Conservative MPs have hit out at the government’s decision to limit the number of child refugees it will accept from Europe to just 350 - rather than the 3,000 originally expected.
Yesterday as MPs were focused on the high profile votes on Article 50, immigration minister Robert Goodwill used a written statement to announce move.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, summoned to the Commons to explain today, said the number was being limited because accepting child refugees actually “encourages the people traffickers”.
The law known as the “Dubs amendment”, designed by Labour peer Lord Dubs, was adopted by the government last year.
Twickenham Conservative MP Tania Mathias told Rudd the government should “respect” the decision of parliament to adopt the Dubs amendment. “It was never expected to be closed at any point,” she told Rudd. “Britain should be leading the way, there should be more resources for local authorities.”
David Burrows, the Tory MP for Enfield, accused the government of having “cut and run from child refugees”.
“Our legal and moral obligation to child refugees has not been fulfilled. The Government need to keep the door open to lone child refugees in Europe particularly with family in UK, and help keep others safe from slavery. Local Councils need to work with the local community who want to find ways to provide more places for vulnerable child refugees,” he said.
He added: “As the Home Secretary reminded us at the Conservative Party Conference, compassion does not have borders, and Parliament last May did not intend to set a time limit on our compassion for vulnerable child refugees in Europe.”
Lord Dubs, who was born in Czechoslovakia and came to the UK as part of the “Kindertransport” in the 1930s that saw Jewish children find safety from mainland Europe, said the government appeared to be breaching the “letter and spirit” of the law.
Ministers have insisted the scheme is not being closed as children are still being accepted. But Lord Dubs dismissed the claim. “If the government says there is specific number of children then after that total has been reached the scheme is being closed
Rudd said the 350 figure was decided upon as that was the number local councils could cope with looking after.
Councillor David Simmonds, head of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, said councils could handle more refugees if central government was willing to fund it.
“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,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“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.
“If we are going to do more, we need to make sure the money is there because no community should be asked to bear an unfair burden and to choose between supporting refugee children and cutting services to rail elderly people or closing libraries.”
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons home affairs committee, said it was “shocking” that the government has decided to close the scheme it after only six months.
“Thanks to the scheme, child refugees from Syria are now safe in foster care, teenage girls from Eritrea who have been trafficked, raped and abused are now in school, getting an education and a future. This was an important way for Britain to do its bit in a global refugee crisis just as we did through the Kindertransport generations ago. It is shameful that the Government has stopped it so soon,” she said.
“The Home Secretary’s response today was completely inadequate. Far from deterring traffickers, this decision to halt legal routes to sanctuary will encourage traffickers instead. By closing both the Dubs scheme and the fast track Dublin scheme for child refugees with family in Britain, at the same time as the French are closing some of their support, the Government is pushing vulnerable children back into the arms of smuggler and trafficker gangs, and back into modern slavery.
“Already we are seeing hundreds of children starting to return to Dunkirk and Calais. Both France and Britain have an obligation to work together to make sure the dangerous Calais camp conditions don’t start all over again. The Prime Minister said last week that “on refugees this Government has a proud record.... and long may it continue.” It’s time Ministers lived up to that and continued this important support for child refugees now.”