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Britain is still failing child refugees in Europe.

It is three months since parliament passed the Immigration Act, which includes my amendment that unaccompanied child refugees in Europe should be able to come to live in the UK. I made it clear that we should take our fair share of the total and other countries should do likewise.
When the amendment to the Immigration Act first got to the House of Commons, it was narrowly defeated. It then went back to the Lords and received a bigger majority. It was clear that more Tory MPs were prepared to vote in favour a second time. Before that happened, Theresa May, then home secretary, asked me to meet her to tell me that the government proposed to accept the amendment. That evening the immigration minister assured me that the government would enter into the letter and spirit of the amendment.
Since then, very little has happened. I was aware that the government was in touch with the authorities in the countries where there appear to be the majority of vulnerable child refugees – France, Greece and Italy. Then on 20 July, I asked a question in the Lords for an update on the process of rehoming child refugees in Calais. The answer was that 40 children had been transferred to the UK on family grounds, and that more than 20 who meet the criteria under the act have been accepted for transfer to the UK. This means that several hundred children with relatives are still waiting. And as yet, there is no evidence that the 20 who qualify under the Immigration Act have reached the UK.

This week’s home affairs select committee migration crisis report concludes that family reunification is taking too long. Every day that these vulnerable young people have to remain in Calais, Greece or Italy, they are in grave danger of criminality, being trafficked or forced into prostitution. No wonder that in despair they try every night to get on to lorries crossing the Channel, a dangerous practice and one which has already cost many children’s lives.

I learned more about the situation in Calais when I visited earlier this year. I met nine unaccompanied Afghan refugee children, and was given documentation about each of them which I sent the information to the Home Office on my return to London. Nothing seems to have happened to help them, though I subsequently learned that four of them had made it to the UK on the back of lorries.
The problems facing the refugees, especially the children in Calais, are now even more acute given the threat by the mayor of Calais to bulldoze the entire camp. It adds to the urgency for the British government to take action.
In recent months many local groups have been established to support and welcome refugees. Indeed I believe public opinion is still very much in favour of us taking a reasonable number of unaccompanied child refugees. The response from local authorities has been mixed, but I have been heartened that quite a number are now moving to accept refugee families and are also seeking to identify suitable foster parents. I have been told that the process to assess potential foster parents can take six months, so it is crucial that local authorities start publicising the need for foster parents to come forward as soon as possible. Of course if existing foster parents can take an extra refugee child then the process should be quick.
In the case of young people who have reached 16 or 17, it may be preferable to provide accommodation with a degree of independence. There will also be a need to provide psychological support for these young people, some of whom will have been traumatised by war, bombing, the deaths of parents and the difficulties encountered on the long and difficult journeys to and across Europe.
So what’s to be done now? I have asked for a meeting with the new immigration minister to put these points to him and ask what is causing the delay. People should ask their MP to press the government for a speedier response. Local groups are in a good position to approach councillors to get the council to agree to take refugees.
The campaign for unaccompanied child refugees owes its strength to public opinion. It has not become the property of one political party and is backed by faith groups and community organisations across the spectrum.
Despite the recent surge in hate crime following the referendum, I still believe Britain is a strongly humanitarian country. I arrived here in 1939 on a Kindertransport from Prague; indeed, there were 10,000 of us from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who came to the UK this way. We received a fantastic welcome in Britain and were given great opportunities by a generous country. I hope we can be equally welcoming to unaccompanied child refugees today.

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