In December 2016 I wrote to the Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Goodwill MP, to share my concerns with regards to the guidance on implementation of Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.
The eligibility criteria for transfers of children from Calais, as set out in the guidance, states that a child must meet one of the following in order to be successfully relocated to the UK:
- The child must be aged 12 or under;
- The child must be referred directly by the French authorities, or by an organisation working on behalf of the French authorities, to the Home Office as being at high risk of sexual exploitation;
- The child must be aged 15 or under and of Sudanese or Syrian nationality (these nationalities have a first instance asylum grant rate in the UK of 75% or higher, based on the asylum statistics for the period from July 2015 to June 2016);
- The child must be aged under 18 and the accompanying sibling of a child meeting one of the three criteria outlined above;
- Transfer to the UK must be determined to be in the best interests of the child;
- The child must have been present in the Calais camp on or before 24 October 2016;
- The child must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016.
During visits I made last year to Greece, Italy, Calais and Nigeria, I found evidence indicating that the migration crisis is being used by human trafficking networks to target and exploit the most vulnerable. Unaccompanied children are vulnerable to modern slavery once they reach Italy and Greece, as well as at risk of exploitation en route and in other European countries, including the UK.
I provided advice to the Government last year on what more could be done to protect vulnerable children and adults at risk of trafficking in Italy and Greece. This advice included recommendations on the development of the eligibility criteria for transfers of unaccompanied children to the UK under Section 67 the Immigration Act. These include making relocation decisions based on the four fundamental principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989), including non-discriminatory decisions made in the best interest of the child, as well as prioritising children who have suffered exploitation during their journey, including labour and criminal exploitation, and who are continuously at risk of being further exploited.
In September 2016 I wrote to the Home Secretary in relation to the situation in Calais at that time to highlight specific groups of children, of various ages and nationalities, that are most vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery; such forms of exploitation include forced labour, criminal exploitation and organ trafficking.
With such a variety of exploitation being prevalent, I was concerned that the eligibility criteria for transfers of children from Calais was limited and includes only children at high risk of sexual exploitation, as identified and referred by the French authorities. Similar concerns have been shared with me by Save the Children, UNICEF and Citizens UK. I raised these concerns with Ministers.
I am certainly encouraged by the Government’s efforts in bringing children to safety in the UK. However, more needs to be done. The initial announcement made by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, in May 2016 stated, “those at risk of trafficking or exploitation will be prioritised for resettlement”.
More children are due to be transferred from Europe under the provisions of the Immigration Act and Dublin III regulations. Eligibility criteria for relocation from Greece and Italy are yet to be published. I would like to see more comprehensive criteria developed for future transfers that helps protect vulnerable children at risk of all forms of modern slavery.