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UNACCOMPANIED child refugees continue to be let down by the government’s “deplorable’ reluctance to help them, according to a scathing Lords report.
The peers’ study, published today, warns that 10,000 children who fled troublespots to Europe are now missing because Britain and other EU member states have shirked their responsibility to them.
Its publication comes amid criticism for Prime Minister Theresa May over her decision to scrap the government’s “minister for Syrian refugees” in her first days in Downing Street.
And evidence in the report shows that Ms May’s own local authority in leafy Windsor & Maidenhead has just eight children in its care.
That compares with 412 looked-after children in the care of Croydon Council and 376 in Kent. A fifth of local authorities surveyed had no children in their care, however.
Children that do make it to Europe are being “treated with suspicion and detained in squalid conditions,” according to the Lords report.
It warns that the unaccompanied children are losing faith in the authorities to care for them and many are being “driven into the hands of people-smugglers and traffickers.”
Peers describe “a culture of disbelief” within authorities towards children fleeing war in the Middle East, with frequent disputes over the refugees’ ages.
They also blame a “lack of solidarity” between EU member states which has stalled progress in relocating unaccompanied child migrants from refugee camps.
Crossbench peer Baroness Prashar, chair of the committee which wrote the report, said: “We found that these children face suspicion on arrival.
“They are seen as ‘somebody else’s problem,’ and the conditions they live in were described to us as deplorable and squalid.
“We found a clear failure among EU countries, including the UK, to shoulder their fair share of the burden.
“We deeply regret the UK government’s reluctance to relocate migrant children to the UK, in particular those living in terrible conditions in the camps near the Channel ports.”
The report calls for a new system of independent guardians for children to be established across Britain and the EU.
A government spokeswoman insisted the government remains “fully committed” to plans to take in 20,000 refugees by 2020.
She also defended Ms May’s decision to sack the minister responsible for Syrian refugees, Richard Harrington.
It was a temporary position to make sure the Syrian persons’ vulnerable relocation scheme “got off to a good start,” she claimed.
But Tory MP Heidi Allen admitted that the decision was “not a great start” for Ms May’s tenure as PM. “We can’t forget about those poor, poor individuals while we’re busy navel gazing ourselves about how our role is going to be in the global place,” she told the BBC’s Westminster Hour on Sunday evening.
“So yes, actions need to speak louder than words.”
Refugee Council head of advocacy Lisa Doyles said: “What’s more important than reshuffles and rhetoric are the concrete steps and action the government takes to make a practical difference to refugees’ lives.
“There is certainly an urgent need for the government to stick to its word that it will take a more holistic approach to refugee protection and integration. At the moment too many people are falling through the gaps and are left facing homelessness and hunger while different departments refuse to take responsibility for them.”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The new Prime Minister had a chance to step up and change the Tories’ position on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the first signs of failure are already there.
“Scrapping a ministerial post for refugees tells you everything you need to know about the Tories and their new Prime Minister: All talk and no action.”
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