Government backtracks on pledge to take child refugees

Only 350 unaccompanied child refugees will be allowed to settle in the UK, thousands short of numbers previously indicated

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The Independent Online

Hours before the final vote on the triggering of Article 50 the government quietly announced it would allow just 350 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and elsewhere to come to the UK, thousands short of the figure suggested by government sources last year.

The statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said local authorities indicated “have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year” and said the country should be “proud” of its contribution to finding homes for refugees.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the decision “a betrayal of British values”.

“Last May, MPs from all parties condemned the Government’s inaction on child refugees in Europe, and voted overwhelmingly to offer help to the thousands of unaccompanied kids who were stranded without their families backed by huge public support,” Mr Farron said.

“Instead, the Government has done the bare minimum, helping only a tiny number of youngsters and appearing to end the programme while thousands still suffer. At the end of December last year the Government had failed to bring a single child refugee to the UK under the Dubs scheme from Greece or Italy where many of these children are trapped.”

Ministers introduced the programme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone children stranded on the continent.

Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Lord Dubs, whose amendment to the Immigration Act requires the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.

The legislation did not specify a figure but on Wednesday Mr Goodwill said 350 children will be transferred under the initiative.

It is the first time an official figure has been given for the number of under-18s who will be resettled in the UK under the Dubs Amendment, which is given effect by Section 67 of the Immigration Act.

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Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at the Refugee Council said: “The Government’s job is far from done; the global refugee crisis hasn’t gone away and if anything it’s getting worse.

“The UK needs to step up rather than step back and ensure that we pull our weight by offering refuge to more vulnerable people and enabling more refugees to reunite with their families here.”

It was reached after consultation with councils on their capacity to care for and support asylum-seeking children, the Government said.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Goodwill said more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were transferred to the UK from Europe in total last year.

This included more than 750 from France as part of Britain’s support for the clearance of the Calais jungle.

More than 200 of those children met the criteria for the Dubs route, while the remainder were transferred under an accelerated process based on, but operated outside of, the Dublin Regulation covering family reunion cases.

Mr Goodwill said: “The UK can be proud of its record of helping refugee children and I can today announce, in accordance with Section 67 of the Immigration Act, that the Government will transfer the specified number of 350 children pursuant to that section, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision.

“This number includes over 200 children already transferred under Section 67 from France. It does not include children transferred to UK where they have close family here.

“We will announce in due course the basis on which further children will be transferred from Europe to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act to the specified number.”

The Home Office minister went on: “As required by the legislation, we have consulted with local authorities on their capacity to care for and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children before arriving at this number.

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“Local authorities told us they have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year.

“We estimate that at least 50 of the family reunion cases transferred from France as part of the Calais clearance will require a local authority placement in cases where the family reunion does not work out.

“We are grateful for the way in which local authorities have stepped up to provide places for those arriving and we will continue to work closely to address capacity needs.”