The United Kingdom will seek to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees fleeing war and poverty over the next five years, but the government may deport children once they turn 18, former British Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown said Monday on social media, stating that a “minister in the Lords” confirmed the information.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced the resettlement plan at the beginning of the week, saying that his country has a “moral responsibility” to respond to the influx of migrants trying to reach Europe “given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the Syrian people.” Cameron said that his country would take in refugees from refugee camps and from Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Under the plan, vulnerable children and orphans would be given priority to receive temporary five-year “humanitarian protection” visas when they arrive in the country.
Cameron also said that he telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who welcomed the decision. Facing the same crisis, Germany has already taken in 15,000 refugees in one weekend.
However, there are some questions about what will happen to refugee children when they become adults. During the Lords debate on Monday, Lord Ashdown asked the government to confirm whether “any child or orphan brought in under this scheme will, as is the case under present legislation, be deported at the age of 18.”
Responding for the government, Baroness Stowell sidestepped the question, stating, “[T]he point I was trying to make about the way in which we will support refugees who come to us who are children is that there is a clear legal framework that applies when people arrive here as refugees, which includes, after so many years, people being entitled to residency in the United Kingdom. I am not suggesting that there is a new set of rules, or a change to existing rules, because of this expanded refugee programme at this time.”
Although it’s unlikely that Syrian refugee children would be summarily rounded up at the age of 18 and marked for deportation, it’s entirely possible that they could be deported when they reach adulthood. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom deported 600 Afghans who arrived as unaccompanied children years before, the political news website Politics.co.uk noted.
And over the past decade, a growing number of children have been granted temporary asylum only to be later denied permanent asylum as adults — increasing from zero cases in 2005 to 374 cases in 2014.
Deporting people back to Syria could potentially violate the international law principle found in the 1951 Refugee Convention called non-refoulement, which prohibits governments from returning asylum-seekers to places where their lives could be put in danger. Nonetheless, other countries have already deported Syrians, such as Jordan, which didn’t sign or ratify the 1951 Convention, and Turkey, which did.
Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement to resettle the 20,000 Syrian refugees, but insisted that the country could do more by “taking in 3,000 of the children who have travelled here completely alone.” Forsyth also called on European leaders to agree to a plan that would include providing greater aid to refugees’ home countries and maintaining search and rescue operations at sea.
Meanwhile, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas believes that Cameron’s plan “falls pitifully short of what’s needed” to address the current migrant crisis, while the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that it was a “very slim response,” the BBC reported.
According to a YouGov poll conducted last week, 11 percent of British people said that they would be willing to take a refugee into their homes for six months, while another 41 percent supported local council areas taking in ten refugee families each. The poll results came out a few days before Pope Francis asked every Catholic parish or religious community in Europe to “welcome a family of refugees.”