Update – David Cameron agrees to accept unaccompanied child refugees already in Europe into the UK

UpdateDuring Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, David Cameron committed to speed up the existing work on the reception of child migrants with a direct family connection to the UK.

“I am also talking to Save the Children to see what we can do more, particularly about children who came here before the EU-Turkey deal was signed.

“What I don’t want us to do is to take steps that will encourage people to make this dangerous journey because otherwise our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying than more people getting a good life.”

A press statement from 10 Downing Street gives more detail:

  • children registered in Greece, Italy or France before 20 March to be eligible for resettlement
  • government to work with local authorities on plans to resettle unaccompanied children
  • programme to extend government’s twin-track approach of helping vulnerable youngsters without encouraging any new perilous crossings to Europe

The first arrivals are expected before the end of 2016. The UK Government will accept the revised amendment on the Immigration Bill on Monday.

Save the Children logoSave The Children‘s chief executive Tanya Steel commented:

“The Prime Minister has today offered a lifeline to these vulnerable children and we will work with the government and the UN to ensure that these commitments are rapidly implemented so that thousands of lone, vulnerable children can reach safety in the UK in the coming months … The UK government has today matched the great leadership they have shown in providing aid and support to Syrian refugees in the region by reaching out a hand to children already on European shores.”

Home For Good logoThe charity Home For Good has been working with local authorities across the UK to compile a list of people with space in their homes and the interest in finding out about fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. They welcomed David Careron’s announcement as “a positive development in response to on-going pressure and demand from charities, MPs, and many of you across the UK” adding:

“We are keen to see concrete plans and next steps as soon as possible, as the need to protect these children is urgent. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in campaigning for this and has stepped forward to be considered as a foster carer for unaccompanied refugee children.”

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Sir Erich Reich and George OsborneFollowing last week’s Commons defeat of Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill by 18 votes, the UK Government is under increasing pressure to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees who have already travelled from the region around Syria and are in Europe.

A reworded amendment will be before the Commons next Monday and a group of ‘rebel’ backbench Conservative MPs have signalled they may support the amendment.

Sir Erich Reich was one of thousands of Jewish children rescued from Nazi Germany. He chairs the Kindertransport-Association of Jewish Refugees and has written to UK Prime Minister calling on him to reconsider.

“I strongly urge you and your colleagues to reconsider how we can intervene to help some of the most vulnerable victims of an internecine conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of people and displaced millions.

“The echoes of the past haunt many of my fellow Kinder and I whose fate similarly rested with members of the British parliament.

“I feel it is incumbent on us to once again demonstrate our compassion and human-kindness to provide sanctuary to those in need.”

He explained to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that there were parallels with those fleeing Syria and his experience of fleeing Nazi Germany

“Nothing is identical in this world, but there are serious similarities and the truth is that all these children that came – who are nearly 10,000 – we contributed back to the country … to take approximately 3,000 children into this country and help them will help us as well.”

Some say that accepting children in Europe will act as a ‘pull’, encouraging more families to put their children at risk by sending them to Europe alone. But a former cabinet minister told the BBC’s Ross Hawkins:

“If we fall from the moral high ground into a ditch it doesn’t do us much good”.

It seems likely that concessions will be made ahead of Monday’s vote. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

“Britain has always been a home to the vulnerable and we’ve always done what we need to do to help people who are fleeing persecution, that’s why we are taking people from the refugee camps as a result of this terrible Syrian civil war.

“And we’re working with others, with charities, with other political parties talking to people about what we can do to help the unaccompanied children as well – where we’re already providing financial support. So we’re in those discussions and those discussions will go on and you’ll hear what we’ve got to say in due course.”

More detail in Guardian and BBC News reports.