Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Speech on child refugees

In her speech yesterday on child refugees, Lyn brought up two specific cases that she is concerned about:

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab):

I thank the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for securing this debate. I wish to use my time to draw attention to the plight of two specific children and bring human faces to what can be a difficult discussion. I want the Government to hear about these two children—especially the Minister, who is currently chatting on the Front Bench, because I would like him to do something about it. He knows that I will hold him to account if I do not believe that he is paying attention.


The Minister for Immigration (Brandon Lewis):

I would like to point out that what the hon. Lady just said is completely false.


Lyn Brown:

Rubbish! I am not even going there.

The first case is that of Tekle, a 13-year-old Eritrean boy who is currently living in a camp near the French-Italian border. He has survived in Italy, unaccompanied, for more than 11 months now. His father is in the UK and is desperate for his son to join him. It must be absolutely heart-breaking for a parent to know that a child is so vulnerable but to be unable to bring them the relatively few miles to safety and to that parent. The asylum system in Italy—[Interruption.] The asylum system in Italy is overwhelmed. [Interruption.] Does the Minister want me to call him out again? I am happy to. I really would like him to listen. Perhaps the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), could stop chatting.


Brandon Lewis:

I am not sure whether or not the hon. Lady wants us to listen, but she is stopping for reasons that I simply do not understand. I am making notes on what she is saying so that I can answer her questions later. I am not quite sure what she is trying to imply. She seems to be playing a very silly game.


Lyn Brown:

The Minister knows better than to accuse me of playing silly games. If I was not watching people chatting on the Front Bench and if I was not worried that I was not being heard, I would not be stopping. I want to be heard because I genuinely believe that although these two cases are specific, they are also indicative of all the cases we have been hearing about today. I think the Minister is a good man generally, and I know that he normally listens to debates, which is why I had so much faith that he would listen to me today and take some action on these cases. That is why I am being so clear that I would like him to pay real attention to what is going on.

The refugee support organisation Safe Passage secured an appointment with the Italian authorities so that Tekle could request asylum and seek transfer to the UK, which appears to be his right. He was finally granted an interview last month but was not given an interpreter, so the information recorded was inaccurate and his journey was curtailed once more. Psychologists working with Médecins Sans Frontières have met Tekle more than once, and their professional assessment is that his mental health is in a perilous condition. He is also vulnerable to the criminal gangs that, as the Minister knows, prey at these camps around the world. His future remains unclear. I can only imagine what it must be like to be that young, that frightened and that alone and have to wait so long with nothing in the future secure. He does not know whether he will ever find a home or be safe with his family again.

The story that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) raised was about Awet, a 12-year-old Eritrean girl who arrived in Italy in June. Her brother, also a child, has been living with a stable foster family for the past three years. His carer is willing to foster Awet too so that the two can live together in security. Awet is obviously vulnerable. She was initially placed in a mixed reception centre with adults of both sexes before Safe Passage intervened. She is terribly afraid and despairing in the reception centre, and, like Tekle, has recently attempted to run away. She would rather risk absolutely everything in her attempt to be with her brother than remain in what she perceives to be a terrifying prison.

Last month—five months after her arrival—Awet was able, finally, to submit her asylum application in Italy, but it is unclear whether a take charge request has been made because of the consistent bureaucratic delays in the area. This is the situation that so many unaccompanied children live in across Europe. Their only hope is for a legal route to be offered to them so that they can rejoin their families.


Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab):

Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Government to ensure that the 280 places that have not been filled are filled as quickly as possible and that family reunions can take place as quickly as possible?


Lyn Brown:

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I ask the Minister, whom I normally like very much, to work with Safe Passage, which has been helping Tekle and Awet, to look into those two cases. I ask him personally to update me on their progress. As he knows full well, those are just two cases among many.


There is a clear moral principle: no child should spend a second longer than necessary in a state of vulnerability and uncertainty when they have family in Britain who can provide them with safety and support. This motion is not just about moral principle, but about the law. Whatever happens after Brexit, it is vital that UK law ensures that access for vulnerable children with a legal claim to rejoin families in Britain is retained and not reduced.

The Dublin III regulation leaves a lot to be desired, but the family reunion access guaranteed by our domestic law is often even more restrictive. Some lone child refugees who have grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters or brothers living in the UK only have a legal route to safety and family reunion because of the Dublin regulation. I want the Government—and the Minister today—to commit to working across this House to ensure that we, at the very least, replicate the provisions of Dublin III—


Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing):

Order. I will allow the hon. Lady say her last couple of words.


Lyn Brown:

You are very kind, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Basically, I ask the Government to replicate the provisions of Dublin III after Brexit so that we can bring these children home.


Lyn later urged the Minister to commit to working with her on the two cases she raised in her speech:


 Lyn Brown:

The Minister will remember that in my contribution and in those of other Members, we talked about children who have families here in the UK and who are desperate to get to them. Will he commit today to working with me on the two cases that I have brought to him, and on the other cases that Members on both sides of the House have raised, relating to children with families here who are risking their lives trying to be reunited with possibly the only family they have left?


Brandon Lewis:

I have worked with the hon. Lady a great deal over the years, and I genuinely like her. I will respond to the particular cases she has brought up, and I will touch on the wider issue of family reunion in a moment if she will bear with me.

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