The UK’s children’s commissioners are demanding more child refugees be allowed into Britain.
In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland claim the axing of the so-called “Dubs scheme”, which commits the UK to resettling young refugees, puts children at risk of exploitation and trafficking.
Their move follows protests from MPs, the Archbishop of Canterbury, other church leaders and high-profile celebrities against the decision to cut the child refugees taken in from 3,000 to 350.
The commissioners’ letter comes 24 hours after an open letter from Benedict Cumberbatch, Gary Lineker, Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and others.
The refugee scheme is named after Lord Dubs, a Czech-born refugee from Nazi Germany, after he successfully introduced an amendment to the Immigration Bill forcing the Government to act.
The announcement of the scheme being scrapped was slipped out last Wednesday in a written statement by immigration minister Robert Goodwill on the day of the big Commons vote on the Article 50 bill.
The commissioners are urging the Home Secretary to “consider carefully the plight of the many thousands of lone child refugees in Europe who are currently at risk of exploitation and trafficking”.
They add: “The Government made a welcome commitment through the scheme to taking some of the most vulnerable lone child refugees who are rootless in Europe.
“We urge the Government to act humanely and responsibly, and to maintain a positive commitment to the Dubs scheme within a comprehensive strategy to safeguard unaccompanied child refugees within Europe.”
The letter is signed by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, and Tam Baillie, Sally Holland and Koulla Yiasouma – her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Their intervention was strongly backed by Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and chairwoman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, who has campaigned relentlessly on the refugee issue.
“This is a very serious response from the children’s commissioners,” she said.
“They make clear that far from avoiding traffickers, by ditching the Dubs scheme, the Government risks pushing more children back into the arms of smuggler gangs.
“The Government should listen to this call from the commissioners – whose very purpose is to protect the welfare of vulnerable children – and reopen the Dubs scheme now.”
Defending the axing of the Dubs scheme, the Home Secretary said: “We’re focused on helping the most vulnerable, so we focus on children from the region.
“We have the largest resettlement programme from the region – the Middle East and North Africa – of any European country, 3,000 children by 2020, 8,000 children we took last year.”
A Home Office spokeswoman added: “Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping.
“We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it and children will continue to arrive in the UK from around the world through our other resettlement schemes and asylum system.”