The Government has carefully considered how best to provide assistance and protection to unaccompanied refugee children from Syria, other regions of conflict, and for those in transit in Europe.
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. Today I can announce that the UK Government will work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to lead a new initiative to resettle unaccompanied children from conflict regions. We have asked the UNHCR to make an assessment of the numbers and needs of unaccompanied children in conflict regions and advise on when it is in the best interests of the child to be resettled in the UK and how that process should be managed. The UNHCR has already been clear that these are likely to be exceptional cases.
This will complement the existing substantial UK aid and resettlement programmes which are already helping many thousands of children at risk in conflict zones, on transit routes within Europe and in the UK. The Home Office will host a roundtable to invite views from a range of NGOs and local authorities, including UNICEF and Save the Children, on how we can provide more support for children in the region, in transit and domestically to prevent children putting themselves at risk and making dangerous journeys on their own. The UK Government has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, providing more than £1.1 billion in humanitarian aid to the Syria crisis. This new initiative builds on the Government’s existing commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees during this Parliament. More than 1,000 vulnerable Syrians refugees – around half of them children - have already been resettled through the scheme.
The UK Government will also commit 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. And we will, of course, continue to meet our obligations under the Dublin Regulations.
The Government is committed to combating child trafficking and understands that unaccompanied children, particularly those in transit, are vulnerable to people traffickers. The Home Secretary has asked the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit the hotspots in Italy and Greece to make an assessment and provide advice on what more can be done to ensure unaccompanied children and others are protected from traffickers.
The UK Government is already providing substantial funding to NGOs such as Unicef and UNHCR to provide shelter, warm clothes, hot food, and medical supplies to support vulnerable people, including children, on the move or stranded in Europe or in the Balkans. In addition, the Department for International Development is creating a new fund of up to £10 million to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe. The 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.
Alongside these significant efforts to assist children and the most vulnerable internationally, the Government recognises the need to provide support for children who are already in the UK and have been subject to or at risk of trafficking and exploitation. We also recognise the pressure that some local authorities who are supporting large numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children are facing. The Home Office will continue to encourage local authorities to support the dispersal of UASC from Kent and to work with NGOs, local authorities and the Department for Education to review current practice and consider how capacity could be strengthened, including through ensuring that there is sufficient safe accommodation and specialist support for foster placements.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords