Government efforts to resettle unaccompanied child migrants from Calais to Britain have been branded a "disgrace" as ministers were accused of introducing arbitrary age guidelines.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons Robert Goodwill, the Home Office minister, said 300 children – including 19 girls at the weekend – had been relocated in Britain since French authorities began dismantling the so-called Jungle in Calais in October.
It is expected that “several hundred” further children will be granted refugee status in the UK in the coming weeks.
But on Monday the Government introduced guidelines that seriously restrict which children will qualify for a scheme to be brought to the UK initiated under the Dubs Amendment.
Carolyn Harris, the shadow Home Office minister, branded the qualifying criteria a “disgrace”, adding: “It is certainly not in the spirit of the Dubs Amendment. On the basis of this criteria it seems that any child subject to a medium or moderate sexual exploitation is on their own. A child is a child until the age of 18."
Raising the issue in an urgent question in the Commons, the Liberal Democrat’s former minister Tom Brake said: "The chaotic demolition of the Calais camp, which abandoned some children on the streets, leaves upwards of a thousand children in basic and temporary care facilities in France.
"In the days running up to the demolition the Home Secretary made statements which pointed to the UK offering a home for up to half the children in the camp. It is not clear how this is going to be achieved given the criteria published in the guidance documents."
The urgent question came in response to the Government implementing Section 67 of the Immigration Act in France, which outlined the Home Office’s eligibility criteria on transferring unaccompanied children who had been resident in the migrant camp in Calais on or before October 24.
To be considered eligible a child in Calais has to meet one of the Government’s criteria, which includes being under the age of 12, are at a high risk of sexual exploitation or are aged 15 or under and are of Sudanese or Syrian nationality.
Mr Brake questioned why the Government has excluded children from war-torn Eritrea and those aged 16 and 17-years-old who had been living in Calais.
He said: "This House agreed an amendment known as the Dubs Amendment, our Government must now set out how it is going to honour the letter and spirit of that amendment."
Mr Goodwill conceded there had been "chaotic scenes" as the Calais camp was cleared. But he insisted the Government has an "absolute commitment" to bring eligible children from France to the UK. He said: "We remain absolutely committed to bringing all eligible children to the UK as soon as possible.
"More than 300 children have been transferred from France since October 10, including resuming transfers over the weekend when another 19 girls assessed as being at high risk of sexual exploitation were brought to Scotland."
Bishop Peter Hill, a spokesman for Citizens UK which has campaigned and helped bring over a number of children from the camp, said: "We are concerned that the Government's decision to only take children from Syria and Sudan from Calais is a mistaken application of their intent to ensure that only children from refugee-producing countries are admitted to the UK.
"It is clear that Eritrean minors, for example, should be assessed as hailing from a 'refugee producing country'.
"Citizens UK's Safe Passage team estimates that 40 per cent of children in the Calais camp at the time of the demolition were Eritrean or Afghan. If the Home Office applies this criteria to the children who are being considered for sanctuary in the UK, it will be impossible to meet the Home Secretary's commitment to take 'half' of the children from Calais."
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