UK urged to take in lone child refugees from Europe
Britain should welcome thousands of lone children from Europe on top of the Syrian refugee resettlement programme, a committee of MPs has said.
The International Development Committee called on the Government to accept proposals to take 3,000 unaccompanied children from within the EU.
This would be in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees set to be brought to the UK from camps in the region around the war-ravaged country over five years.
Meanwhile, Press Association analysis of the most recent UK asylum figures has found that the number of applications from unaccompanied children is at its highest level for almost seven years.
Charity Save the Children has led calls 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, who called on the Government to to offer save haven to unaccompanied children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea who are displaced by conflict.
In a report published today the committee said it would welcome a decision in favour of the plan.
It said: "We are very concerned about the plight of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, particularly as reports suggest they are falling prey to people traffickers."
Britain is not taking part in major EU-wide resettlement schemes for refugees who have already arrived in Europe.
In relation to Save the Children's proposals, Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington told the committee in November that it was "under discussion".
He added: "At the moment, I cannot report any further progress on it, but we are very aware."
Thousands of under-18s are thought to have reached Europe alone last year as the world was gripped by a migration crisis.
Figures published in November showed that around one in five of the 800,000 people who had arrived by sea were children.
Labour MP Stephen Twigg, chairman of the committee, said: " Having survived the treacherous journey, there is a grave possibility that unaccompanied children become the victims of people traffickers who force them into prostitution, child labour and the drugs trade.
"This is an issue of utmost urgency."
The report also:
:: Commends the Government for its response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, with the UK providing the second highest level of bilateral funding at £1.1 billion.
:: Raises concerns about a lack of financial support from other donors and calls for the Government to insist that fellow wealthy countries meet their funding commitments.
:: Says evidence suggests that it is more cost-effective to support refugees in the region than it is to direct resources towards resettling them in the UK.
It comes after the Government's response to the migrant crisis faced fresh criticism from charities and aid agencies.
In a letter a group of 27 organisations said the commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees said the UK's offer to rehome refugees was "too slow, too low and too narrow".
Mr Farron said: "It is good to see the International Development Committee endorsing our call on the Government to accept 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.
"There are many thousands of orphaned children fleeing war and persecution in Syria. Britain has always been a beacon of hope for people in their darkest hour. It is time for Britain to do the right thing.
"The Government must now act to save these vulnerable children by offering them safety and sanctuary in the UK."
David Cameron's official spokeswoman pointed out that the Prime Minister announced last month a review of the issue of vulnerable children, particularly orphans, who have arrived in Europe.
Work on the review is under way and it is expected to conclude "shortly", she said.
The spokeswoman said: "We are already playing our part, both in terms of the Syrians that have been resettled so far, who include vulnerable children, and in terms of the life-saving aid we are providing to the region, with the £1.12 billion we have put into the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
"What we are doing is looking at the issue of whether or not countries such as the United Kingdom should do more to help vulnerable children, particularly orphans, that arrive in Europe, as opposed to all the work we are doing to help vulnerable children in camps."