Refugee crisis: Britain is failing to take in its fair share of unaccompanied children, House of Lords report says

'We found a clear failure among EU countries, including the UK, to shoulder their fair share of the burden'

Children line up for food at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border
Children line up for food at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border

Unaccompanied child migrants living in squalid conditions across Europe should not be treated as “somebody else’s problem” by the UK Government, a new parliamentary report has urged.

The cross-party intervention, which condemns the UK and EU member states for shirking their responsibility to care for unaccompanied children, comes after Theresa May faced heavy criticism for scrapping the Syrian refugee ministerial post just 10 months after it was created by her predecessor. The report – detailing the plight of unaccompanied children on the continent – calls on the Government to take its “fair share”.

Placing a particular emphasis on the missing children – now estimated to be more than 10,000 – the 113-page document, produced by the House of Lords’ European Union Committee, includes testimonies from witnesses that paint a harrowing picture of the “squalor, destitution and desperation” unaccompanied children face in the EU.

It pours scorn on EU member states for their reluctance to accept responsibility and share the burden of unaccompanied children. But the report singles out the UK for particular criticism, adding: “We deplore the continuing resistance of the UK Government to show solidarity with its European partners in helping to relocate such children.”

It also criticises the “lack of burden sharing” between local authorities in Britain - while the 32 London authorities have taken in 1,304 children just 50 are cared for by the 16 authorities in the South West.

Syrian children hold Pokemon pictures in the hope people will find them and save them

“We found that these children face suspicion on arrival. They are seen as ‘somebody else’s problem’ and the conditions they live in were described to us as deplorable and squalid,” said the committee chair Baroness Prashar.

“We found a clear failure among EU countries, including the UK, to shoulder their fair share of the burden. We deeply regret the UK’s reluctance to relocate migrant children to the UK, in particular those living in terrible conditions in the camps near the channel ports,” she added.

“It is particularly shocking that so many unaccompanied child migrants are falling out of the system altogether and going missing. How can member states, including the UK, tolerate a situation where there are more than 10,000 missing migrant children in the EU?”

New Prime minister Theresa May has faced heavy criticism for scrapping the Syrian refugee ministerial post 

The wide-ranging document also categorically dismisses the Government’s argument that the prospect of family reunification could encourage families to send children to Europe unaccompanied in order to act as an “anchor” for other relatives.

The report emerged as Ms May faced heavy criticism for scrapping the Syrian refugee ministerial post. The post was quietly abandoned when Ms May shifted Richard Harrington – appointed by David Cameron as the first ever minister for Syrian refugees – to become her new pensions minister.

Conservative backbencher Heidi Allen said the move was “not a great start” for Ms May, while the Liberal Democrats claimed it showed refugees would be treated worse than they had been under David Cameron. Owen Smith, the Labour leadership challenger, said it was “utterly disgraceful” to scrap the post “at a time when men, women and children are still drowning in the Mediterranean”.

But Downing Street defended Ms May’s decision to scrap the post of Syrian refugee minister. The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said the Home Office would retain responsibility to meet the Government’s promise to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.She added: “There was a role appointed to a specific MP to make sure that the commitment made previously to increase the number of refugees that we resettle got under way, got off to a good start and was delivered upon.”

The report, Children in Crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU, recommends the establishment of an independent guardianship scheme – at both an EU and UK level – to ensure decision are taken in the best interests of migrant children.

The committee also concludes that it is vital “on moral grounds” that the UK maintains good relations with the other member states to resolve the humanitarian crisis – despite the Brexit vote.

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