UK Politics

Call to admit refugee children 'considered' by government

A young Syrian migrant girl is held by her mother Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charities have been urging the UK to take in more refugee children

The government is looking at calls to take in thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who have made it into Europe, a Cabinet minister says.

Charities have been calling on the UK to admit 3,000 child refugees as part of its response to the migrant crisis.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said ministers were considering "whether we can do more" for unaccompanied children.

Downing Street sources say no decision has been made yet.

Speaking on Sky News, Ms Greening said children "have always been at the heart of our response".

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Media captionJustine Greening: UK considering child refugee calls

Asked about the calls for the government to consider admitting 3,000, she said: "That's what we are doing and I think that is the right thing."

Last year it was estimated that around 26,000 children arrived in Europe without their families.

Many simply disappear after they arrive and are at risk of falling prey to people-traffickers, drug dealers and other abusers, Save the Children said.

Calls for the UK to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children would be in addition to the 20,000 refugees the UK has already pledged to take direct from refugee camps over the next five years.

Image caption The government could look to foster families to help house the children, one charity said

Ms Greening's comments come after David Cameron told the Commons earlier in January that he was considering the issue "in good faith".

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron - who has been pushing the PM for Britain to take in unaccompanied children - told the BBC "there may be some signs" from Mr Cameron's responses in recent months that his view was "moving in that direction".

But BBC political correspondent Iain Watson says the prime minister has apparently not yet made up his mind whether to take more refugees.

He knows he could be on the brink of a referendum campaign where immigration is a major issue, our correspondent says.

Some are warning of the risks of taking in more lone children, suggesting this could lead to subsequent demands for their relatives to be brought to Britain.

But Labour's leadership is urging Mr Cameron to do more.

They say if he helps his European partners tackle the migration crisis they could then give him a better deal on Europe to take to the British people, our correspondent adds.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Labour said it was concerned that Mr Cameron might be planning to help only children within camps near Syria

Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour's refugee taskforce, said it was "good news that the government seems to be responding" to calls to help unaccompanied refugee children.

"But we are hearing some concern that the government may only be planning to help children within camps near Syria, and excluding those alone in Europe," she added.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made similar calls on Saturday on a trip to see refugees in Dunkirk.

Alasdair Roxburgh from charity Save the Children told BBC Radio 5live: "We'd need to make sure they were protected and safe but we would be looking at foster families or other appropriate care. The UK is very capable of doing this."

Kent County Council has already warned it will not be able to accept any more unaccompanied children, saying its children's services are facing "enormous pressure" and have run out of foster beds.

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