Minister claims UK at ‘breaking point’ as he rebuffs pleas to accept more refugee children

Chris Philp adopts language of Nigel Farage’s notorious Brexit poster to defend refusal to be more generous

Immigration minister Chris Philp says UK cannot accept more unaccompanied children because it is 'at breaking point'

The UK cannot accept any more children seeking asylum and trapped in squalid EU camps because it is at “breaking point”, a minister has claimed.

Chris Philp adopted the language of Nigel Farage’s notorious Brexit poster to defend the government’s refusal to ease restrictions – despite the devastating fire at a migrant camp in Greece.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, the immigration minister was told the UK must “play our part in this humanitarian crisis”, with the camps “desperate and dangerous”.

But Mr Philp claimed the UK was already allowing in “more unaccompanied asylum seeking children than any other European country”.

And he said: “Not only are we already playing our part, we are playing our part to breaking point.

“Literally, when another unaccompanied asylum-seeking child arrives, we really genuinely struggle to find a place for them because the numbers are now so huge.

“Whether that's someone that comes across on a small boat, or indeed someone who comes across from one of the camps elsewhere in Europe.”

Mr Philp also claimed the system coping with the surge in small boats making Channel crossings was “close to collapse”, forcing him to plea with local councils to accept the people arriving.

And, admitting the UK is the only European country to prevent refugee children bringing in close family members, he argued to allow that would be an “incentive for people smugglers”.

The phrase “breaking point” became notorious when Mr Farage used it on an anti-migrant poster that was reported to the police for allegedly breaching the UK’s race laws.

Lord Ricketts, the committee’s chairman and a former national security adviser, cast doubt on the claim about UK help – pointing out that some EU countries are receiving “hundreds of thousands” of refugees.

Jon Featonby, refugee and asylum policy manager at British Red Cross, criticised the comments, saying: “Many children are currently alone and separated from family, in sometimes squalid conditions

“No child should be left to care for themselves, so it's vital that unaccompanied children are given a safe place to live, and hopefully reunited with their loved ones.”

Mr Philp gave evidence to the Lords security and justice sub-committee after Alf Dubs, a Labour peer and former child refugee, attacked the government’s stance as an “absolute disgrace”.

Earlier this month, fire tore through the Moria centre, on the island of Lesbos, incinerating tents that had been home to 13,000 people, including at least 4,000 children.

Germany has agreed to take in a total of 1,553 people from 408, while France has also offered to provide refuge to unaccompanied children, but the UK has not offered help.

The row comes as ministers come under fire for proposing tougher reunification rules with the EU from January, excluding anyone other than unaccompanied children.

Mr Philp also admitted there was no certainty any agreement would be reached before the end of the post-Brexit transition period, in January – with Brussels declining to discuss it.

The UK would then be forced to fall back on “case-by-case” discussions, the minister said, for both family reunions and trying to return would-be asylum-seekers who have travelled through EU countries.  

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