Government must assess child trafficking risk before changing Dubs scheme

06 March 2017

In an urgent report published ahead of the Commons debate on looked-after children, the Home Affairs Committee calls on Government to urgently consult the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) on the impact of any changes to the Dubs scheme on trafficking and exploitation of children and also to check and publish the capacity of councils to provide further places for unaccompanied children next year. The cross-party committee calls on the Government to do this before any moves to change the Dubs scheme or to end transfers to the UK under the scheme.

Unaccompanied child migrants report

The short interim report comes in response to the Government's announcement in early February that it intended to limit the number of children who would be accepted into Britain under the "Dubs Amendment" (section 67 of the Immigration Act) to 350, 200 of whom had already arrived in the UK.

This number was far lower than many people had anticipated and would mean the transfer of children under Section 67 of the Immigration Act ending much earlier than many people had expected.

The Committee is only part way through its inquiry and will take further evidence on both the Dubs and Dublin schemes, but it has published this interim report in advance of the Commons consideration of the Children and Social Work Bill on Tuesday, where amendments have been tabled which cover unaccompanied child refugees.

Protection of children

The Government has said that one reason for its decision on the Dubs scheme was because it was acting as "a pull" which "encourages the people traffickers. However the Committee heard from organisations including UNICEF and Save the Children who said that closing the Dubs scheme would increase the risk of child trafficking and exploitation. At the same time the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said safe, legal routes were an important part of protecting children and described the Dubs scheme as "an important safe, legal route for unaccompanied refugee children" which had now given sanctuary to children who had previously been exploited. He also raised a series of questions about the Government's view.

Ministers have also said that local authorities are only able to provide 350 places for children under the Dubs scheme. However the Committee heard from local councils that more capacity was available and that if further funding was provided up to a further 4,000 places could be made available.

Committee conclusions

The Committee concludes that before making any changes to the Dubs scheme, Government should:

  • Urgently respond to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's concern and queries set out in his Statement of 22 February and consult him on his assessment of the likely impact of taking this step on the scale of trafficking of unaccompanied children.
  • Publish the most up to date offers from local authorities to take unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and clarify their capacity to take more of these children under the Dubs process in the 2017–18 financial year. The Committee heard from the LGA and Citizens UK that there may be capacity for as many as 4,000 more unaccompanied children.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"There is a big gap between what the Government has said, and the evidence we heard from local councils and from organisations like UNICEF who are working with child refugees. This is too important to get wrong when children's lives and futures are at risk. That's why we are making these urgent interim recommendations now.

Ministers have said that they need to end the Dubs scheme in order to prevent trafficking, but Save the Children and others have said this will make child trafficking, abuse and exploitation worse. That's why we have called on the Government to consult the expert Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner on his assessment of the risks of more trafficking if the scheme ends—after all it is his job to prevent the kind of abuse and slavery we are all worried about.

The Government has also said local councils can only take 350 children under the Dubs scheme. But councils told us that with funding in place they could take many more. That's why we want Ministers to publish all the council offers of help they have had, and to find out how many more children they could take in the next financial year.

We will keep taking evidence on this so we can get the full picture. But given that the Commons may be debating amendments on this issue on Tuesday we felt it was important for Parliament to see our interim recommendations."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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