North East bishop among those to speak out over lack of help for lone child refugees

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.

The Bishop of Durham has called on the Government to do more after it was found only hundreds of lone child refugees will be welcomed to the UK.

The Right Reverend Paul Butler joins other bishops, politicians and charities to express disappointment after it emerged that only 350 lone child refugees will be welcomed to the country from Europe under the so-called Dubs Amendment.

He called for the Government to reconsider the "deeply disappointing" decision, adding: "The need has not diminished.

"The survey of local authorities was undertaken several months ago and should at least have been redone before such a decision was made."

His comments were part of a furious backlash sparked after the numbers were revealed to be well below the 3,000 campaigners originally called for the UK to accept.

Ministers introduced the scheme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone youngsters stranded on the continent.

Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, whose amendment requires the Government to relocate unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.

The clause did not specify a figure but today it was revealed that 200 have so far arrived through the route - and it will close once another 150 have been brought to the UK.

Lord Dubs said: "Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees.

"At a time when Donald Trump is banning refugees from America, it would be shameful if the UK followed suit by closing down this route to sanctuary for unaccompanied children just months after it was opened.

"During the Kindertransport Sir Nicky Winton rescued 669 children from Nazi persecution virtually single-handedly. I was one of those lucky ones.

"It would be a terrible betrayal of his legacy if as a country we were unable to do more than this to help a new generation of child refugees."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron attacked the Government for a "betrayal of these vulnerable children and a betrayal of British values", while Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley described the announcement as "an absolute disgrace".

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: "The Government is completely wrong to close down the Dubs scheme and they are going against the spirit of Parliament's amendment last year."

The 350 figure was disclosed in a written statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill.

It is the first time the Government has given a number for the Dubs process - officially Section 67 of the Immigration Act.

The total was reached after consultation with councils on their capacity to care for and support asylum-seeking children.

In total 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were transferred to the UK from Europe last year, including more than 750 from France as part of Britain's support for the clearance of the Jungle camp in Calais.

More than 200 of those children met the criteria for the Dubs route, while the remainder were transferred under an accelerated process based on the Dublin Regulation covering family reunion cases.

No date for the closure of the Dubs scheme has been confirmed but it is expected that the remaining arrivals will be completed this year.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are not giving up on vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger.

"Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping."

David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, said: "Councils demonstrated tremendous leadership at a local, regional and national level in resettling the children from the Calais camp.

"The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children living in England increased by more than 50% to over 4,000 in the last year, and the vast majority of councils are already providing care and support for these vulnerable children and young people.

The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Jonathan Clark has accused the Government of effectively aiding child traffickers.

Christian Aid said the decision was "not only a broken promise to vulnerable children, but a rejection of our international responsibilities".

Alex Fraser, director of refugee support at the British Red Cross, agreed that the UK should step up and honour its long tradition of welcoming people fleeing conflict and persecution.

Save the Children said it: "sincerely hopes the scheme does not end here".

Help Refugees charity has already launched a legal challenge over the Government's implementation of the Dubs Amendment, claiming it failed to properly consult with local authorities over the number of places available.