Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, writes to the PM on setting a milestone for resettling unaccompanied child refugees
Ahead of the debate on the Government’s announcement on resettling lone child refugees in the Immigration Bill today, Yvette Cooper Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce has written to the Prime Minister calling on him to commit to swift action to help hundreds of children this summer so they can get into school by the beginning of the Autumn term.
Many lone child refugees, particularly those from Syria have not been in school for years. The letter joins the calls from faith leaders today for the Government to ensure children helped by the new scheme are able to enter school as soon as possible.
She is also calling for more detail on how the new commitment will be implemented to make sure it delivers on the spirit of the Dubs amendment in practice.
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
9th May, 2016
Dear Prime Minister,
Can I welcome your decision to accept Lord Alf Dubs amendment, and the principle that Britain should do its bit to help child refugees who are on their own and at great risk in Greece, Italy and France.
I am glad that the Government has listened to the cross party support, and the many organisations who have been campaigning on this and who are very keen to work with the Government to put this commitment into practice. Last week in Athens I met with Greek Ministers who told me that resettling lone child refugees was vital to ensure their safety.
UNICEF and Save the Children estimate that well over 1,000 children in Greece are not in proper accommodation because children’s homes are full and are either alone in makeshift camps, sleeping rough or even being kept in detention.
I have met many children and teenagers living in squalid conditions in makeshift camps, children who have been trafficked, and who are at serious risk of abuse and violence. In Calais, I have have met children of 11 and 12 years old who have family here in Britain that could look after them, but who have been waiting for months alone because of Government bureaucracy.
The decision to resettle some of these children is a life changing one and I wholeheartedly applaud this change of heart from the Government.
However, we must now make sure this commitment is delivered in practice. We therefore want to know further information from the Government about the practical steps and milestones needed to make sure that a significant number of children and teenagers can very swiftly be given sanctuary here.
Senior faith leaders including the former Archbishop of Canterbury have today called for all children in Calais with valid legal claims to be reunited swiftly with family in Britain, and 300 of the most at risk unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy to be brought to Britain by the start of the new school year in September.
This would be an important early milestone and would show the Government's commitment to swift progress so children aren't caught up in more bureaucratic delays. Can I urge you to commit to this plan to make sure children are swiftly helped and that we get them back into school and the education they need as fast as possible.
The Government has shown with the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme that, by working with local authorities, and providing the extra support needed, we can move quickly to resettle vulnerable refugees. And I pay tribute to the work of Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington in this.
Can you give a commitment that the Government will work with the LGA in a similar way to provide the additional support needed for specifically to help arriving child refugees, to make sure that local authorities are actually able to provide places in practice?
The LGA have made clear they are keen to help, but it is important that they are given the support they need and that children are relocated across the country, rather than putting pressure on a small number of local authorities.
Please can you also provide us with more details of the funding that will be need much more detail about the funding that in place for local authorities to properly support these children’s needs, as well as the process for identifying children to be resettled to the UK?
Other organisations, including faith groups and charities have also offered to help. As you may be aware, independent schools have already offered to make available 80 funded places to child refugees, indeed I have been contacted directly by schools wanting to help. Can I urge the Government to urgently work with wider organisations to see what additional support they can give to maximise the number of children and teenagers we can help.
These children haven’t been in school for many months, some many years. Resettling 300 of the most vulnerable child refugees from Europe in time for the start of the new school year, as well as expediting the cases of the children in Calais is the minimum we should be doing and I urge you to listen to the call from faith leaders and make this commitment today.
Tonight thousands of child refugees will sleep rough and in makeshift camps across Europe, on their own, I urge you to act swiftly to deliver on your commitment to resettle some of those children and teenagers as swiftly as possible so that we don't leave them at risk any longer.
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce