Hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees currently stranded in Europe will now be eligible to come to Britain after the Home Office announced it was to scrap "arbitrary" time restrictions on the Dubs scheme.
Campaigners have welcomed the decision to scrap the "cut-off date", which previously meant unaccompanied children arriving in Europe after 18 January 2018 would not be eligible, saying it could be a "lifeline to hundreds of incredibly vulnerable children".
But they criticised ministers for not changing the legislation sooner, saying it left "some of the most vulnerable children in the world" without protection.
There are currently around 200 at-risk unaccompanied children in Northern France alone who could now be accepted under the amendment, of which at least 45 children are believed to be under the age of 15, according to charities in Calais.
The scheme was initially expected to resettle around 3,000 unaccompanied children, but ministers controversially set a limit of 480. Recent figures revealed in a parliamentary answer show less than half that number – 220 – have been transferred to the UK.
There are currently an estimated 30 children in Northern France and 25 children in Greece known to have been approved for protection under the Dubs scheme who have been waiting more than two months months to be transferred.
The Independent revealed that a former Calais Jungle child refugee who was unlawfully refused safe passage to join his aunt in Britain is still languishing in France two years on from the closure of the shanty town.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said in a statement on Thursday: “Following discussion with delivery partners, we have decided to remove the date criterion for when children had to have arrived in Europe to qualify for transfer to the UK.
“Delivering section 67 in a safe way, which respects individual states’ national laws and the best interests of children, remains a priority for the government.
“This decision means that participating states – France, Greece and Italy – will now be able to refer the most vulnerable children, regardless of when they arrived into Europe.”
To be eligible for the scheme, it must be in the child’s best interests to come to the UK, rather than remain in their current host country, be transferred to another EU member state or to be reunited with family outside Europe.
Responding to the announcement, Lord Alf Dubs said: “Now the cut-off date has been lifted, more child refugees in Europe will have the chance to come to this country and start rebuilding their lives instead of languishing in camps, shelters or even on the streets.
“Across this UK, politicians and members of the public are signing up to show their support for child refugees. We have the capacity to do more, and this small change could be a lifeline to hundreds of incredibly vulnerable children.
“I hope that the Home Office and local authorities can act quickly to fill the places available under this scheme, and I look forward to continuing to work with the government to give more child refugees safe passage.”
Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage, said: “This important change will mean hundreds more of the most vulnerable child refugees in Europe can be granted protection under the scheme.
“The priority now must be to bring these children to Britain as soon as possible and ensure they can finally gain the support they need to re-build their lives.”
Josie Naughton, chief executive and co-founder of Help Refugees, said that while the announcement offered a "glimmer of hope" to some of the unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, it comes far too late".
She added: "Vulnerable children, who should have been safe and warm in the UK years ago, are going to have to fend for themselves for a third consecutive winter. It’s not good enough.
"Our litigation earlier this year found that the Home Office had acted illegally in its treatment of unaccompanied children. In light of this, at the very least, they must fill all remaining Dubs places before winter ends and more children are needlessly lost or harmed."
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