that ensures children are able to access family reunion in the same way they currently can under the Dublin Regulation.
- This is because the Dublin Regulation enables children to join siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles (whereas the visa system only allows children to join parents, apart from some very limited circumstances). Also, the Dublin regulation places responsibility on the governments of the countries involved to reunite the child, whereas under the visa system in the onus is on the family to apply.
Many feel that the realities of the UK’s response to unaccompanied children is that it is limited and the system could be improved.
The stats show that even though the UK government’s approach has been to restrict safe passage to the UK for children, it has not stopped many thousands from trying to get here. The push factors in Europe – overcrowded camps in Greece, police brutality in Northern France, massive lack of provision for children across Europe – means that children will keep risking their lives in hope of finally finding safety in the UK with family members. Please think about how safe and legal routes – including guaranteeing children’s access to rapid family reunion – could form part of a solution to this problem.
‘Anchor babies’ is an issue that is quoted as a concern – ‘families send children ahead in the hope of being able to join them’. This is suggested by government as a reason why the UK shouldn’t offer more children a safe and legal route. There is no evidence that this practice actually happens, and a report by UNHCR at the end of last year found that no child interviewed for the report had been sent ahead in this manner: https://www.unhcr.org/uk/5daf2cef4
Can you arrange for Safe Passage to meet with the Home Secretary
about the ongoing negotiations, please?
You and other MPs have indicated a forthcoming Immigration Bill is a suitable place to include legal protections for family reunion.
o Please can you ask the Home Secretary to confirm the timeline for this important bill and publish any plan for inclusion of family reunion in the Bill as soon as possible to reassure child refugees and families that the policy on family reunion has not changed?
The Government should take this opportunity post-Brexit to improve rights for all refugees by extending the definition of family in the UK Immigration Rules to grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. However, simply broadening the definition of family under UK immigration rules is insufficient as a replacement to the existing Dublin III family reunion legislation. UK immigration rules, unlike an inter-state mechanism such as Dublin III, put the agency on the affected individual and does not make proactive obligations on states.
o Please can you ask the Home Secretary to provide any reassurance that she will prioritise securing an inter-state replacement to Dublin III family reunion in her negotiations with the EU that does not water down rights for refugees?
The Government have agreed that they will publish a statement on the progress of negotiations on family reunion with the EU on 23rd March.
o Please, can you ask the Home Secretary to confirm any progress on the negotiations with the EU, including any response to the letter she sent in October, and what the next steps are with this? The timeline for these negotiations will be extremely helpful in reassuring child refugees and families that negotiations are making good progress.
Finally, Here are the questions that we left with you when we met last week
- Please can you confirm with certainty that the legislation for family reunion for separated refugee children will be in the forthcoming Immigration Bill, given its absence from the Withdrawal Bill? Do you know how it is going to be framed given that it was under the EU (Dublin) regulations, and please will you keep the group updated on its progress – perhaps with further meetings?2 We would welcome your views on what needs to be in the Immigration Bill, and could you perhaps let us know the timing of the Bill ?
We’d like to see a fairer asylum system with 1 a right to work whilst awaiting a decision,
2 an end to Indefinite Immigration Detention , 3 a chance for child refugees to be reunited with their families, 4 a continuation of the family reunification scheme and 5 an end to the use of destitution in the asylum system. Is any of this likely? 3. We welcome the achievement of 20,000 refugees requiring protection being achieved in 2020 ( the UK on target to do this through the Gateway Scheme and the VPRS – as promised by Cameron in 2015). However, there does seem to be some confusion over the numbers of separated children (without their parents) who have arrived in the UK – could you provide these figures to us, Please? Might there be an extension to the VPRS scheme as there still are many people in grossly overcrowded refugee camps?
Again thanks for seeing us and I’m sorry to ask so many questions but lives do depend upon the answers
On Fri, 6 Mar 2020 at 10:40, Caseworker W <> wrote:
Dear Ailsa, Thank you for your email below. I have added 3rd May to Fay’s diary in the hope that she will be able to attend the Cradoc School Welcome Day. Kind regards, W
27th February 2020
- Remove the administrative barriers that newly recognised refugees face so that they are able to open bank accounts and are sent the right documentation.
- Provide more support to newly recognised refugees to help them navigate the move-on period to apply for Universal Credit and secure new accommodation.
3rd March 2020
Hello Ailsa (I think it’s Ailsa…?)
Thank you very much for alerting me to this debate. A few other constituents have done the same.
I’m afraid I’m unable to attend as I’ve been appointed to a very junior role within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have a debate in the House tomorrow on the response to the floods and so I am required to be at that. I do apologise.
With all best wishes,
Fay Jones MP
Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire
Sunday 22nd March 10.55
Thank you so much for writing. I’m currently stuck in London as I don’t want to bring anything back to the constituency and I don’t want to risk passing anything to my poor parents so I’ll hide out in London for the time being. At least the sun is shining.
I will certainly look into this and speak to Home Office ministers tomorrow.
Thank you for caring as you do. If only everyone had as big a heart.
All best wishes,
Fay Jones MP
Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire
Dear Ms Dunn,
Apologies for the out of the blue email. Fay has asked me to update you with the response I have received from the Home Secretary to the inquiries she made on your behalf – please find the letter attached.
I hope you are keeping well during this difficult time. Do let me know if I can help you further.
I. Parliamentary Assistant
BY EMAIL ONLY
Fay Jones MP
House of Commons
16 April 2020
Thank you for your recent email on behalf of Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for
Refugees and their concerns about immigration detention and COVID-19.
The Home Office is, as always, mindful of our legal obligations in respect of immigration
detention, ensuring that there is a realistic prospect of removal in a reasonable timescale.
Decisions to detain are made on a case-by-case basis and kept under constant review, but
our priority is to maintain the lawful detention of the most high-harm individuals, including
foreign national offenders.
As you will be aware, the High Court ruled that the Home Office are taking sensible,
precautionary measures in relation to coronavirus and immigration detention. This is in line
with the Public Health England guidance and these measures are in place to protect staff
and detainees during these unprecedented times. We consider the outcome to be a strong
endorsement of the steps we have taken so far and which we will continue to take.
We take the welfare of the detainees in our care very seriously. In line with Public Health
England guidance, measures such as protective isolation are considered on a case by case
basis to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading to vulnerable groups in the immigration
detention estate. Further measures including single occupancy rooms and the cessation of
social visits have been introduced in line with the Government direction on social distancing.
In light of this, detainees have been provided with additional mobile phone credit to ensure
they are able to contact friends and families while social visits have been stopped.
Detainees arriving at an Immigration Removal Centre are medically assessed by a nurse
within two hours of their arrival and a doctor within 24 hours. Detainees also have access to
medical assistance whilst they are in an Immigration Removal Centre.
I can assure you that handwashing facilities are available in all Immigration Removal
Centres and we are working closely with suppliers to ensure we have a continuous supply
of soap and cleaning materials.
In addition, each Immigration Removal Centre has posters and leaflets to alert detainees to
the recommendations regarding handwashing and social distancing. Detainees are also
able to speak to staff directly for advice on the measures in place.
I hope this reassures you that we are doing all we can to provide detainees with a safe and
secure environment but don’t hesitate to get in touch again if you have any further questions.
Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
2nd May 2020
I do hope that you are keeping well and safe.during this crisis. I know that you feel that it is important that all members of our society are protected and supported.and I hope that this includes those seeking sanctuary from war and persecution.
Our organisation, HBTSR , has maintained contact with people seeking asylum throughout this time and are finding that they are struggling more than ever to survive.
The already substantial challenge of living on £5.39 per day is even harder at this time of crisis, especially for families with children; ASPEN payment cards (through which people receive asylum support) are only uploaded with subsistence support weekly, making it very difficult for people in the asylum system to buy food and other essentials in sufficient quantity to minimise trips or prepare for self-isolation.
Given that many of these are from ethnic minorities that are particularly at risk from COVID 19, they are understandably very scared.
Some people seeking asylum may be housed a significant distance away from supermarkets ( and particularly may not be near to the cheaper ones) and so require the added and risky expense of a long journey for each shopping trip. In addition the cost of food does seem to have risen.
With many support services on which people usually rely being closed, people seeking asylum are having to make choices between food , clothing, medicines and phone top ups..The phone is a particular lifeline for those trying to study English or to allow children to continue education or as I was reminded recently, to maintain contact with family and friends especially during this period of Ramadan.
People seeking asylum are already trying to live on significantly less than mainstream benefits and are really struggling now. We’ve had requests for shoes for children who have none that fit and as time goes on the lack of suitable clothes will also become evident. ( most usually obtain clothes from charity shops or donations to dropIn centres – not available currently )
We’ve had many requests for Phone top ups so people can access their education. We’ve given £1,600 to Swansea asylum seekers support to purchase these but know that it isn’t enough.
In Swansea the food banks and school meal service seem to be very helpful but not always culturally appropriate. Normally we help
with welcome days and practical donations but can’t at present.
In the context of the current pandemic, the Home Office has realised that there are extra expenses involved by raising Universal Credit . Please would you ask the Home office to urgently ensure that asylum support rates also receive the same £20 COVID-related uplift ?
Further, as a more permanent solution, the link with mainstream benefits could be reinstated by setting asylum support at 70% of Universal Credit, (the level asylum support rates were set at against income support until 2008). This would ensure people seeking asylum are able to meet their needs both during this pandemic and beyond.
On behalf of HBTSR I’m asking you to write to the Home Secretary to ask her to make these two changes, to help ensure that people seeking asylum can avoid danger, starvation and don’t lose all social contact during the crisis.
I look forward to hearing from you and do hope that you will help.
26th May 2020
I hope that you are well and safe and able to offer us some help and reassurance.
We were concerned when on January 22nd this year you voted with the government against an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill to guarantee family rights reunion for separated/unaccompanied refugee children. We were very worried as these are vulnerable and desperate children who need protection. As you know I, on behalf of HBTSR wrote to you both before and afterwards, as did
many of our supporters.
You told us by email, and in person when we met, that the rights of separated/unaccompanied refugee children to family reunion would be in a future Immigration Bill and were not appropriate for the ‘Brexit Bill’
Last week, we understand that the Dubs scheme ended, with only 480 children having been brought to the UK over 4 years and an Immigration Bill was passed that so far as we could see had nothing that would help these children.
Please can you update us about any future government schemes that will ensure that separated/unaccompanied children are protected and have the right to family re-union in the UK through proposed government legislation?
All good wishes,