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16 Feb, 2017 11:38

Plan to scrap child refugee resettlement scheme condemned by UK children’s commissioners

Plan to scrap child refugee resettlement scheme condemned by UK children’s commissioners

Britain’s four children’s commissioners have written to Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd expressing their “deep concern” after the government announced it is scrapping a scheme to resettle refugee children.

News that the UK will take no more than 350 unaccompanied minors from Europe came as a shock, given that original plans drafted under the so-called Dubs Amendment had set out provisions to help up to 3,000. The scheme was named after campaigner and politician Alf Dubs, who was himself an unaccompanied child refugee during World War II and who found asylum in Britain through the Czech Kindertransport rescue effort.

The decision sparked outcry among politicians and campaigners.

In response to the move, the children’s commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all signed the letter to the home secretary on Thursday.

“The UK has a long history of providing protection and support to those most in need of it and we would urge you to consider carefully the plight of the many thousands of lone child refugees in Europe who are currently at risk of exploitation and trafficking,” the letter said.

“The number that have been brought to the UK under the scheme thus far falls significantly short of expectations and we consider that, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, the UK should play a far greater role in both offering protection and security to lone child refugees in Europe and in resolving the crisis that children are facing in Europe, especially in Greece and Italy.

“We urge the Government to act humanely and responsibly, and to maintain a positive commitment to the Dubs scheme within a comprehensive strategy to safeguard unaccompanied child refugees within Europe.”

Rudd argued last week that the scheme is closing down due to fears it would encourage more lone children to make the dangerous journey across Europe, often at the mercy of people traffickers, in the search of refuge in Britain.

“It’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support they will need,” a government spokeswoman said in response to the backlash.

She added that alongside the 350 kids now living in the UK, the government is also “committed to resettle up to 3,000 vulnerable children and family members from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region and 20,000 Syrians by the end of this Parliament.”

Opposition and even religious leaders, however, do not seem to agree with Rudd’s vision.

“The government should listen to this call from the commissioners whose very purpose is to protect the welfare of vulnerable children and reopen the Dubs scheme now,” said Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper.

“They make clear that far from avoiding traffickers, by ditching the Dubs scheme, the government risks pushing more children back into the arms of smuggler gangs,” she added.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Vincent Nichols last week said they were shocked to learn the scheme is being scrapped.