Campaigners have responded with anger to news that a government scheme to rehouse thousands of lone child refugees in Britain will close after accepting just 350.
Robert Goodwill, immigration minister, announced on Wednesday that the “Dubs” scheme — named after Lord Alf Dubs, a peer who was rescued from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 and lobbied for a programme to take in children stranded in camps across Europe — will accept only 150 more unaccompanied children on top of the 200 who have been settled in the UK so far.
Last year, government officials said local councils would be asked to find homes for about 3,000 children in Greece, Italy and France who were fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The decision was made when David Cameron, former prime minister, bowed to pressure from a campaign led by Lord Dubs, who came to Britain thanks to the “Kindertransport” that brought nearly 10,000 children fleeing Nazi persecution of Jews to the UK in 1938 and 1939.
Explaining the closure of the scheme, Mr Goodwill said local authorities had informed the Home Office that they had the capacity for only 400 unaccompanied children — the 350 who have come through the Dubs scheme and a further 50 displaced by the clearance of the “jungle” refugee camp in Calais.
A Downing Street spokesman said Britain had a “long proud history” of giving sanctuary. “It is dependent on the resources that councils can provide and the feedback that we have received is that we can deal with 350 children,” the spokesman said. “There is a limit on the capacity local authorities have to provide that level of care.”
He also suggested there was “never a figure” attached to the Dubs scheme, and that the government had said it would take the number that could be provided for.
Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP and chair of parliament’s home affairs committee, said that at a time when US President Donald Trump was trying to close refugee programmes, the British government should not be closing a scheme “designed to help the most vulnerable refugees of all”.
“The government is completely wrong to close down the Dubs scheme,” she said. “It is important and welcome that Britain has helped refugee children from Syria and from elsewhere as a result of Parliamentary pressure. The vast majority of those children have either arrived with their families or are rejoining their families who are here.”
She added that the Dubs amendment “was never time-limited”. “No one ever suggested we would only help children for a few months then turn our backs especially when the global refugee crisis shows no sign of abating,” she said.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, said the announcement was a “betrayal of these vulnerable children and a betrayal of British values”.
Lily Caprani, deputy executive director of Unicef UK, said she was dismayed that the UK had ended its “significant commitment”.
“Last year, 30,000 children arrived in Greece and Italy,” she said. “Thousands of these children arrived alone and are highly vulnerable, living in a state of perpetual uncertainty and at risk of exploitation and abuse by traffickers.”
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