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Refugee crisis: Cameron in child refugee U-turn

5 May

David Cameron has bowed to mounting pressure to resettle lone child refugees from Europe. His change of heart came "in the face of a growing rebellion" among Tory MPs who were preparing to defy their leader, says The Guardian.

How did we get here?

The government has been facing widespread calls to do more to help the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children stranded in European refugee camps.

MPs last week narrowly rejected a motion to admit 3,000 children into the UK, but an amended version without a specific number is widely expected to be accepted next week.

Britain has already committed to resettling 3,000 children directly from the Middle East and North Africa, but the government refused to accept those already in Europe, arguing that doing so would encourage others to make the dangerous journey.

Among those calling on the Prime Minister to provide sanctuary is Sir Erich Reich, of the Kindertransport-Association of Jewish Refugees, who wrote an appeal to Cameron this week.           

So what has the PM promised?

The U-turn was announced during PMQs yesterday. "We're going to go round the local authorities and see what more we can do," Cameron told MPs.

Downing Street has since clarified that the UK will take in an unspecified number of under-16s who were registered in Greece, Italy or France before 20 March – the date when the controversial refugee relocation deal with Turkey came into effect.

"The retrospective nature of the scheme will avoid creating a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers," said No 10. The exact number of children accepted will depend on what councils can cope with, say ministers.

Funding will be made available from central government, a source told the BBC, with the first arrivals due before the end of the year.

How have charities reacted?

Save the Children welcomed the announcement, saying it echoed "Britain's proud history of offering safety at times of great crisis".

Others, however, were less impressed. "After exhausting the alternatives, it looks as though the PM is going to do the right thing," said Refugee Action.

Dr Lisa Doyle, the head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said the public "shouldn't be fooled into thinking the government has suddenly discovered its conscience".

What about politicians and the press?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's spokesman criticised the measures for not going far enough and called for "greater action and more generosity".

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron praised the move, but said Britain would have to welcome at least 1,000 children for it to be meaningful. "Tens or hundreds simply won't be good enough and would be a betrayal of the British public and parliament," he said.

Meanwhile, Cathy Newman at Channel 4 News called Cameron's "dithering" a "masterclass in pathetic politics".

House of Lords rejects government veto on child refugee plan

27 April

The government has suffered fresh defeat in the House of Lords over its refusal to accept unaccompanied child refugees from Europe.

MPs will be now be forced to reconsider an amendment to the immigration bill after peers voted overwhelmingly in support of plans to relocate a specified number of children in the UK.

The move follows Monday's vote in the Commons, when politicians narrowly rejected a motion to admit 3,000 children.

The result sparked fierce condemnation from Labour and refugee charities.

"Ministers should be deeply ashamed of what they have done," said Labour's Yvette Cooper, who heads up the party's refugee taskforce.

Charities estimate there are up to 95,000 lone child refugees in Europe, the majority of them having fled war and conflict and are now vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. 

"And here's the really chilling statistic: 10,000 have gone missing," Labour MP Keir Starmer told the BBC yesterday. "History will judge us on this," he added, vowing that the "fight will go on".

The government has agreed to take 3,000 children directly from the regions they are fleeing but stopped short of accepting any already in Europe.

Labour's Lord Dubs, who came to the UK as a child refugee under the Kindertransport scheme before the Second World War, took aim at the government's position. "As a country with strong humanitarian traditions I believe we can do better," he said ahead of yesterday's vote.

Downing Street argues that accepting children from Europe would encourage more desperate families in the Middle East and Africa to send their children on the dangerous journey alone.

But Conservative MP Stephen Phillips, who defied his party in Monday's vote, said that was "no comfort for those children already in Europe, who need our help now".

He told the Commons: "Tonight they will sleep in fear and tomorrow they will wake to hopelessness".

Many of his Tory colleagues look set to join him once the somewhat "softer" bill returns to parliament, says The Guardian.

Martha Mackenzie, a senior government adviser for Save the Children, also predicted that the amendment could go through.

She told the newspaper that a number of Tory MPs were "uncomfortable at the prescriptive nature of it, at having a number on it."

"But for a number of MPs, the new amendment could be the thing that encourages them to break ranks and vote for it," she added. 

Refugee crisis: Cost of UK resettlement revealed

14 April

Resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain will cost more than half a billion pounds, according to the government, which says the "substantial sum" will help them "rebuild their lives in safe and secure surroundings".

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, described the figure as "huge" but complained of an "unacceptable lack of transparency" about how it would be raised and spent.

Britain has agreed to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and more than 1,000 have already arrived under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme set up by the European Union in response to the crisis.

Responding to a written parliamentary question, Richard Harrington, the minister for Syrian refugees, estimated the cost to Britain to be £589m.

"The first year of the scheme will be funded with money from the overseas aid budget and the government has already allocated £129m to help local authorities with costs for the remaining years," says the Daily Telegraph. "But it is unclear where the rest of the £589m will come from."

Aid budgets raided

New figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show the amount of foreign aid money rich nations are spending to deal with the impact of the refugee crisis at home has almost doubled over the past year and now accounts for nine per cent of all development expenditure, reports The Guardian.

Last year, Britain spent £12.2bn on foreign aid, second only to the US. "The UK gave twice as much as France, which has a similar population," says the Daily Mail.

However, the UK has taken in a smaller number of migrants than many of its neighbours, especially Germany, which says it will let in a million people over the next year. Earlier this year, 27 charities, including Oxfam and Amnesty International, called on Prime Minister David Cameron to rehouse a "proportionate" share of refugees.

"More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed, and 11 million displaced from their homes" since the civil war began five years ago, says the BBC. "More than four million have already left the country."

Refugee crisis: Terrorists could enter EU with migrants, warns border agency

6 April

Terrorists may have used the refugee crisis to enter the European Union, according to a risk report released by the European border force.

The Frontex report said the "vast majority" of migrants arrive in Europe with no identity papers and that false declarations of nationality are "rife" among those coming from the Middle East and Africa.

While the majority of these come from people hoping to improve their chances of being granted asylum, the report warns that "some persons representing a security threat to the EU may be taking advantage of this situation".

Two of the bombers involved in last year's Paris attacks arrived in Europe from Turkey and registered themselves using fake Syrian passports, which, Frontex says, demonstrates "irregular migratory flows could be used by terrorists to enter the EU".

The report appears to lend credence to a longstanding fear that members of Islamic State (IS) or other terror groups are hiding among refugees. As early as November 2015, a security source told the Sunday Times that at least four senior IS figures were among the "dozens, if not hundreds" of terrorists believed to have posed as refugees to enter the EU. Last month, Nato commander Philip Breedlove echoed the warning, saying the terrorist were "spreading like a cancer" among the refugees.

Frontex's analysis also speaks of the danger of illegal weapons being smuggled into Europe from former conflict regions, such as the Western Balkans. In Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, as many as 800,000 unregistered weapons are estimated to be in circulation.

In a section entitled "Looking forward", the border force lays out seven potential outcomes for the European Union, ranging from the outbreak of nationalist-fuelled conflicts to the adoption of total open borders.

The scenarios team predicted that the most likely outcome involved "restrictive policies and limitations of migration" combined with a "proactive European foreign policy and a common European border management."

Refugee crisis: Justin Welby says  fearing migration 'is not racist'

11 March

The Archbishop of Canterbury has waded into the debate surrounding the ongoing refugee crisis and the EU referendum. 

The Most Rev Justin Welby (pictured above) said people were "justified" in fearing the impact of mass immigration and that it was "absolutely outrageous" to dismiss those concerns as racist. 

His remarks come as European leaders struggle to cope with one of the largest forced migrations in recent history, with more than a million people crossing into Europe last year.

"To be anxious about that is very reasonable," the Archbishop said in an interview with The House magazine.

He added that "fragile communities" in particular are concerned about the impact on housing, jobs and health services.

"There is a genuine fear and it is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed. There have to be resources put in place that address those fears," he said.

Welby also suggested Britain could be doing more to help and described the UK's plan to resettle just 20,000 refugees as "very slim" in comparison to Germany's "extraordinary" efforts.

"I was in Berlin, and the churches there are doing the most extraordinary things, as are the German people," he said.

A lack of a Europe-wide response was "deepening the crisis very, very significantly", he added.

In his first public comments on the EU referendum, the Archbishop said he would not be offering people advice on how to vote.

"I don't think there is one correct Christian view," he said, "You can't say, 'God says you must vote this way or that way.'" 


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