As the Minister indicated in the House in January, the Government remains absolutely committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was not required to achieve this.
The purpose of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was to put the Withdrawal Agreement, which the Government has agreed with the EU, into law. It was not about our future relationship with the EU.
I continue to believe strongly that we need to do all we can to help the world’s most vulnerable people. In the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and to 41,000 children since 2010. This is more than the vast majority of EU countries have done to help vulnerable children.
The UK’s resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. As of September 2019, over 18,250 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). Over half those resettled via these two schemes have been children. In 2018, the UK had the third-highest intake of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children in the EU, receiving 15% of all claims from unaccompanied children across Europe.
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. This remains an objective of this Government as part of the discussions with the EU which are underway about the shape of our future relationship with the EU.
An agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children is a matter for discussions with the EU and isn’t solely in the gift of the UK. The Home Secretary proactively wrote to the European Commission on 22nd October to commence negotiation on this issue. In the meantime, 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 requests that have been submitted.