ALL four children’s commissioners in Britain wrote to the government yesterday to express “deep concern” over its U-turn on bringing lone child refugees to the country.
The government unexpectedly announced last week that just 350 children will be given a home in Britain under the so-called Dubs amendment — far fewer than the 3,000 campaigners had hoped for.
The joint letter urges Home Secretary Amber Rudd to “consider carefully the plight of the many thousands of lone child refugees in Europe who are currently at risk of exploitation and trafficking.”
Signed by Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, Scotland’s Tam Baillie, Wales’s Sally Holland and Northern Ireland’s Koulla Yiasouma, the letter calls on the government to “maintain a positive commitment to the Dubs scheme.”
Home affairs select committee chairwoman and Labour MP Yvette Cooper welcomed their “serious response.”
She said: “They make clear that far from avoiding traffickers, by ditching the Dubs scheme, the government risks pushing more children back into the arms of smuggler gangs.”
Ms Rudd claims the government cannot show compassion to child refugees in case this encourages other children to make the perilous journey to Europe.
But critics say it will do nothing to discourage child refugees and in fact ministers were leaving vulnerable children languishing in refugee camps at the mercy of traffickers.
A legal challenge against ending the scheme is expected to reach the High Court in the summer.
Another legal challenge is also being brought against the government’s failure to protect child refugees at a camp in Dunkirk.
A group of volunteers working with the Dunkirk Legal Support Team (DLST) have sought a judicial review over the Home Office’s failure to consider refugee children in Dunkirk for transfer under the Dubs scheme.
DLST warned that there were at least 100 unaccompanied children living in “extremely dangerous” conditions at the Camp de la Liniere refugee camp in Dunkirk, where risks of physical and sexual violence and exploitation by people-smugglers were extremely high.
Medics, volunteers, officials and refugees have given corroborating accounts of women and children being forced to have sex with traffickers in return for blankets, food and promises of being transported to Britain.
Georgia Luling Feilding of DLST warned that the lone children of Dunkirk “live on our doorstep in squalor and danger.”
She called on Ms Rudd to publish criteria which will enable some “desperately vulnerable children” to travel safely to Britain.
A petition calling on the government to reinstate the Dubs scheme has hit more than 10,000 signatures, meaning that the government will have to respond.
Reverend Philip Blackledge, of Holy Trinity Episcopal church in Melrose, Scotland, set up the petition “with a sense of desperation” when he heard the government was reneging on its promise to resettle refugees.
He told the Star: “I signed up along with many other people to house refugees and the government somehow decided that even that they couldn’t afford.”
Mr Blackledge said the response to his petition showed that “compassion and generosity” were a powerful part of human nature and that people wanted to help.