Exclusive: Child Refugee Resettlement Plummeted After Boris Johnson Became PM

Fewer people taken in under Johnson than in Theresa May's final three months as prime minister, latest figures show.

The number of vulnerable refugee children being resettled in the UK via a flagship government scheme has plummeted since Boris Johnson became prime minister, official figures show.

In the last quarter before Johnson became PM, ending June 2019, 215 people were taken in on the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme.

But for the three quarters after he took over, just 87, 35 and 79 people were taken in, in total fewer than the final quarter while Theresa May was premier.

The UK routinely took in more than 100, and often more than 150, people per quarter since mid-2017, until Johnson became PM.

The figures, which are the latest available and predate coronavirus hitting the UK, also show that the government has taken in 1,862 people, more than half of whom were children, under the scheme since its launch in April 2016, missing its target to resettle 3,000 by this year.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) UK said the figures were “deeply alarming” at a time when the government is refusing to legally guarantee family reunion rights for child refugees in Europe following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

Home secretary Priti Patel was defeated on the issue in the Lords by Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs last week, but ministers are set to overturn his amendment when the immigration bill returns to the Commons.

While opposing the Dubs amendment, Home Office minister Baroness Williams said she was “very proud” of the government’s work “to protect vulnerable people, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, through our asylum system and resettlement schemes”.

But she failed to mention that the VCRS has missed its target and that the numbers of children helped has fallen sharply under Johnson’s premiership.

The statistics also come as Patel prepares to dramatically toughen up rules to stop cross-Channel journeys by asylum seekers, with “clandestine channel threat commander” Dan O’Mahoney suggesting the UK wants to use nets to disable dinghies carrying migrants.

Vickie Hawkins, Executive Director of MSF UK said: “The government claims to be ‘proud’ of its ‘world-leading resettlement schemes’ for refugees.

“But their record on this issue makes these words ring hollow.

“The steep decline in the number of people finding safety in the UK through the government’s flagship resettlement scheme for children in the Middle East and North Africa is deeply alarming.

“It is particularly concerning that the decline appears to have happened on Boris Johnson’s watch.

“To make matters worse, the Home Office is seeking to cut off routes to sanctuary for vulnerable children within Europe.

“While the recent defeat of the government on this issue in the House of Lords was welcome, there remains a very high risk that this progress will be reversed unless it receives wider backing from MPs when it returns to the Commons.”

A boy wearing a face mask is seen at a checkpoint during a lockdown in Baqa'a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, on October 1
A boy wearing a face mask is seen at a checkpoint during a lockdown in Baqa'a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, on October 1
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Hawkins said a failure to guarantee family reunion rights for children in Europe would leave them “trapped in squalid, dangerous camps on the Greek islands and elsewhere”.

She went on: “Many of these children have serious medical conditions, including war injuries, or are suffering from depression or anxiety, self-harming, or even attempting suicide.

“MSF’s medical teams are providing what treatment they can, but these children need to be brought to a place of safety urgently.

“Instead, these routes to safety are being cut off while the threat of Covid-19 makes things even worse.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK has always provided sanctuary those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny and the home secretary has been clear that the UK will introduce a new asylum system that will focus on welcoming people through safe and legal routes.

“We have a proud record of supporting vulnerable asylum seeking and refugee children, and in the year ending June 2020 we granted protection to over 6,320 children, and more than 44,900 children since 2010.

“Since September 2015, we have resettled more than more than 25,000 refugees through our resettlement schemes, with around half being children, and we expect arrivals to resume as soon as conditions allow.”


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