Charities criticise new government rules on Dubs child refugees
New Home Office criteria to fill the last 150 places under the Dubs scheme to bring lone refugee children in Europe to Britain have been sharply criticised by charities and campaigners.
The department has said only children who arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 will be eligible for the remaining places before the scheme is closed in April.
Ministers have capped the total number to be brought to Britain at 350, well below expectations of 3,000 when parliament approved Lords Dubs’ amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act in May last year.
Charities say the cut-off date, when the EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees across its border came into force, will exclude the majority of the lone refugee children now in camps in Greece.
Safe Passage says there are currently 2,300 unaccompanied minors – who include victims of trafficking and sexual abuse – for just 1,250 shelter places offered by the Greek authorities.
The Home Office has said it will take children from France, Greece and Italy when a “best interests determination” has concluded it is in their best interests to be transferred to the UK rather than stay where they are, be transferred to another EU state or be reunited with family outside Europe.
The three countries have been asked to confirm by the end of this month whether they are able to refer children under the scheme.
“In deciding which children to refer, France, Greece and Italy will be asked to prioritise unaccompanied children who are likely to be granted refugee status in the UK and/or are the most vulnerable, due to factors which could include but are not limited to, the UN high commissioner for refugees’ Children at Risk individual risk factors.
These risk factors include child victims of trafficking and sexual abuse; survivors of torture; survivors of violence; and, children with mental or physical disabilities,” say the Home Office guidelines.
Natasha Tsangarides, Safe Passage’s Greece field manager, said: “These vulnerability-led criteria are a significant improvement on the arbitrary and unfair ones used in Calais last year.
That said, using the 20 March cut-off date lacks credibility and seriousness given the bill was passed in May last year and to date not one child has been transferred under its auspices from Greece.
“Of course, with government determined to wind up the programme by April, these criteria will be scant comfort to the thousands of minors for whom the Dubs amendment came as a lifeline.
“Children will once again be forced to make the terrible choice between train tracks on the one hand and people traffickers on the other.
These choices are worth up to £13,500 per child to the traffickers and of course will only result in the regrowth of ‘the Jungle’ in Calais.
We appeal to the government to reconsider their decision to close this lifeline, pending further advice from the anti-slavery commissioner and local authorities.”
Lord Dubs, appearing before the Commons international development committee, also renewed his appeal to ministers not to close the scheme.
He told the MPs: “I don’t understand why they have done it.
We are talking about very small numbers.
I don’t understand why they have closed it down in this way.
They could have easily kept it going for a bit longer.
They should keep the scheme open but accept children at the speed that local authorities can take them.”
The Home Office indicated that the 20 March 2016 cut-off date had been included in the original announcement of the terms of the Dubs scheme by David Cameron in May 2016.
The same date also applies to unaccompanied children in Greece being relocated to other European states under the EU relocation scheme.
The Home Office says its overall approach must be to reduce the incentives for refugees to put their lives at risk by making perilous sea journeys to Europe and this is particularly important in relation to children.
“This is why under the Immigration Act we committed to only taking children who were already present in Europe before 20 March 2016, to avoid creating a situation where families see an advantage in sending unaccompanied children ahead, potentially putting them in the hands of people traffickers and criminal gangs,” a spokesperson said.