Scotland politics

Sturgeon: Cutting off Dubs child refugee route 'inhumane'

A child in the Calais refugee camp Image copyright PA
Image caption The UK will accept a total of 350 child refugees under the Dubs amendment scheme

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Theresa May urging her to reverse a decision to cut off a "vital route to safety" for child refugees.

The UK government has come under fire for ending the "Dubs amendment" scheme in March after taking in 350 children.

Ms Sturgeon said the scheme was "the only reliable and legal route" for unaccompanied child refugees.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the scheme "acts as a pull" factor and "encourages people traffickers".

The Home Office has insisted it is not giving up on vulnerable children and said youngsters would continue to arrive from around the world through other resettlement schemes and the asylum system.

There are an estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe.

The scheme in question was set up as part of an amendment attached to the Immigration Act 2016 by Labour peer and former child refugee Lord Dubs. The government had come under pressure from campaigners and members of the public to take in children from the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais.

The legislation required the Home Office to allow "a specified number" of vulnerable unaccompanied children into the UK.

Lord Dubs and his supporters suggested this number could be as high as 3,000, but the government said the 350 children eventually accepted satisfied the "intention and spirit" of the amendment.

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland "stands ready" to help child refugees

In a letter to the prime minister, Ms Sturgeon said she found it "hard to understand why the UK government would even consider the inhumane withdrawal of essential routes to safety" for vulnerable children.

She said: "The plight of all unaccompanied children demands a resolute and humanitarian approach from all parts of the UK, and other countries, and this departure from the Dubs amendment cuts off a vital route to safety."

The first minister said her government supported a number of other UK commitments to taking in refugees, such as the Syrian Resettlement Programme, and said Scotland "stands ready" to help "provide a place of safety to children in the gravest of situations".

She added: "I urge you to reverse the shameful decision on the Dubs amendment which cuts off the only reliable and legal route for unaccompanied children arriving from Europe.

"We all have a moral duty to do what we can to help those most in need, so I look forward to your earliest response."

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Media captionAmber Rudd said she was "proud" of the UK's approach to child migration

The UK government announced it would stop taking in children via the Dubs amendment at the end of March in a written statement at Westminster.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill said 200 children had already arrived, and said 150 more would follow before the end of March, filling the available places offered by local authorities.

He said that more than 900 children had been brought to the UK from Calais in total in 2016.

'Significant steps'

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Rudd said the government had a "clear strategy" and believed it was taking "the right approach".

She said: "Here in the UK we have launched the national transfer scheme, and we've also significantly increased funding for local authorities caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children by between 20 and 28%.

"The government has taken significant steps to improve an already comprehensive approach, and we are providing protection to thousands of children this year. I am proud of this government's active approach to helping and sheltering the most vulnerable, and that is a position which will continue."

Addressing the Dubs scheme directly, she added: "I am clear that when working with my French counterparts they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment because they specify, and I agree with them, that it acts as a draw.

"It acts as a pull. It encourages the people traffickers."

Campaigners have sought to challenge the decision in court, saying the consultation process by which Ms Rudd decided on the figure of 350 was "fundamentally flawed".

At a preliminary hearing at the High Court in London on Friday, judges said they were "determined" to move the case forward quickly, setting a provision date for a full hearing in May.

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