Children who were refused asylum after being brought to the UK when the Calais refugee camp was closed are to be granted leave to remain in the country.
A total of 549 children were transferred to the UK to be reunited with family members when the camp was cleared in October 2016, but a small number did not qualify for refugee status under immigration rules. These children would have either been removed from the UK or given unaccompanied asylum child (UASC) leave, which expires when the child turns 18.
However the government is to offer this group “Calais leave”, which will grant those who qualify the right to study, work, and have access to public funds and healthcare, with the option to apply for settlement after 10 years. The rule change will take effect in the autumn.
It will only be available to those brought over as part of the clearance between October 2016 and July 2017, who were under the age of 18 at the time, and who had recognised family ties in the UK.
Refugee support groups welcomed the change but reiterated criticism of family reunion rules, which currently restrict refugees in Britain from applying for certain relatives to join them. Currently, child refugees cannot apply for parents to join them in the UK, while adults can only apply for spouses and children aged 18 or under to join them. A private member’s bill, spearheaded by the Scottish National MP Angus MacNeil, going through the Commons proposes to broaden the definition of a family member under the rules.
Jon Featonby, a refugee and asylum policy and advocacy manager at the British Red Cross, said: “This new form of leave marks a really positive step towards recognising the importance of family unity, and we hope it is an indication of more positive changes based on that principle.”
He said the BRC, which is the largest independent provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, had been encouraging the government for some time to broaden refugee family reunion rules, including by allowing child refugees in the UK to sponsor their parents to join them.
“We believe that anyone who has had to flee their home, regardless of the reason, should be able to rebuild their life in safety with their family.”
There were 27,044 asylum applications in the UK from main applicants in the year to the end of June, well below the peak of 75,680 in the year ending June 2002.
In the year to June, the UK issued 14,308 grants of asylum, alternative forms of protection and resettlement.
There were 2,424 asylum applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, 20% less than the previous year. Of the 2,240 initial decisions relating to them, 1,166 (52%) were grants of asylum or another form of protection, and 397 (18%) were UASC leave. A further 30% of UASC applications were refused.
The immigration minister Caroline Nokes said that since the start of 2010 the UK had provided asylum or an alternative form of protection to more than 31,000 children.
“We can be proud of our record of helping refugee and other vulnerable children affected by conflict, violence and instability.
“I am determined that we continue in these efforts and that is why we are introducing a new form of leave, exclusively for children brought to the UK from the Calais camp, so that they can continue rebuilding their lives with their families in the UK.”