David Cameron is accused of betraying vulnerable child refugees

Source : The Guardian

Auteur : Mark Townsend

« Not a single unaccompanied child refugee has been brought into the UK from continental Europe, or even identified, by the British government since David Cameron promised two months ago that vulnerable minors would be offered sanctuary.

The prime minister told parliament he was “going to do more” for vulnerable child refugees stranded in Europe following calls for the government to demonstrate more compassion towards unaccompanied minors.

After the promise was issued by Cameron, ministers briefed MPs that work would start immediately and councils were told at the beginning of May that they should be prepared to accept unaccompanied minors from Greece, Italy and France.

The fact that nothing tangible appears to have been done has angered human rights groups. One United Nations agency demanded the government hasten its response in order to prevent children suffering any more.

The Observer has passed contact details to senior Home Office officials of eligible child refugees that it had identified in the Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece, before that camp was cleared in late May.

Rather than accept the details, the Home Office told this newspaper to contact partner organisations on the ground. These appear, however, to have made scant progress.

Subsequently a number of the children have disappeared over the border into Macedonia with people smugglers and have not been seen or heard from since.

Cameron’s pledge to help unaccompanied minors stranded in Europe followed the amendment to the immigration bill in May by Lord Dubs, who came to Britain in 1939 as a Jewish “Kindertransport” refugee. Dubs led the well-supported campaign for the UK to accept 3,000 vulnerable children stranded in European refugee camps.

After closely monitoring the government’s response to his amendment, Dubs said that the inaction amounted to a betrayal of Britain’s tradition of offering sanctuary to the most vulnerable.

“I am disappointed that the UK government has not identified a single unaccompanied minor in France, Greece or Italy eligible for sanctuary in the UK under the terms of the amendment to the immigration bill passed in May,” he said. “The amendment was supported by the majority of MPs and Lords and commits the government to Britain’s proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those in need. It should not be allowed to fall by the wayside in a time of political upheaval.”

The bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, spokesman for Citizens UK, a network of more than 350 faith groups, schools and colleges, who has been campaigning on the Syrian crisis for more than 18 months, said : “Although we rejoiced when the government agreed to step up and resettle unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, we are disappointed that their words are not being put into action.”

Lily Caprani, deputy executive director of Unicef UK, said : “The government needs to take immediate action to speed up these procedures and ensure that these children are reunited with their families. Unaccompanied children still have no choice but to take dangerous journeys alone across Europe because they are not being given a safe and official way to come to the UK. This is despite many of them having families waiting for them here.”

The government is struggling to encourage local councils to accept more child refugees. Although it has increased the amount of money it is offering to councils to support child refugees, the funding is only guaranteed for a year. Critics say that is preventing local authorities, which might otherwise have been keen to help, from coming forward.

On Monday an amendment to the children and social work bill will press the government to make concrete long-term assurances to councils over funding that would allow children to have adequate access to legal advice, education, housing, mental health and other healthcare provision.

Elsewhere, the British government’s attitude towards the fate of 700 children – 540 of whom are unaccompanied – in the sprawling refugee camp outside Calais is coming under renewed scrutiny. Lawyers have identified about 150 unaccompanied minors who are eligible to claim asylum in Britain on the grounds that they have close family members in the UK.

The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4calais.org, said : “The problem is that it is taking too long to get the children over to the UK. The Calais camp is no place for a child and some are stranded there for months in dangerous and horrific living conditions. Something needs to be done now. We cannot stand by while children are treated this way.”

Under a separate government pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, it emerged last week that more than a third of councils are refusing to accept them over the coming four years largely because of the high costs of housing them. »

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