MPs warn of 'big gap' between Government and charity evidence on child refugees
The Government must address a "big gap" between its position on the Dubs child refugee scheme and evidence submitted by local councils and campaigners, MPs say.
Ministers faced a storm of criticism earlier this year after announcing that the programme would close after 350 lone youngsters are brought to Britain from Europe.
Although the Home Office was not tied to resettling a specific number under the Dubs Amendment, the figure was well below the 3,000 charities and politicians originally called for the UK to accept.
In an urgent report, the Commons Home Affairs committee said the Government's warning that the initiative could act as a "pull" that encourages people traffickers was in contrast to arguments from charities that closing the route would actually increase the risk of child trafficking and exploitation.
The paper also noted that some council figures had suggested there may be capacity for as many as 4,000 more lone children.
When the announcement on Dubs was made, local authorities were said to have indicated they have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors until the end of this financial year.
The committee called on the Government to urgently consult the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and check the capacity of councils to provide further places for unaccompanied children next year before any moves to end transfers under the Dubs scheme.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the committee, said: "There is a big gap between what the Government has said, and the evidence we heard from local councils and from organisations like Unicef who are working with child refugees.
"This is too important to get wrong when children's lives and futures are at risk. That's why we are making these urgent interim recommendations now."
Lily Caprani, deputy executive director of Unicef UK, said the danger to unaccompanied children does not pass when they enter Europe.
"We also currently have the bizarre situation where children are forced to travel through unsafe routes into Europe before they can reach the safety of their family member in the UK," she added.
The Home Office rejected any suggestion that children have to use unsafe routes to make their way through Europe and join family members in the UK.
A spokesman said: "This Government provided 8,000 vulnerable children with refuge or other forms of leave this year and by the end of this Parliament we will have resettled 23,000 people from Syria, the Middle East and North Africa - half of whom will be children.
"Our strategy is clear. We believe the best way to help the most vulnerable children is by resettling refugees directly from the camps in and around Syria.
"This stops traffickers ruthlessly exploiting vulnerable people and will prevent people from embarking on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean."
The Government welcomes all offers of extra places from local authorities, the spokesman said.
Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, said: "If councils do have more capacity to care for unaccompanied children then they should be taking children from councils like Kent and Croydon who are taking the bulk of the 3,000 children that arrive in Britain each year and claim asylum.
"Councils shouldn't be cherry picking, saying they can take children from Europe but not children who arrive in Britain."