Charities and groups working with unaccompanied child refugees have expressed grave concern after the government announced yesterday that it cancelled plans to bring 3,000 children to the UK.
Phil Kerton, from Seeking Sanctuary, which works with Secours Catholique in Calais offering food, clothing and basic medical help to refugees, appealed for "individuals and faith groups to speak out, preferably by writing to their MPs and asking them to make the Home Secretary aware of their concerns."
He said: Sadly, this is yet another miserly measure from a government that has persisted in taking only grudging action to comply with its obligations. Restrictive guidance was issued retrospectively, and court hearings of legal challenges are still pending. Also, it took a court case in December to stop young people admitted under other schemes from being counted against the (unknown) number of places available for the Dubs scheme.
"The sudden announcement of a low cap of 350 on the number of youngsters is extremely disappointing and amounts to less than one per local authority."
Pjil Kerton said it came just a day after the French Interior Minister told the National Assembly that he had reminded the UK government every week that there were 400 pending cases from Calais alone. Fifty new children are reported to be arriving in Calais each week.
He said: "Lord Dubs amendment became Section 67 of the 2016 Immigration Act, which states that the number of children to be resettled shall be determined by the Government in consultation with local authorities. There is no mention of an 'end-date' to the scheme and no details about consultations have been made public. 400 seems an unlikely total, given many public indications of willingness from councils that appear not to have entered official channels.
"The scheme should remain open and the list of places available from local authorities should be reviewed: its completeness is questionable and it will be a year out of date by April."
Cathy Corcoran, director of the Cardinal Hume Centre, said: "As one of the organisations that currently provides accommodation and support for UASCs, we regret the decision to halt the programme. In our experience these are extremely vulnerable children who are in desperate need of the kind of sanctuary Britain should be able - and proud - to provide."
Dr Rosemary Keenan, Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Children's Society (Westminster) commented: "From the reasons given for closing the scheme for unaccompanied refugee children, it appears that the British Government and local authorities are unable to work together to fund and facilitate care for 3,000 refugee children. One might ask if the political will to do so began to wither on the vine? It is a sad reflection of our times that the government has felt it can turn its back on the Dubs amendment and its commitment to welcome all 3,000 very vulnerable refugee children."
Barbara Kentish, from Westminster Justice and Peace said: "I am appalled and scandalised by the decision not to honour our promise to take the child refugees. I saw in Calais how these young people were so vulnerable, in every way: with health, moral support and counselling. We heard stories of some taking their own lives when the camp was broken up. The only possible hope had been the UK promise. Now that is removed, there is even more incentive for them to take extreme measures, such as jumping on trains and lorries or finding unsuitable boats. The government should rethink this decision immediately."
Citizens UK - which represents hundreds of faith and community groups across the country, and organised groups to meet refugee children arriving from Calais last year - have set up a petition with Lord Alf Dubs asking Theresa May not to abandon the Dubs Scheme for refugee children. Nearly 30,000 have already signed.
Lord Dubs writes:
'Theresa May has decided to shut down the Dubs Scheme - a promise by the Government to bring the most vulnerable refugee children to safety in the UK.
Our country has a proud tradition of welcoming those most in need. We stepped up to rescue 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi persecution. I myself arrived in the UK by the Kindertransport.
Now more than ever we must stand by our values.
Thousands of children we promised to help are still in danger.
Britain is better than this.'
Sign here to keep the Dubs Scheme alive: www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition