Britain urged to expand aid focus to refugee minors already in Europe

Britain should help thousands of unaccompanied Syrian children stranded in Europe, refugee groups urged Thursday as they said a government plan to resettle several hundred children from refugee camps on Syria's borders did not go far enough.

The government said it has asked the UN refugee agency "to identify exceptional cases of unaccompanied children whose needs cannot be met in the region and whose best interests would be met through protection in the UK."

The London-based Refugee Council welcomed the resettlement of children from refugee camps as a "step forward," but said it remained "concerned that the government is still refusing to help share responsibility for protecting the men, women and children arriving on Europe's shores."

It accused the government of "a deliberate failure to acknowledge the fact that these refugees [in Europe] are fleeing the same atrocities as those the government is choosing to resettle."

The government said it expected the UNHCR to "identify several hundred children who will be resettled here," adding that the move will add to an earlier commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps by 2020.

"We have asked the UNHCR to make an assessment of the numbers and needs of unaccompanied children in conflict regions and advise on when it is in the best interests of the child to be resettled in the UK and how that process should be managed," Minister of State for Immigration James Brokenshire told parliament.

In a separate move, the government's development agency will use a 10-million-pound (14-million-dollar) fund to support vulnerable refugee children in Europe.

But Sanj Srikanthan, policy director for the International Rescue Committee, called for "particular attention paid to the many thousands of unaccompanied young refugee children already in Europe, who have fled their homeland for sanctuary and are in need of immediate assistance."

"Children who are travelling alone in Europe are vulnerable to succumbing to freezing temperatures, abuse and exploitation," said Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy for the Refugee Council.

"It's vital the government acts as quickly as possible to bring families together in order to prevent the unnecessary risk and hardship experienced by those currently forced to make treacherous journeys to reach their loved ones," Doyle said.

London-based Save the Children has urged Prime Minister David Cameron to accept 3,000 children "as Britain's fair share of the estimated 26,000 children who arrived in Europe in 2015 without any family."

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Cameron said he remained opposed to the view that should "opt into the EU relocation and resettlement schemes."

Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Cameron was "heartless and foolish" for refusing to take 3,000 of the children stranded in Europe.

Cameron was also criticized by political opponents on Wednesday after he referred in parliament to asylum seekers at a camp in the French port of Calais as "a bunch of migrants."

"David Cameron must stop using this dehumanizing language, and instead show the political leadership required to ensure refugees can reach the UK safely to be reunited with their loved ones," Refugee Action said.

Last update: Thu, 28/01/2016 - 20:19
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