UK to give sanctuary to unaccompanied refugee children – BBC News

Children in a refugee camp in JordanImage copyright

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The UK will accept children from refugee camps in the Middle East

The UK is to accept more unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and other conflict zones – but the government has not said how many.

The Home Office will work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify “exceptional cases” from camps in Syria and neighbouring countries.

The UK is to take 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020 – but campaigners want 3,000 children to be taken from Europe.

Save the Children said child refugees in Europe were “incredibly vulnerable”.

The government also said it was giving £10m to help vulnerable refugee minors already in Europe; some could be brought to the UK “where it is in their best interests”.

Campaigners welcomed the announcement on child refugees, but Labour warned about a “false distinction between refugees in the region and refugees in Europe”. UKIP said £10m was a “miniscule amount”.

What is the UK doing to help?

Migration to Europe in graphics

The UK has already accepted about 1,000 refugees from Syria under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, which the government expanded last year.

But Prime Minister David Cameron has come under pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, as well as from within his own party, to do more.

In particular, he has faced calls to prioritise children who have been separated from their families as a result of the five-year war in Syria, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and large-scale migration from Eritrea.

Mr Cameron has also been criticised for not signing up to the EU-wide resettlement and relocation scheme for refugees.

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Thousands of migrants hoping to reach the UK have been staying in a camp known as “the Jungle” in Calais

The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that while the UK had given more financial support than any other country to refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, more could be done.

The Home Office has not put a figure on how many under-18s will be taken in as part of the joint initiative with the UNHCR or over what period but it has confirmed those accepted will be in addition to the existing 20,000 figure.

Sources have indicated the numbers involved would not significantly increase the current 20,000 commitment.


BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

The prime minister has been under pressure – just as in the summer months when the full scale of the migrant crisis became clear – to make more effort to help the most vulnerable among the hundreds of thousands of people on the move.

In recent days that pressure has taken the shape of calls from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, and campaign groups like Save the Children, to open Britain’s doors to 3,000 children, alone and potentially in danger on the migrant trail in Europe.

Just hours after the PM was accused of a “disgraceful” tone towards those in need – calling them a ‘bunch of migrants’ – the government has given a partial answer to its critics.

Read more from Laura here

Additional risks

Home Office minister James Brokenshire said that the government would focus on children whose needs could not be met in the region and “whose best interests would be met through protection in the UK”.

“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.”

The UK, which has given £1.1bn in humanitarian aid to Syria and neighbouring countries, will set aside an additional £10m to help vulnerable refugee and migrant children from Syria and other countries who have made their way to Europe.

The money, from the overseas aid budget, will be channelled through NGOs and UN agencies and aimed at children facing “additional risks”, for instance by building protection centres.

The government has also said that some migrants and their dependents could be allowed to come to Britain, under the terms of the Dublin convention on asylum, where they already have family members living lawfully in the country.

Media captionDavid Cameron has faced calls to apologise over his use of language

Kirsty McNeil, from the charity Save the Children, said more needed to be done to help child refugees in Europe.

“Thousands of children simply disappeared from the Italian system last year into the hands of traffickers, or working in the sex trade or the drugs trade.

“They were sleeping rough in the parks or train stations and they were incredibly vulnerable in the circumstances,” she said.

Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s refugee taskforce, said the UK “cannot turn our backs on children who are already in Europe and desperate families who have already come to Europe because they are fleeing persecution”.

David Simmonds, from the Local Government Association, said councils would need extra support to take care of more unaccompanied children.

How is the UK helping?

  • The Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees is being extended
  • Refugees are being allowed to stay for five years, after which they can apply to settle in the UK
  • About £1.1bn of UK money is being used to fund humanitarian aid programmes
  • Charities, including the British Red Cross and Oxfam, are running appeals
  • Read more here

The 3,000 figure was originally proposed by Save The Children, which said it would represent a “fair share” of the estimated 26,000 children who arrived in Europe in 2015 without any family.

The latest move comes amid a political row over Mr Cameron’s language on the refugee crisis during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, when he suggested Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had met a “bunch of migrants” during a visit to Dunkirk last week.

Mr Corbyn has urged the PM to apologise for his “dismissive language and tone” which he said “demeans people’s suffering”.

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