Child refugee cap a response to people trafficking fears, says Amber Rudd

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The Government has capped the number of lone child refugees being brought to Britain because ministers fear it is encouraging people traffickers, the Home Secretary has said.

A backlash erupted after ministers announced that just 350 children will be brought to the UK under the Dubs Amendment - far fewer than the 3,000 originally expected.

Amber Rudd defended the decision, which she said was made after France raised concerns that the scheme could be encouraging more children to make the perilous journey to Europe.

Responding to an urgent question from Labour's Yvette Cooper in the Commons, Ms Rudd said: "I am clear that when working with my French counterparts they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs Amendment because they specify, and I agree with them, that it acts as a draw. It acts as a pull.

"It encourages the people traffickers."

Faced with a rebellion in the House of Lords, then prime minister David Cameron announced last year that he would accept the Dubs Amendment and settle more child refugees.

On Wednesday, ministers quietly announced that 200 children have been brought in under the scheme, and that it will close after another 150 are settled in the UK.

Ms Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said thousands of child refugees are languishing in camps in Greece and Italy, desperate for help and at risk of abuse, exploitation and modern slavery.

Addressing Ms Rudd directly, she added: "Britain can do better than this; will she accept that and reinstate the Dubs programme now?"

But Ms Rudd said the UK is concentrating its efforts on providing aid and resettlement to vulnerable people in crisis-hit regions such as Syria.

She said: "I completely reject her attack. The UK has a strong reputation in Europe and internationally for looking after the most vulnerable. That will continue.

"We have a different approach to where those most vulnerable are, we believe that they are in the region. That's why we have made a pledge to accept 3,000 children form the region and we are committed to delivering on that.

"They are the most vulnerable."

The Home Secretary suggested that local authority funding had come into the equation when deciding how many child refugees would be settled under the programme.

She told the Commons that accepting the children is not "all about numbers".

"These are children who need looking after over a period. When we accept them here it is not job done; it is making sure that we work with local authorities, that we have the right safeguarding in place", Ms Rudd said.

"And that's why we engage with the local authorities, why we make sure that the have sufficient funds which we have increased to look after those young people."

Ms Rudd said the Government "has always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children".

She said the Dubs Amendment was accepted "on the basis that the measure would not act as a pull factor for children to Europe, and that it would be based on local authority capacity.

"The Government has a clear strategy and we believe that this is the right approach."

But her comments were met with loud murmurs and cries of "shame" from the Opposition benches.

Ms Cooper said the decision undermined Theresa May's boast last week that the Government has a "proud record" of supporting refugees.

Holding a printout of the debate on the scheme in Parliament last year, Ms Cooper asked: "Where does it say that instead of the 3,000 that Parliament debated, we will only help a tenth of that number? Where does it say that when we get the chance we will somehow turn our backs once again?

"It doesn't, because we didn't say that at the time.

"The Home Secretary knows that what she is doing is shameful."

Many councils have said they can take more child refugees in with more support and time, Ms Cooper said.

Thousands are in centres in Greece and Italy, while many children are heading back to the once sprawling camps in Calais and Dunkirk, she added.

Ms Cooper said: "Back to the mud, back to the danger, back into the arms of the people traffickers and the smugglers, the exploitation, the abuse, the prostitution rings, and back into the modern slavery which this parliament and this Government has pledged to end.

"We know Britain and France can both do better."