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Archbishop joins MPs in condemning ‘shameful’ neglect of refugee children

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 09 Feb 2017 @ 04:14

 LAMBETH PALACE

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“Need to speak out”: Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Bartholomew sign the declaration against modern slavery, on Tuesday. In his statement on the Dubs Amendment, the Archbishop spoke of the “clear and terrible link between the large-scale movement of refugees and the risk of trafficking”

Credit:  LAMBETH PALACE

“Need to speak out”: Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Bartholomew sign the declaration against modern slavery, on Tuesday. In his statement on the Dubs Amendment, the Archbishop spoke of the “clear and terrible link between the large-scale movement of refugees and the risk of trafficking”

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is “saddened and shocked” by the Government’s announcement that only 350 unaccompanied refugee children will be transferred to the UK from Europe, he said on Thursday.

The decision did not “meet the spirit” of the commitment made last year under the Dubs amendment, he said. “We believed that the Government was committed to welcoming up to 3000 children under this scheme. To end the scheme now, when such a small proportion have actually entered the country, is regrettable.”

The Immigration Act (2016), as amended by Lord Dubs, compels the Secretary of State to relocate to the UK a “specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”. It states that the Government is “under no obligation to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Europe beyond the specified number to be determined following consultation with local authorities”.

Yesterday, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, told the House of Commons that, after consultation with local authorities, the Government had settled on a total of 350 children. This included more than 200 children already transferred from France.

An amendment by Lord Dubs which would have specified 3000 children was opposed by the Government and narrowly rejected in the House of Commons (News, 29 April). The Immigration Minister at the time, James Brokenshire, argued that it would “inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children alone, ahead and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk”, and that Europe should already be a “safe space”.

On Wednesday, Mr Goodwill argued that the UK could be “proud of its record of helping refugee children”. Last year, more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were transferred to the UK, including from Europe, including more than 750 from France. This was, he said, a “one-off process . . . implemented in response to the unique circumstances of the Calais camp clearance”. In the year ending September 2016, more than 8000 children were granted asylum or some other form of leave.

In a statement to the House on Thursday, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, defended the decision, described by Lord Dubbs as “shabby”. It was a response to local authorities, who, she argued, would receive increases in funding to meet the costs of caring for children. She drew attention to the £2.3 billion that the UK has pledged in aid in response to the Syria conflict.

The Labour MP Yvette Cooper described the move as “shameful”. She spoke of thousands of children still in need of help, including children returning to Calais, “back to the mud, back to the danger, back into the arms of the people traffickers and the smugglers, the exploitation, the abuse, the prostitution rings — back into the modern slavery that this Parliament and this Government have pledged to end”.

Mrs Rudd repeated the Government’s argument that the scheme acted “as a pull” and encouraged trafficking. It stopped children operating with the French authorities, she said. The most vulnerable children were those in camps in Jordan and Lebanon, she argued, “and they are the ones we are determined to bring over here.”

The Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent, Helen Whateley, said that Kent was looking after more than 1000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: “We must make sure that we can give them a genuine welcome, with councils having the resources and capacity to look after them as well as British children in need of care.”

MPs have challenged the Government’s assertion that local authorities are unable to take more children, and have suggested that other organisations could help.

Jonathan Reynolds, the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, said that he was aware of one Christian charity in London which was housing more than 30 children. “Many faith communities are willing to step up to do what we would like the Government to do themselves. If they want to do more, will the Home Secretary let them?”

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, said that he was “acutely aware of the challenges” in Kent, “but also of the life-changing impact that our country’s offer of safety, stability and compassion brings to the children and families who have been resettled here in our communities”.

Several other bishops have criticised the Government’s decision. The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that the survey of local authorities had been done “months ago”, and should be redone. The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, said that the Government was “in effect helping the trafficking industry”.

The Government has pledged that, by the end of this Parliament, 20,000 Syrian nationals will have been settled in the UK through its Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme, and a further 3000 of “the most vulnerable children and their families” under another scheme.

Archbishop Welby urged the Government to reconsider. “We must resist and turn back the worrying trends we are seeing around the world, towards seeing the movement of desperate people as more of a threat to identity and security than an opportunity to do our duty,” he said. “We cannot withdraw from our long and proud history of helping the most vulnerable.”

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