Government urged to ‘do the decent thing’ on settled status of EU children in care

Peers have urged the Government to “do the decent thing” and automatically grant EU children in care settled status in the UK with the ending of free movement.

Those behind the cross-party call argued it would ensure vulnerable youngsters “don’t fall into a crack” and find themselves undocumented “and potentially stateless” post-Brexit.

The case was made as the House of Lords continued its scrutiny of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which will pave the way for a new points-based immigration system.

The change being sought to the legislation would give children in care and care leavers automatic and indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.

Peers were fearful over the future of the vulnerable youngsters if their post-Brexit settled status applications are not completed by social workers or guardians by the June 2021 deadline.

The call for action was led by the refugee campaigner and Labour peer Lord Dubs (pictured), who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport.

He said: “It is my contention that very little decisive action has been taken to ensure that none of these children become undocumented as the scheme draws to a close in June next year.

“By the Government’s own estimates there are 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers that need to regularise their immigration status because the UK is leaving the EU.

“It can never, never be in a child’s best interest to be undocumented.”

He was supported by Tory peer the Earl of Dundee, who said: “In guaranteeing their protection, this amendment is both logical and necessary.”

Veteran diplomat and independent crossbencher Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who is a trustee of the Refugee Council, said: “We are dealing with a small problem here. The purpose is to ensure that children in care don’t fall into a crack with their status undetermined and undocumented now or in the future.

“I think it is the decent thing to do and I am convinced that the Government will want to do the decent thing and stop the children falling into the crack that has accidentally been created.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Bruce of Bennachie warned that thousands of children “could be left undocumented and potentially stateless without the proactive measures proposed in this amendment”.

He added: “This could further blight the lives of the young people, who will be struggling to build their lives in a post-Covid, post-Brexit environment.

“The last thing they will need is to be confronted at a critical point in their lives… to be faced with a challenge to their status because they did not know and were not properly informed of the need to secure settled status and helped to go about it.”

Labour frontbencher Lord Kennedy of Southwark said: “It is the decent thing to do for these children. This is a relatively small number of children we are talking about, but it ensures nobody falls into the trap of becoming undocumented.”

Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford responded: “I absolutely agree that no child should be undocumented and that we shouldn’t create any cracks.”

But while acknowledging the intention of the amendment, she argued it would put “that vulnerable group at a greater risk of ending up without that secure evidence that’s so important of UK immigration status”.

The Windrush scandal had shown a declaratory system – under which immigration is conferred automatically without secure evidence – “does not work”, said Lady Williams.

She added: “The new clause risks repeating that experience where this vulnerable group of children and young people is concerned and that is not something the Government can support.

“What the Government wants to do is to focus its efforts and resources on working closely with local authorities and other partners to ensure these children and young people, like any other vulnerable group, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme and get that secure evidence, which they will need to prove their rights and entitlements for decades to come.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Katie Collins / PA Wire.