UK’s child refugee plan criticised by advocates

Government agrees to accept orphaned refugee children in ‘exceptional’ cases

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron: Those people in France should be claiming asylum in France. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron: Those people in France should be claiming asylum in France. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

 

Britain has agreed to take in some unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and Africa, including some who have already reached Europe.

But the plan was met with disappointment from advocacy groups which had called on the government to accept at least 3,000 unaccompanied child migrants, on top of the 20,000 migrants Britain says it will take in over the next five years.

The government said it would work with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the European Asylum Support Office to identify vulnerable children who had arrived in Europe and are now in centres and camps in Greece and Italy.

Some children with family connections in Britain and other “exceptional” cases could be accepted into the UK but unaccompanied children now in refugee camps in France will not be eligible.

“Those people in France should be claiming asylum in France. And incidentally, people who claim asylum in France, if they have a direct family connection to Britain then they are able to come to Britain,” said prime minister David Cameron.

“But they really should claim asylum in France. France is a safe country, so we shouldn’t be supporting the idea that it is a jumping off point for coming to Britain.”

Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s taskforce on refugees, said the announcement was a step in the right direction but did not go far enough.

“Children’s homes and reception centres in Italy and Greece are full and unable to cope, and thousands of children are disappearing – often into exploitation, abuse or prostitution at the hands of people traffickers,” she said.

“That is why Save the Children were right to call for Britain to take 3,000 of the 26,000 child refugees alone in Europe right now. The government is not doing enough if it only helps ‘exceptional cases’, or makes a false distinction between vulnerable children inside and outside Europe.”

The government has been torn between the pressure to accept more orphaned child refugees and anxiety that any liberalisation of its migration policy could have an adverse impact on the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.