The Prime Minister announced at Prime Minister’s Questions this week that the UK will resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe.

The Government’s focus remains on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where they think the UK can make the biggest difference and to provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region. The Government has reflected on what more the UK can do to support children at risk of exploitation.

The Government is determined to be very careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. The announcement builds on our existing approach of helping the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous crossings to Europe. Only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20 March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests.

The retrospective nature of the initiative will avoid creating a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers. And it will mean that the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey.

Those at risk of trafficking or exploitation will be prioritised for resettlement. And existing family reunion routes will be accelerated.

The Government will work closely with the UNHCR, as well as NGOs like Save the Children to identify children suitable for resettlement to the UK.

The Government will work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled and to ensure that this new initiative is fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer. I know local authorities are already considering collaboratively what resources may be required.

The announcement compliments the significant steps the UK is already taking:

  • doubling the aid for the countries most affected by the continuing crisis in Syria to £2.3 billion, by far the most generous contribution made by any European country.
  • the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme which will help up to 20,000 Syrians and has already seen more than 1000 people arrive in the UK before Christmas – over half of them children.
  • the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme – a unique resettlement scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa, where it is deemed in their best interests, which will help up to 3,000 people; and
  • the £10m DFID fund which will support UNHCR, Save the Children and IRC to work in Europe to care and assist unaccompanied or separated children.

The Government has welcomed the removal of the reference to 3,000 children in Lord Dubs’ revised amendment and the recognition of the need to consult with local authorities who are already doing an excellent job caring for the many unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK. That is why the Government intends to accept the revised amendment when the Immigration Bill returns to the House of Commons next week.

In the last quarter of 2015, the UK resettled 1,085 refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme, over half of whom were children. This scheme, along with our existing programmes, will result in thousands of children being brought to the UK over the next four years.

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