Government offer to child refugees is 'absolute minimum', say campaigners

The UK will accept more unaccompanied child refugees in response to pressure from opposition parties and charities.

Although the Home Office has not said how many the UK will take, it has confirmed the extra children will be on top of the 20,000 figure already pledged to be taken by 2020.

However they have confirmed that the refugees will not be from Europe but UN refugee camps in Syria and neighbouring countries, to the frustration of campaigners.

The government has said it will take a limited number of unaccompanied child refugees.Reuters

Both Save the Children and the Labour party have expressed their disappointment the government will not be accepting child refugees from among makeshift camps in Europe such as Calais' 'Jungle'.

Alongside the children's charity and Labour, Tim Farron, the evangelical Christian leader of the Liberal Democrat party, who has long campaigned for Britain to take at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, said the reponse was"pitiful". 

"The government is managing to do the absolute minimum to alleviate the biggest humanitarian crisis facing our world in the last half century," he said.

Many refugee children disappear when they arrive in Europe, according to Save the Children, and they are at risk of traffickers, drug dealers and other forms of abuse.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire defended the government's decision not to take children from Europe, saying those in Syria are the most vulnerable and it was right to focus on them.

"The vast majority are better off staying in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members," he said. "So 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."

But Labour were not convinced.

Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour's refugee taskforce and former rival to Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership, said the country "cannot turn our backs on children who are already in Europe and desperate families who have already come to Europe because they are fleeing persecution".

Her comments came after Corbyn visited the 'Jungle' camp in Calais over the weekend.

"We have to do more," he said after his trip. "As a matter of urgency, David Cameron should act to give refuge to unaccompanied refugee children now in Europe – as we did with Jewish Kindertransport children escaping from Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.

"And the government must provide the resources needed for those areas accepting refugees – including in housing and education – rather than dumping them in some of Britain's poorest communities."

However not all within the Labour party are on board with Corbyn's stance. Frank Field, the senior Labour MP for Birkenhead and a former minister, warned Labour faced a "walloping" in the 2020 election if they did not take a firmer stance on immigration.

"On the big issues, sadly, which will decide the next election, which is about defending our borders and defending us as a nation, the Labour opposition looks as if it is walking in the opposite direction," he told Sky News.

"Clearly that is going to have to be sorted out before the next election if we are not to get a walloping yet again."