This is an issue I care deeply about, and I’m afraid I do not have confidence in the current Government’s approach. As Shadow Foreign Minister, I tabled a parliamentary question to the Home Secretary in July 2016 asking her a very simple question: how many child refugees have been accepted by the UK under the Immigration Act 2016. The Home Office confirmed that only 20 child refugees have been accepted into the UK, a figure which a find disgraceful.
This is the biggest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War, and I have long believed that the Government should reconsider its refusal to take unaccompanied child refugees from other European countries on a voluntary basis.
An amendment was tabled to the Immigration Bill during its passage through Parliament by Lord Dubs which would have required the Government to take 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from other European countries for resettlement in the UK. I supported this amendment when the Bill returned to the House of Commons on 25 April, but unfortunately it was defeated by the Government and was removed from the Bill.
Lord Dubs subsequently tabled a new amendment to the Bill which, again, required the Government to relocate to the UK a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe. I am pleased that the Government decided to support this amendment on 9 May, and has confirmed that it now intends to relocate some unaccompanied child refugees from Europe in consultation with local authorities. The Immigration Bill has completed its passage through Parliament and is now an Act of Parliament, having received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016.
I welcome that the Government finally changed position on this issue, but I do wish it had come sooner. It is, however, a testament to the huge campaign, led by Save the Children and others, to help child refugees, and the Government has stated that it expects the first children to arrive "before the end of the year".
The situation is urgent and so it will now be important ensure that the Government implements this new scheme swiftly and sets out in due course how many refugee children it expects to resettle in the UK.
Amidst this crisis are thousands of unaccompanied children who are highly vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, and it estimated that there are at least 26,000 unaccompanied children currently in Europe. Europol stated earlier this year that it believed at least 10,000 lone children had already disappeared.
I can assure you that I will continue to follow this matter very carefully and continue to press the Government on the UK's response.