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Thursday, 09 February 2017

PM under pressure over cap on child refugees as Archbishop condemns decision

Written by Andrew Woodcock and Kate Ferguson

Theresa May is coming under growing pressure to admit unaccompanied child refugees to the UK, after the Archbishop of Canterbury declared himself "saddened and shocked" by a decision to limit numbers.

Urging ministers to lift a cap of 350 on admissions under the so-called "Dubs amendment", the Most Rev Justin Welby (pictured) described the refugees as "treasured human beings made in the image of God" and declared: "Jesus commands us to care for the most vulnerable among us."

The British Red Cross warned that the closure of legal routes like the Dubs scheme - which was initially expected to provide a route to the UK for 3,000 children stranded in Europe without their parents - would leave young people exposed to exploitation by people-traffickers.

And councils challenged the Government's assertion that they could take no more than 350 children, insisting that more places could be found if central funding was provided.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mrs May insisted the Government's approach was "absolutely right", pointing to separate schemes which will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the region over five years as well as reuniting migrant children with families in the UK.

"We have been seeing quite a number of children and families being resettled here in the United Kingdom," said the Prime Minister.

"I think what we are doing in terms of refugees is absolutely right, on top of course of the significant financial support and humanitarian aid we are giving to refugees in the region of Syria - a commitment of £2.3 billion, the second biggest bilateral donor."

The decision to impose a cap was announced quietly on Wednesday by immigration minister Robert Goodwill, who said 200 children had already arrived and councils had indicated they had capacity for only 150 more.

But the Archbishop said he had believed ministers were "committed to welcoming up to 3,000 children under this scheme" and it was "regrettable" that such a small proportion were being given sanctuary.

"I fear that this week's decision does not meet the spirit of commitment that was given during the passage of the Immigration Act last year," he said.

"I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this decision, and work with church groups and others to find a sustainable and compassionate solution that allows those most in need to find sanctuary in our country."

Lord Dubs himself accused ministers of breaching their own commitments by "arbitrarily closing down" the scheme.

But Home Secretary Amber Rudd said there was concern that the mechanism was acting as a "pull factor" for children to head to the UK and provided opportunities for people-traffickers.

"I am clear that when working with my French counterparts, they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs Amendment because they specify - and I agree with them - that it acts as a draw. It acts as a pull," Ms Rudd told the House of Commons. "It encourages the people traffickers."

But British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: "People traffickers thrive on the absence of safe and legal routes to protection - which is exactly what the Dubs Amendment is. By restricting legal channels, we are leaving children open to exploitation.

"We would encourage the Government to reconsider its decision ... We can do better than offering a home to only 350 minors, when we know that so many more remain stranded and alone in camps which are cold, unsafe and no place for children."

Meanwhile, the head of the Local Government Association's asylum, refugee and migration task group said that Government funding was the obstacle to taking more children.

David Simmonds told BBC 5 Live's Emma Barnett: "If the money is available, then more places can be found. The Government needs to make the decision.

"How much money is it going to make available? If the money isn't available to pay foster carers, then the council is not going to be able to get them to take on refugee children.

"It costs on average £50,000 to support a child in the UK. The Government funding at the moment covers at most around £40,000 a year. The more children we take, the bigger the cost to local taxpayers."

A Downing Street spokesman responded: "We are funding councils. We upped the money for councils to deal with this issue by 20%."

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