Earlier this week the UK Government announced that it will work with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to resettle children and adults from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The background to this announcement:
- In January the UK Government commissioned the UNHCR to develop and lead a new initiative to resettle vulnerable children impacted by the conflict in the Middle East.
- On Monday the House of Lords voted in support of a Labour amendment to the Immigration Bill for a scheme to take in unaccompanied children who have already made their way to Europe. The Huffington Post report that Save the Children estimate there are 26,000 lone children across Europe, 400 of which are living the Calais ‘jungle’.
- On Thursday the UK’s Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said that “the UK government is committed to providing life-saving support and assistance to the vulnerable children who have been unjustly impacted by this ongoing humanitarian crisis”.
The new scheme will be specifically tailored to support vulnerable and refugee children at risk and their families. Several hundred individuals will be resettled over the next year with a view of resettling up to 3,000 by 2020. The Home Office statement says:
On the UNHCR’s recommendation, the scheme will not solely target unaccompanied children, but will also extend to vulnerable children at risk, such as those threatened with child labour, child marriage and other forms of abuse or exploitation. It will be open to all ‘at risk’ groups and nationalities within the region.
We have always been clear that the vast majority of vulnerable children are better off remaining in host countries in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members. However, there are exceptional circumstances in which it is in a child’s best interests to be resettled in the UK.
We have engaged with the UNHCR and a number of NGOs on the best way to provide protection to refugee children and ensure their welfare and safety remain at the heart of every decision made. This new scheme compliments our ongoing work within Europe to assist vulnerable migrant children. This includes the £10 million Refugee Children Fund to identify and support vulnerable children and strengthen child protection and family reunification systems.
The ministerial statement goes into more detail about the new scheme which was first trailed in a statement to the House of Commons in January.
These 3,000 children are in addition to the UK commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. To date, around 1,000 Syrian refugees – over half of them children – have been resettled in the UK.
Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill (which is wider than the Government-announced scheme) will be voted on by the House of Commons on Monday.
Aid and development organisations have reacted cautiously to the news, emphasising that the UK already has a moral and legal obligation to offer sanctuary and protection to these children: Christian Aid, Help Refugees.
Christian Aid’s Tom Viita said that the UK Government action as “slow” and “reluctant”, adding:
“While today’s announcement to provide refuge to 3,000 vulnerable children is welcome, it ignores some 26,000 unaccompanied minors, as well as the hundreds of thousands of adults, who have already arrived in Europe and who are extremely vulnerable, living in a perpetual state of displacement and distress.”