I continue to believe strongly that we need to do all we can to help the world’s most vulnerable people. I agree with the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury who said that the resettlement of thousands of vulnerable refugees over the last four years is something the UK can be proud of. I also support the principle of family unity, and I am glad that there already is a comprehensive framework for refugees and their families to be safely reunited in the UK.
The Prime Minister has been clear of the importance in ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU Member State can continue to be reunited with specified family members in the UK as well as children in the UK with family in the EU. Indeed, you may be pleased to know that the Home Secretary has already written to the EU inviting discussions and negotiations to begin on this very issue.
I am very pleased and encouraged that in 2018, the UK received over 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children, making the UK Europe’s third-highest intake country. In addition, in the year ending September 2019, 6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee protection in our country.
Government policy on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children has not changed. Clause 37 has been introduced to clarify the role of Government and Parliament in negotiations. In short, this clause removes the statutory requirement to negotiate. Instead, requires the Government to lay a statement before Parliament on its policy regarding arrangements for future family reunification for unaccompanied children between the UK and the EU. A statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU does not itself lead to an agreement. This change will enable full flexibility during negotiations and continued family reunification of vulnerable children remains a Government priority.
There has been misleading reporting over past weeks, claiming that the Government is turning its back on vulnerable refugees, in particular unaccompanied asylum seeking children. However, the UK Government has a strong and proud record of helping vulnerable children and this will not change.
The Government is doing more than most EU countries to help vulnerable unaccompanied 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 UK has granted protection to 41,000 children since 2010. In the last year alone we granted protection or other forms of leave to over 7,500 children.
We remain absolutely committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and we do not require the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to achieve this. The purpose of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is to put the Withdrawal Agreement, which the Government has agreed with the EU, into law. It is not about our future relationship with the EU.
An agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children is a matter for negotiations with the EU and isn’t solely in the gift of the UK. That is why the Home Secretary proactively wrote to the European Commission on 22nd October to commence negotiation on this issue. Clause 37 of the Bill amends our statutory obligation to negotiate to an obligation to make a policy statement to Parliament, in light of this fact.
The UK is a world leader in global resettlement and our flagship Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has resettled over 18,000 since 2014. Over half of those resettled under this scheme are children, again demonstrating our commitment to giving vulnerable children the chance to rebuild their lives in safety. In fact, in 2018 the UK resettled more refugees than any other EU member state.