Skip to main content

UK to take in child refugees separated from parents

Government says it will work with UN to identify children in 'exceptional' circumstances, but does not specify numbers
Britain has committed more than a billion dollars to helping refugees in Syria and the region (AFP)

The UK is to take in refugee children separated from their parents by conflicts in Syria and other countries, the government has said.

The announcement early on Thursday did not specify numbers. However, the Home Office said officials would work with UN refugee agency UNHCR to identify youngsters who would be eligible for residence.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced in September that 20,000 refugees from camps on Syria's borders would be brought in by 2020. More than 1,000, half of them children, have so far arrived.

But the UK has opted out of European Union quotas for taking migrants and dispersing them around the 28-nation bloc.

"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," immigration minister James Brokenshire said in a statement.

He added that while the "vast majority" of them were better off staying in the region and remaining with extended family members, "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".

A Home Office spokeswoman said she could not confirm how many children would be affected by the scheme.

Pressure increased on Cameron to take more children after pictures appeared of Syrian three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned last year as his family tried to reach Greece.

Britain has committed more than a billion dollars to helping refugees in Syria and the region, meaning it is the second-largest donor in efforts to ease the crisis after the US.

It also announced Thursday the creation of a new fund of up to £14mn ($20mn) to support refugee children within Europe.

Immigration is one of the most sensitive issues in British politics.

Annual net migration hit a record high of over 300,000 last year and Cameron has failed to deliver on a pledge to cut the figure to below 100,000.

The prime minister was criticised by opponents as crass on Wednesday for referring to "a bunch of migrants" at camps in Calais, northern France, during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.