Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers and refugee resettlement.
The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. As a country, 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.
You mentioned that more needs to be done in this area and I agree. In the year ending March 2020, over 7,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. This is 37 per cent more than in the previous year.
New Clause 29 (NC29): I believe that our disagreement on this issue is more about process than policy. As you may be aware, the Government presented a sincere offer to the EU on a future reciprocal arrangement for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children where it is in the child’s best interests. I do not believe the UK acting unilaterally, which is what this amendment sought to do, would be the best way of reuniting children with their families. It is better, in my view, to agree a reciprocal arrangement with the EU. I welcome the fact that the Government has agreed to revisit the UK’s unilateral position if an agreement is not possible.
I also believe that NC29 did not recognise the current routes available for reuniting families.
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 implementation period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.
The Prime Minister made clear the importance that the Government places on ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU Member State can continue to be reunited with specified family members who are in the UK, as well as children in the UK with family in the EU, following the UK’s exit from the EU.
In 2016 Parliament agreed to relocate 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK. In May this year, the Government announced that 478 children from Greece, Italy and France had been transferred to the UK under the scheme. The final two transfers were suspended due to the travel restrictions in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic. You may be pleased to hear that the UK has now completed the final two transfers and therefore completed the commitment you have referred to.
The UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for refugees. Each claim for asylum is carefully considered and where it is found that individuals are in need of protection, asylum is given, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.
Asylum seekers are allowed to work, in jobs on the Shortage Occupation List, if their claim has not been decided after 12 months through no fault of their own. The current policy aims to strike a balance between being equitable towards asylum seekers, while considering the rights and needs of our society as a whole, prioritising jobs for British citizens and those with leave to remain here, including refugees.
I understand that the Government is considering recent calls to change the current policy and is reviewing the evidence available. I am aware that in June 2020 the High Court granted permission for a judicial review of the current policy.
Campaign groups, including Lift the Ban, make interesting points about the economic benefits of changing the policy and I am assured Ministers will take this into consideration when reviewing the policy.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP