syria refugees.jpg
Photograph: EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

The British government agreed on Wednesday to take in an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from European migrant camps, bowing to cross-party pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to help.

A statement from Cameron's office said that "unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will be resettled in the UK from Greece, Italy and France," following talks with the charity Save the Children.

Only children who arrived in Europe before March 20 - the date when an EU-Turkey aimed at curbing migrant arrivals came into effect - will be resettled under the new plans, the statement said.

By enforcing this cut-off point, the government said it sought to avoid creating "a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers."

Cameron was widely criticized for not accepting some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded in other EU nations when he announced a programme to take 20,000 Syrians direct from refugee camps in September.

He increased that commitment slightly in late January, but had maintained that children and young people already in Europe do not require the same protection as those in camps bordering Syria.

Save the Children, which had previously recommended Britain take in 3,000 children as its "fair share," welcomed the announcement.

"Refugee children, many of whom have fled war and persecution and have made dangerous journeys to Europe alone are now living on the streets, in overcrowded camps or locked in police detention," Save the Children Chief Executive Tanya Steele said in a statement.

"The prime minister has today offered a lifeline to these vulnerable children," Steele said.

The government said it will work with the UN refugee agency as well as charities such as Save the Children to arrange the resettlements, which will focus on those at risk of trafficking and exploitation. It also said the plans will prioritize family reunions.

Cameron's change of heart came after a significant number of backbenchers in his Conservative Party had threatened to rebel against him by voting for the resettlement of unaccompanied minors in a parliamentary vote, the Press Association reported.

The three European host countries singled out by the government - Greece, France and Italy - have all struggled to find the resources to accommodate an influx in migrants.

Over 10,000 people pushing to file asylum in wealthy European countries have been left stranded in Greece's Idomeni camp as a result of border closures further north. And in France's notorious "Jungle" camp near Calais, just across the English Channel, squalid conditions have led to an outcry from rights groups and activists.

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