Theresa May handed 50,000-strong petition condemning closure of child refugee programme

Labour peer Alf Dubs condemns the PM’s move as ‘shabby cop-out”

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The Independent Online

Theresa May has come under renewed pressure to keep open a scheme providing sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees as Labour peer Alf Dubs delivered a mass petition to Downing Street.

Around 50,000 people signed the petition against the Dubs closure, amid widespread outrage at the decision branded “shameful” by Labour’s refugee taskforce spokesperson Yvette Cooper.

MPs believed they were welcoming 3,000 children when they passed the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act in 2016, but a low-key ministerial statement on Thursday revealed it would come to an end having welcomed just 350.

Yvette Cooper calls backtrack on Dubs amendment 'shameful'

Lord Dubs was accompanied by a group of young children as he carried the petition to the door of No 10. 

He later told reporters: “I was shocked and in disbelief. I couldn't believe the Government could back off in quite that way.

“We want the Government to change their minds. The Government have said they don’t want to take more than 350 in total under the amendment. I think that's a very shabby cop-out.

“I believe that there are thousands of unaccompanied child refugees suffering greatly in Greece, Italy and some in France. The Government has said no more, and I think that is an abdication of their responsibilities. It goes against public opinion and it goes against parliamentary opinion.”

The Labour peer was joined opposite No 10 by campaigners, local politicians and faith leaders who gave a series of speeches.

The petition follows a bruising intervention by the the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said he was “saddened and shocked” by the Dubs closure and appeared to compare the Government’s position with that of Donald Trump.

He warned that halting the initiative would see more children being trafficked, exploited and killed and said it would be “deeply unjust” to leave the burden of caring for such children on Italy and Greece.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to defend the Dubs closure, but faced criticism for saying that the programme encouraged people traffickers.

A High Court challenge to the ending of the Dubs scheme has been scheduled in early May.

The legal challenge, which is being brought by the charity Help Refugees, claims the consultation process with local authorities that led to the scheme's closure was “fundamentally flawed”.

The crisis affecting the Government’s refugee programmes deepened on Friday when it emerged that another programme for child refugees – called the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme – is not accepting young people with disabilities because it cannot accommodate their needs.

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