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Unaccompanied child migrants: Thirteenth Report of Session 2016–17

Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report

20,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Italy by sea in the first nine months of 2016, up from 16,500 in 2015, with a further 2,300 in Greece. In 2015, 3,253 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in the UK; the number in 2016 was 3,175.

In May 2016, the Government agreed to an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 (Section 67) which committed it to accepting a “specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”. This was to include children in the migrant camps in Calais, as well as in migrant arrival areas in Italy and Greece. In early February 2017, the Government announced that this “specified number” of children would total 350, 200 of whom had already arrived in the UK. This number was far lower than many people had anticipated and would mean that the transfer of children under Section 67 of the Immigration Act ended much earlier than many people had expected.

In response to this announcement, we decided that we needed to hold an urgent oral evidence session. On 22 February, we took evidence from organisations working with unaccompanied children in Europe and the UK; the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland; and from representatives of local authorities, which are responsible for providing care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK.

We intend to take further evidence on this important issue, including from the Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill MP, and from Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Mr Hyland visited migration “hotspots” and other relevant locations in Italy and Greece in May and June 2016 at the request of the then Home Secretary, and subsequently drew a number of “priority considerations” to the Government’s attention. On 22 February, he published a statement on “protecting unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation”, which set out his views on safe refuge for child refugees under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 and the Dublin III Regulation; improving protection for child migrants in Europe; and the importance of addressing the root causes of trafficking at source.

In the meantime, we decided to publish this very short interim report to inform consideration in the House of Commons of the Children and Social Work Bill, which aims to improve provision for “looked after” children in the care of local authorities. This includes migrant children who arrive or are accepted in a local authority area.7 Amendments to the Bill will be debated in the House on 7 March as it reaches the final stages of the parliamentary process. Chapter 3 of this report sets out some recommendations for action on child migrants which we believe the Government needs to take immediately, to inform the debate. We will publish a more detailed final report once we have heard from the additional key witnesses.