Government accused over child refugees in Europe


The Government has been accused of ignoring the plight of thousands of unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe after fleeing the fighting in Syria and other conflict zones.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire confirmed that a new scheme to admit vulnerable refugee children would only apply to those still in the region and would not cover those who have managed to reach Europe.

Officials also played down suggestions that many more could be settled in the UK through improved measures to identify migrants - including children - with close family members in Europe with whom they could be reunited.

Charities such as Save the Children - which has called on Britain to take at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe - had originally hailed the move, saying it could open the door for "thousands" more to come to the UK.

However the Home Office made clear that it was simply a "continuation" of Britain's existing obligations to reunite family members under a European agreement known as the Dublin regulations.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children said: "We want the Government pro-actively to seek out refugee children in Europe with family connections in the UK and speed up the process of reunification."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World At One, Mr Brokenshire said the UK was already following the provisions of the Dublin regulations.

"What we want to see is better systems in place to identify connections across the EU. It is about better information to help see that happen," he said.

He said Britain would provide additional support in "hotspots" such as Italy and Greece to help identify and register at-risk children when they first arrive in the EU as well as committing £10 million to support vulnerable migrant children in Europe.

In a Commons written statement, he also confirmed that the Government would work with the United Nations refugee agency - the UNHCR - to identify vulnerable children in conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan who would benefit from being re-settled in the UK.

He made clear however that these were likely to be "exceptional cases" as the UNCHR generally considered it was better for them to remain in the region where they could be reunited with any remaining family members.

Ministers have also argued against taking child refugees from Europe, saying it would simply encourage more to make the dangerous sea crossing across the Mediterranean.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the announcement did not go far enough and urged the Government to accept the 3,000 child refugees currently in Europe which Save the Children originally called for.

"They draw a distinction between children in the camps in the region and children who have made it to Europe. You cannot differentiate between these two groups. They are equally deserving and need our protection," he told Sky News.

Steve Symonds, of Amnesty International UK, said that, while the announcement was a welcome "small step" forward, it would not help children stranded in camps like The Jungle in Calais.

"It offers little hope to refugee children already in Europe, including the ones living in squalid camps like those in Calais and Dunkirk, who don't have close family members in the UK," he said.