UK Government set to end legal passage for unaccompanied child refugees

Campaign groups warn that the decision will place unaccompanied children at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking, whilst the Immigration Minister says the Home Office will focus on children “who are already here.”

The Immigration Minister Chris Philip has said that unaccompanied child refugees will no longer be given legal sanctuary unless they have close relatives already settled in the UK.

Mr Philip, quoted in The Independent, says that whilst the Home Office “takes its responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously”, it was now “important that we focus on ensuring that we can care for those who are already here before we agree to taking more children.”

“The government is prioritising resettling vulnerable refugees direct from dangerous conflict zones rather than those who have often paid people smugglers to reach other safe European countries,” said Mr Philip.

“[The] responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees in EU member states lies with the authorities of the safe EU country in which they are present in accordance with their international obligations,” he concluded.

In December, a coalition of 75 cross-party MPs, including seven Conservatives, called on minsters to ensure legal sanctuary for child refugees following the expiration of The Dubs Amendment – a scheme passed in May 2016 that required the relocation of and provision for asylum-seeking children.

However, that scheme has now ended, and the Government has said that is “fixing the asylum system to make it firm and fair.”

Campaigners warn that the change of policy will mean that already-vulnerable children and young people could turn to people-smuggling gangs and other criminal enterprises to help them reach the UK.

Laura Durán, Senior Policy Lead at Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), highlighted the risk of unaccompanied child refugees now falling into trafficking and exploitation by criminal gangs.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge this from a trafficking perspective, as the Government are now going to limit the already very few legal routes that are available for unaccompanied children,” said Durán.

“The concern is that these children will be exploited, either through the forms of sexual exploitation we are already seeing in Europe or that children that are struggling to survive are then recruited into labour exploitation to fund their future movements. The safeguarding issue is here is huge.”

Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage International, accused the Government of “retreating” from international commitments to help child refugees and warned of the conditions currently facing young asylum seekers.

“Children alone in Europe are sleeping rough in the snow, in derelict buildings and tents in overcrowded camps. Leaving the EU doesn't mean we must turn our back on these children,” said Gardiner-Smith.

“We urge the government to continue to provide sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, demonstrating solidarity with our closest neighbours, and providing global leadership.”

Josie Naughton, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Choose Love, said that Brexit could have been seen as an “opportunity to turn the UK into a beacon for human rights”, it appeared that the Government attempting to “turn its back on the weakest in society”.

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