Boris Johnson under mounting pressure to protect child refugees as Immigration Bill rebellion grows
Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to safeguard child refugees
Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to guarantee the rights of child refugees, as support for cross-party amendments to the government's Immigration Bill grows.
Tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper and Conservative Tim Loughton, the amendment - already supported by six Tory backbenchers, with more expected to follow suit - seeks to protect child refugees’ ability to reach sanctuary in the UK.
Two schemes which allow youngsters a legal route to asylum - Dubs, which refers to lone children and Dublin III which focuses on family reunion - are set to be brought to an end, with ministers arguing they will instead negotiate new terms to help those in need.
“Britain has a proud history of helping vulnerable child refugees and we must not stop helping them now," said Ms Cooper, who is chair of the Home Affairs select committee.
"At the end of the Brexit transition period in December, current legal arrangements for vulnerable refugees in Europe to join family members here will end without new legal replacements in place that the Government previously indicated it supported.
"Without safe, legal routes, children and teenagers will be easy prey for dangerous trafficking and smuggler gangs – we know how perilous that can be."
Ahead of a crunch vote in the Commons on Tuesday, every Labour council leader in London has written to the Prime Minister, warning that a failure to safeguard the rights of refugee children in law would lead to more putting themselves in harm's way.
"Local authorities like ours are supporting thousands of children who have endured horrendous journeys in the hands of people smugglers in order to reach the UK, precisely because they are not able to access safe and legal routes. According to research by the charity Safe Passage, an estimated 10,000 children have arrived in the UK on a lorry since 2010," they said.
"We remain bitterly disappointed that the government capped the Dubs scheme at 480 places and by its current efforts to row back family reunion rights. This will not stop desperate refugee children travelling to the UK. It will just mean more children risking their lives with smugglers.
"Guaranteeing access to safe passage, such as family reunion and the Dubs scheme, will help us, as local authorities, plan and prepare for children’s arrivals. And critically, it will give more children a safe alternative to stepping onto the back of a lorry."
Mr Loughton, a former children's minister, said Ms Cooper's amendment and another tabled by him relating to children from the EU would "solve the problem of overstretched social workers struggling to locate documents for these children".
Mr Loughton's amendment calls for vulnerable EU, EEA and Swiss children in care and care leavers to be fast tracked through the EU settlement scheme (EUSS). In exactly one year, all EU citizens - including children - who want to remain in the UK must have gone through the scheme to give them a legal right to stay.
"[It] would remove the substantial risk that many of these children end up without the right to remain in the UK next June," he added.
"It would also avoid the risk of another Windrush scandal emerging when these children in care reach adulthood only to find that the necessary applications were not made for them as children for whatever reason, and they have no status to remain in the country."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We already provide safe and legal routes to bring families of refugees together through our refugee family reunion policy and the UK does more to support unaccompanied children than any EU member state - last year our asylum applications from unaccompanied children accounted for approximately 20% of all claims made in the EU.
"We have made a generous offer to the EU to continue family reunion for children seeking international protection.”