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Ministers 'never wanted to take' refugee children

The Government has been accused of never wanting to take in refugee children after campaigners delivered a petition demanding a rethink to Downing Street.

A box containing more than 44,000 signatures was handed in to Number 10 after the Government back-tracked on a commitment to help up to 3,000 vulnerable youngsters come to the UK.

Ministers have claimed that the scheme was being abused by people-traffickers and that it was seen as a ‘pull-factor’ which encouraged youngsters to come here.

They have also suggested that councils do not have sufficient resources to help more unaccompanied children, but several local authority leaders have rejected that claim.

Thousands signed a petition demanding a rethink
Image Caption:
Thousands signed a petition demanding a rethink

Lord Dubs, who helped secure the initial commitment to take children, described the decision to axe the pledge as a “very shabby cop-out”.

The Labour peer came to Britain as a child refugee on the Kindertransport to escape the Nazis during the Second World War.

He said: “The Government are using it as an excuse in saying local authorities can’t take any more. There’s a willingness on the part of local authorities to take more unaccompanied children and we should say yes to that.”

The leader of London’s Hammersmith and Fulham council Stephen Cowan said: “We think the Government never wanted to take the refugee children.

“When we offered in Hammersmith and Fulham to take – on top of all the children we were currently taking in the national transfer scheme – an extra 10, instead of snapping that up, we found the Government saying they were very disappointed.

“They wanted us to add that number to the original figure we had promised to take.”

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The Home Office has insisted that the country is not giving up on vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger.

A spokesman said: “Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping.

“We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it and children will continue to arrive in the UK from around the world through our other resettlement schemes and asylum system.”

The Government has faced strong criticism over its decision, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby describing it as “deeply unjust”.

The UK never publicly said it would take 3,000 children when the pledge was made, but campaigners believe that was the figure widely discussed at the time.

A memorial at London's Liverpool Street Station to children who arrived on the Kindertransport, fleeing from the Nazis
Image Caption:
A memorial at London’s Liverpool Street Station to children who arrived on the Kindertransport, fleeing from the Nazis

Businesswoman Dame Stephanie Shirley, who was five when she arrived in Britain as a lone child refugee in 1939, told Sky News she is “ashamed” of how little the country is doing.

She said: “Three thousand may sound big but it is not in fact so large when spread across the country. We do have space. We have managed it before.”

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