UK Politics

UK should take in 3,000 child refugees from Europe - Tim Farron

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Media captionTim Farron told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show there are some 30,000 unaccompanied child refugees within the EU

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has stepped up calls for the UK to take in child refugees who have fled to Europe, ahead of a key vote in Parliament on Monday.

Mr Farron said his party would support Labour's bid to commit the UK to admitting 3,000 unaccompanied minors.

He said the UK should take its "fair share" of children who have already arrived in Europe, in addition to those it plans to resettle from Syria.

The government said it was taking action to help child refugees.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "We're putting £10m into being able to being able to provide help and support for children who are in Europe."

On Monday the House of Commons will vote on a Labour amendment to the Immigration Bill to allow 3,000 child refugees into the UK.

'Absolutely devastated'

The government announced last week it would take in as many as 3,000 refugees, mostly vulnerable children, from the war-torn Syria region by 2020.

This is on top of David Cameron's pledge to take 20,000 refugees by the end of the decade.

But speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Farron said it was not enough, saying there were an estimated 30,000 lone refugee children already in Europe at risk of being trafficked or abused.

It was time for the UK to take its "fair share" and resettle 3,000 of them within its borders, the Lib Dem leader argued.

"I've been to the camps, I've seen families absolutely devastated, people who've fled war and persecution, the threat of death for them and their children and they took an enormously risky decision to cross the water the come to Europe. Why? Because what they left behind was riskier still," he said.

He added: "My question to every Conservative MP, to Theresa May and to David Cameron, is, 'If you were in the situation of these Syrian refugees, if your children were like these unaccompanied children in Europe now, what would you want other countries to do for you?' The answer is obvious," he added.

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Some Conservatives MPs are believed to be considering backing Labour's amendment and Mr Farron predicted a government defeat was on the cards.

When asked if he thought they could win the vote, he said: "Yes, of course we can."

'Deliberate ploy'

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The question we need to ask ourselves, and we've worked with the UNHCR, is, 'What is in the best interests of these children?'"

Referring to the government's resettlement scheme she said: "That is about children at risk coming from the region, not just unaccompanied children because sometimes they can have a family member or a guardian with them but still be at risk, for example of exploitation or forced marriage."

"And also, we're putting £10m into being able to provide help and support for children who are in Europe," she added.

The five-year Syrian civil war has created more than 4.5 million refugees across the region and the UN has warned that a whole generation of Syrian children is at risk.

The UK government's scheme will target unaccompanied children in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as those considered at risk of abuse and exploitation, such as children threatened with child labour and child marriage.

It will resettle children and their families "where the UNHCR deems resettlement is in the best interests of the child".

Labour peer Lord Dubs - who has tabled the amendment to be debated on Monday - said that, while welcome, it "doesn't deal sufficiently with the substance of my amendment."

He also questioned whether "the use of the 3,000 figure is a deliberate ploy to muddy the debate".

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