Last year I went with Liz Saville Roberts MP to the refugee camp in Calais and saw at first hand the desperate situation of the people, especially the children.
Many children had families already in the UK and could not understand why authorities were keeping them in dire conditions, and stopping them from being reunited with their relatives.
Months later, when the camp was demolished, a charity that had been tracking children in the camp reported that a third of these children had gone missing. The failure of the procedures that were supposed to be in place were likely to have pushed many children into the services of smugglers. Travelling in lorries, not knowing what your fate may be, is a situation that thankfully, most of us can't begin to imagine. They had been let down by the services which should protect them.
Last week the European Commission reported to the European Parliament on how to tackle the disappearance of migrant children. For me, the statistics on child refugees sends a chill down my spine.
While the Commission showed plenty of compassion, it is swift and effective action that is needed to protect vulnerable children - by the EU and by member states’ governments. We cannot allow refugee children to become mere statistics.
These are the statistics. Almost 90,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU in 2015, with 2016 figures expected to be higher. The number of applications from unaccompanied children for asylum in the UK, excluding dependants, was 1,161 in the fourth quarter of 2016, significantly higher than 2016. Unaccompanied minors made up about 8% of all asylum claims in the UK in 2015.
Children’s rights should always be our priority, regardless of their migration status. The necessary support needs to be in place for unaccompanied children from the moment they arrive to ensure that they are safe throughout the asylum process and that their rights are upheld.
I believe that beyond keeping children safe and working to reunite them with their families, we need to do more to empower them. Through investment in refugee services, and the cooperation of local communities in welcoming and supporting them once they have arrived, we can help them become equal and valuable members of our society.
There is excellent voluntary work being done in many communities across Wales to achieve this and we can be proud of that. CEFN: Cefnogi Ffoaduriaid / Supporting Refugees do excellent work in the north, sending essential aid every month to refugee camps. I encourage you all to join their Facebook page. But this needs to be matched by more effective action on the part of governments and the EU.