James Brokenshire has announced that the Government has asked the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to lead on a new initiative to resettle unaccompanied refugee children from conflict regions. The Department for International Development will also create a new fund of up to £10 million to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe.
In a statement to the House of Commons, James said that the UNHCR, who have experts working in the countries surrounding Syria and other conflict zones around the world, have been asked 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 new £10m fund will include targeted support to meet the specific needs of unaccompanied and separated children who face additional risks. The support will include identifying children who are in need, providing safe places for at risk children to stay, data management to help trace children to their families, and services such as counselling and legal advice.
The Government has also committed to providing further resources to the European Asylum Support Office to help in “hotspots” such as Greece and Italy to help identify and register children at risk on first arrival in the EU. The UK has already sent experts to both countries to assist with the ongoing situation and the Home Secretary has asked Kevin Hyland, the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, to visit the area and assess what more can be done to ensure unaccompanied refugee children are protected from traffickers.
The Government has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and this new initiative builds on the Government’s existing commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians during this Parliament, through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme. More than 1,000 vulnerable Syrians – around half of them children -have already been resettled through the scheme and the Government has already pledged over £1.1 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria and neighbouring countries, making it the second largest bilateral donor after the US.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said:
"The UK government takes its responsibility in cases involving children very seriously. Ensuring their welfare and safety is at the heart of every decision made.
"The crisis in Syria and events in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond has separated a large number of refugee children from their families.
“The vast majority are better off staying in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members. So we have asked the UNHCR to identify the exceptional cases where a child’s best interests are served by resettlement to the UK and help us to bring them here.”