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Government looking again at problem of lone migrant children

Published 24/01/2016

Ministers have faced calls for 3,000 refugee children living alone in Europe to be resettled in the UK
Ministers have faced calls for 3,000 refugee children living alone in Europe to be resettled in the UK

The Government is "looking at whether we can do more" in relation to unaccompanied children amid Europe's migrant crisis, International Development Secretary Justine Greening has said.

Ms Greening told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "We've steadily evolved our approach as this crisis has evolved, we've been right at the forefront frankly of helping children who've been affected by this crisis and will continue to look at how we can do that over the coming days and weeks."

David Cameron earlier told the Commons that on the issue of unaccompanied children the Government would "look very carefully at this", adding that "we're looking at the 3,000 in good faith"

Ministers have faced calls led by the charity Save the Children for 3,000 refugee children living alone in Europe to be resettled in the UK. The campaign has also been backed by Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.

Ms Greening rejected accusations the Government was not doing enough to tackle the wider migration crisis.

She said: "I thoroughly reject that. No country in Europe has done more to help Syrian refugees. The UK has been there since day one. Worldwide we're the second biggest bilateral donor helping refugees on the ground and our focus has very much been on meeting refugees' first choice....The refugees that I talk to want to stay close to home, they want to stay in the region that they are familiar with."

Ms Greening said coming to Europe was a "last resort, not a first resort" for many refugees.

She added: "We've said that over the course of this Parliament we will resettle 20,000 refugees. We're going to do that in a safe, and measured and a managed way, working with UN agencies taking them directly from the region, it means we can focus on the most vulnerable people including children who otherwise would have no chance to make the kind of journey that we've seen other refugees make.

"And of course we've been helping on the ground in Europe too, so the UK has been working with the UNHCR on registering migrants as they arrive."

She said: "So we are playing our role, we are looking at whether we can do more in relation to...unaccompanied children because children have always been from day one at the heart of our response in the region."

Earlier this month a committee of MPs, the International Development Committee said Britain should welcome thousands of lone children from Europe on top of the Syrian refugee resettlement programme.

Asked if there could be a Government announcement, Mr Farron told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics: "I very strongly hope so."

He added: "I hope he (Mr Cameron) is moving in that direction, and it looks like there may be some signs that he is. I think it the right thing to do on a humanitarian level."

Mr Farron went on: "I do say that it's the least it can do, the least the Government can do."

He added: "There's a real sense that the UK is not engaging with the refugee crisis in Europe at all. I'm not saying we should open our borders completely, but I think that it is very, very strange that at a time that David Cameron is trying to make a case for Britain in Europe, he's not not making much of a case for Britain with the rest of Europe."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for Britain to join a pan-European effort to help ease the migrant crisis as he visited camps in northern France to see the squalid conditions people are living in after fleeing war, poverty and persecution.

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of Labour's refugee taskforce said: "It's good news that the Government seems to be responding to the call by Save the Children with cross party support to help 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children. But we are hearing some concern that the Government may only be planning to help children within camps near Syria, and excluding those alone in Europe."

Ms Cooper warned thousands of children alone in Europe were at "terrible risk of abuse and harm".

She added: "Providing refuge to 3,000 of these children in Europe is what Save the Children have called for and is what the amendment by Labour's Alf Dubs in the House of Lords would put into effect. Any action by the Government must help children in Europe. I hope the Government will heed these calls and announce help for child refugees alone in Europe this week."

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, claimed Mr Cameron had "left Britain looking blinkered and selfish".

He said: "Just miles from our own doorstep, there are hundreds of refugee children in makeshift French camps living alone in abhorrent conditions. Britain can, and should, be doing more to give those kids a place of safety and I believe the vast majority of people here would support it."

He added: "If Britain were to show willing and work with other European countries to address this crisis, the Prime Minister would most probably get a better hearing from EU partners on his demands on free movement in advance of the referendum."

Alex Fraser, head of British Red Cross refugee services, said: "Further announcements of resettlement for vulnerable refugees from the Government would be very welcome, and we hope the Government will respond positively to this humanitarian crisis.

"It's important the Government ensure unaccompanied children who may benefit from a new scheme, and who have parents that may also have been displaced, have the right to be reunited with them in the UK.

"Any new scheme should fix this anomaly - child refugees should be able to sponsor their parents to join them."

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