Britain must resettle 3,000 refugee children vulnerable to prostitution, drugs trade – MPs

A Syrian refugee child © Giorgos Moutafis
The British government should demonstrate its commitment to helping the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict by immediately resettling 3,000 refugee children currently scattered across Europe, a group of MPs has said.

In a report published on Tuesday, Britain’s International Development Committee (IDC) said it is particularly concerned about the plight of refugee children who have been left to fend for themselves in Europe. The IDC warned many of these youngsters are vulnerable to prostitution, child labor and the drugs trade.

UK charity Save the Children estimates at least 26,000 lone refugee children entered Europe in 2015. It has recorded multiple cases of sexual abuse, violence and extortion against child refugees and is calling upon the government to resettle 3,000 of them in the UK as soon as possible.

While the IDC’s report praised the government for setting an “exemplary standard” by ring-fencing over £1.1 billion to deal with the refugee crisis, it called upon Britain to back Save the Children’s recommendation.

The IDC said 3,000 child refugees should be resettled in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees ministers have pledged to take in by 2020.

Chair of the Committee Stephen Twigg said children are among the most vulnerable refugees the crisis has created.

“The first refugee casualty of 2016 was a drowned two-year-old boy pulled from the sea off the Greek coast,” he said.

“Having survived the treacherous journey, there is a grave possibility that unaccompanied children become the victims of people traffickers who force them into prostitution, child labor and the drugs trade. This is an issue of utmost urgency.”

© Pascal Rossignol

The IDC’s report follows sharp criticism from leading aid agencies on the government’s handling of the refugee crisis. On Sunday, a group of 27 charities, including Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International, branded the Tories response to the situation “clearly inadequate.”

The IDC’s report called upon the government to continue to monitor the profiles of migrants referred for resettlement in a climate of under-registration. It said vulnerable groups such as the disabled, the LGBT community and Christians must be considered. The IDC also called for sustainable employment for Syrian refugees in their host countries.

Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth welcomed the IDC’s demand for the government to resettle 3,000 lone refugee children.

“These children need and deserve our help and protection. Left to fend for themselves, lone children are extremely vulnerable along the refugee route. Children report having been beaten, extorted and sexually abused on their journey,” he said.

“Britain has a proud history of helping child refugees and we can play our part now in protecting those affected by the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two.”

Lone child refugees, who are fleeing war, persecution and abject poverty, come from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, and Iraq, according to Save the Children.

The government says proposals for accepting more child refugees are “under discussion,” but no concrete decision has been made.

“As this report rightly makes clear, the UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis and we will continue to push others to honor their commitments,” a government spokesperson told RT. 

"Our program in Syria has already resettled vulnerable children as part of family groups, with over 1000 refugees resettled by Christmas." 

"Additionally, the UK Government's £1.1 billion commitment is helping hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in Syria and the region to rebuild their lives and next month's Syria conference in London will raise significant new funding from the international community."