Senior cross-party politicians have written to Theresa May to ask her to keep the Dubs scheme for child refugees fleeing dangerous situations open.
Home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper, exiting Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Tory MP Heidi Allen and SNP home affairs spokesman Joanna Cherry have asked the government not to put a limit on the number of children who can seek refuge in the UK, after it was revealed in a written answer that while 200 youngsters entered the country last year under the Dubs scheme, none have been taken in so far in 2017.
Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill used her first ever question to the Commons to highlight the plight of child refugees, and said intelligence from the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol showed 10,000 vulnerable youngsters have disappeared across the continent - many of them feared trafficked.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis said the government needed to “make sure we do not create a pull factor for more children to undertake this treacherous journey”.
Labour peer Alf Dubs paved the way for hundreds of children left marooned in Europe - including camps in Calais - after fleeing war in their home countries to be allowed to enter the UK as part of an amendment he tabled to the last government’s Immigration Bill.
Earlier this year, the Home Office announced it would be closing the Dubs scheme after taking in just 200 children - citing a lack of local authority foster places - but Lewis confirmed to the Commons in the final week of Parliament that it was still open.
About 280 originally allocated places remain unfilled and charities, MPs and peers have repeatedly criticised the government’s lack of action.
Lily Caprani, deputy executive director at Unicef UK, said: “It’s unacceptable that we have seen no children brought under the Dubs scheme this year. As a nation we showed our compassion, and our principles when we helped refugee children stranded in Calais but we were told this was not the end of the story.
“We are seeing too many children still having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety. It’s time for a sustainable solution. The government must change the UK family reunion rules so that children do not have to attempt to reach Europe to be reunited with loved ones. This simple move would save lives.”
Tim Farron, who is standing down this week, tabled an urgent question on Wednesday to ask why the government was dragging its feet on the issue of refugees and when the “measly commitment” of taking in 480 lone children would be met.
“I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere – something neither the home secretary nor the prime minister have done. I have met these children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives paused as ministers have chosen to ignore them,” he said.
In the joint letter penned with Cooper, Allen and Cherry, the government is urged to reconsider its cap on the Dubs scheme.
Lewis said he would attempt to speed up the process, but any transfers had to be made “in line with national laws”.