Ministers to ‘look again’ at unaccompanied child refugee amendment

Ministers have agreed to “look again” at a Lords amendment which seeks to broaden the definition of an unaccompanied child refugee.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland said he had listened “very carefully” to opinion across the House after Labour former minister Yvette Cooper urged him to accept an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that would allow children seeking asylum to join under-age relatives.

He said the Government would look again at the issue with a view to a potential amendment in lieu in the Lords.

Mr Buckland earlier announced that the Government would seek a new “reciprocal agreement with the EU to allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children present in an EU member state to join close family members here in the UK and visa versa where it’s in their best interests to do so”.

He said any such agreement would be to “allow an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child to reside with family members while their claim is being considered”.

He added: “It won’t automatically confer long-term status here or mean that that person will be granted refugee status, as with all claims the UK will examine those claims in line with our international obligations and domestic rules and legislation.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper (pictured) welcomed the Government’s acceptance of her amendment 24 (ii) but urged ministers to accept 24 (i).

Mr Buckland replied: “The key consideration here must be the question of the best interests of the child. Bringing children to join under-age relatives may well be in their best interests sometimes, but not always … and there is an issue about pressure on our domestic care system.”

Tory Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) intervened, saying: “This is just about a little piece of legal text that says that if it is in the best interests for that child, then they should be able to join that sibling. I can see for the limited number of cases that we’re talking about, (there’s) no reason whatsoever why would that not be a kind, compassionate and logical thing to do.”

Conservative Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) said the Government had not backed amendment 24 (i) which he said would ensure children seeking asylum could be reunited with their brothers or sisters under the age of 18.

Mr Buckland later told the Commons: “I’ve listened very carefully to opinion right across the House about the outstanding matter on the Dubs amendment and the Government will look again with regard to that particular outstanding issue raised by (Labour former minister Yvette Cooper) with a view to a potential amendment in lieu in the other place.”

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