Government policy on child refugees ignores evidence, charities warn

Jon Stone
Afghans protest at a refugee camp in Athens in early February: EPA

The Government’s policy on child refugees appears to be based on “guesswork” rather than actual evidence, charities have warned.

On Tuesday afternoon Conservatives MPs voted down a plan that would have seen the Dubs Scheme – closed down early by ministers earlier this year – effectively re-opened. The plan was defeated by 287 votes to 267.

The move caused an immediate outpouring of anger from charities and NGOs. Josephine Liebl, Oxfam's humanitarian policy adviser, accused the Government of “closing the door” on children who had fled “terrible violence”.

“The Government appears willing to decide the fates of child refugees based on guesswork instead of evidence from the councils responsible for accommodating them,” she said.

“Rather than putting in place policies that are in line with the Government’s ambition to be a truly Global Britain, it is closing the door on child refugees who have fled terrible violence.

“We urge the Home Secretary to keep this route open and to consider other measures to allow children to join their relatives in the UK and reunite families torn apart by violence.”

Lily Caprani, Unicef UK’s deputy chief executive said it was “hugely disappointing” that “the Government did not listen to the many MPs who wanted the UK to do more for vulnerable refugee children in Europe”.

“Thousands of unaccompanied refugee children have arrived on European shores and now face an uncertain future,” she said.

“Without legal schemes to relocate unaccompanied refugee children there’s an ongoing risk of children being pushed into the dangerous path of smugglers and traffickers.

“This crisis is not going away. This country must not turn away from doing its bit to help the most vulnerable. This includes taking urgent action so that children in Greece, Italy and France who have family waiting in the UK can join their relatives.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Westminster this afternoon that it was “completely wrong to suggest that as we go forward we've closed our doors” to child refugees.

“We made it clear this morning that we didn't support the amendment and that we were proud of what we were doing already in relation to refugees,” he said, adding that “it wasn't really about taking in more or fewer children”.

The amendment would likely have seen more children taken, however. The Government has argued that councils do not have enough space to take child refugees, but many councils have said they in fact have space.

The amendment called for the Government to check how much space councils had, but the Government rejected it.

The scheme had widely been expected to take 3,000 child refugees but the Government said earlier this year that just 350 children would be taken under the scheme.

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