Charities hail plans to take in vulnerable refugee children


Charities have hailed potentially "ground-breaking" plans for Britain to take in vulnerable refugee children who have become separated from their families in Syria and other conflicts, the Government has announced.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the UK would work with the United Nations refugee agency - the UNHCR - to identify "exceptional cases" of unaccompanied children in conflict zones who would benefit from protection in Britain.

At the same time, Britain is to provide additional resources to the European Asylum Support Office to help Greece and Italy identify migrants - including children - who could be re-united with family members elsewhere in Europe, including in the UK.

The Department for International Development (Dfid) is also to establish a new fund of up to £10 million to support vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe.

The move follows calls from charities led by Save the Children for Britain to admit at least 3,000 young people who have reached Europe from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan who are judged to be at serious risk from people traffickers.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening confirmed at the weekend that ministers were looking at what more could be done to support unaccompanied children.

The Home Office has not put a figure on how many children it expects to accept under the scheme, which is in addition to the programme to re-settle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020.

Mr Brokenshire made clear, however, that in most cases children were better off remaining in the region they came from so they could be re-united with any surviving family members.

"The crisis in Syria and events in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond has separated a large number of refugee children from their families," Mr Brokenshire said.

"The vast majority are better off staying in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members. So we have asked the UNHCR to identify the exceptional cases where a child's best interests are served by resettlement to the UK and help us to bring them here."

Kitty Arie of Save the Children also welcomed the announcement and said the measures to help re-unite families in Europe had the potential to help thousands of vulnerable child refugees.

"They face freezing temperatures and the threat of exploitation, trafficking and abuse," she said. "The Government's promise to fast-track family reunification across Europe will help these vulnerable child refugees build a better life alongside their loved ones already here."

Father Simon Cuff of Citizens UK, the charity behind the legal challenge to Government on reuniting unaccompanied minors with their families, said the scheme had the potential to be "truly ground- breaking, a real step forward for the desperate young refugees we have been working with in Calais, Dunkirk and beyond".

Yvette Cooper, who chairs Labour's refugee task force, said it was a "very welcome step forward" but urged ministers to do more to help unaccompanied child refugees in Europe but had no other family there.

"We still need details of how it will work in practice and how many children will be helped," she said. "Just as we did decades ago with the Kindertransport, Britain should do its bit to help vulnerable children again now."

The announcement came after David Cameron was criticised for describing the inhabitants of the camp at Calais as a "bunch of migrants" during heated exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

The Labour leader - who visited the camp at the weekend - has written to the Prime Minister condemning what he described as his "inflammatory language" on such a sensitive issue.

For Labour, shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said ministers should be doing more to help child refugees in Europe.

"The Government cannot continue to draw the false distinction between refugees in the region and refugees in Europe. Both are desperate and both need our help," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This is an important step, but it is far from the guarantee these desperate children need and action must follow immediately."