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Charities condemn MPs' rejection of bid to reopen legal route for child migrants

Charities working with unaccompanied child migrants have condemned MPs' rejection of a bid to reopen a legal route for them to find sanctuary in the UK.

Theresa May saw off a threatened Conservative rebellion in the House of Commons, with just three Tory MPs backing the move to revive the so-called Dubs scheme.

Tabled by Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, the proposal would have required councils in England to declare whether they could house unaccompanied children.

Ministers had been widely criticised for shutting the programme, named after the Labour peer Lord Dubs, after the resettlement of just 350 children on the grounds that councils did not have the capacity to take the 3,000 demanded by campaigners.

Children's charity Unicef said it was "hugely disappointing that the Government did not listen to the many MPs who wanted the UK to do more", while Oxfam accused ministers of "closing the door on child refugees who have fled terrible violence".

Lord Dubs himself, who arrived in Britain as a refugee from Nazism, said he was "disappointed", but insisted: "The campaign isn't over, our better nature will surely carry the day."

TV presenter and former football star Gary Lineker, who has regularly sparked controversy with his support for refugees, branded the decision "shameful", adding: "I suppose if they feel it might gain them a few votes at the next election it's worth abandoning the helpless."

But a Government spokesman insisted that the UK's doors "remain open to all those who need our protection".

"We are very grateful for the support local authorities provide to the asylum system," said the spokesman.

"There are more than 4,000 unaccompanied children currently being cared for across the country and thousands more arrive in the UK each year.

"Government departments will continue to work closely with councils to source more places for the most vulnerable children.

"And we urge more local authorities to join the National Transfer Scheme to relieve pressure on areas where numbers are greatest.

"The UK's doors will remain open to all those who need our protection. We have a proud history of providing sanctuary - and local authorities will continue to play a vital role."

South Cambridgeshire MP Ms Allen was joined by former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan and Twickenham MP Tania Mathias in defying the Conservative whip.

Ms Allen told the Commons that since the Government halted the Dubs scheme, "local authorities across the country have stepped forward and said they can do more".

She told MPs: "If that capacity is there, a safeguarding strategy and something that extracts that information from local authorities on a regular basis, rather than just once at the end of the financial year, is powerful information and we must know it."

The trio of Tory supporters of the amendment were joined by 195 Labour MPs, 47 SNP, and nine Liberal Democrats, among others.

But the Government defeated the cross-party alliance by 287 votes to 267.

In an apparent sign of the Government's determination to avert a rebellion, the Prime Minister could be seen as the vote took place speaking with Conservative MP David Burrowes, who had put his name to Ms Allen's amendment.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said she was "deeply disappointed" by the result, arguing that it was "completely wrong" to close the Dubs scheme after just six months.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This vote shames Britain. The Government continues to defend the indefensible by closing Dubs against opposition from a significant number of MPs, including those on its own benches, and from the public."

Unicef's deputy executive director Lily Caprani 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."

Josephine Liebl, Oxfam's humanitarian policy adviser, said: " 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."

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