UK considers taking thousands of unaccompanied migrant children

UK considers taking thousands of unaccompanied migrant children

Britain is considering whether to let unaccompanied migrant and refugee children settle in Britain.

The announcement comes as child welfare organisations in Europe again raise concerns about the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in Europe.

Britain's International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, has indicated the government may decide to let several thousand child migrants into the country.

British charities and opposition politicians are urging the government to help around 3,000 unaccompanied migrant and refugee children in the UK.

Ms Greening has told Sky News the government is currently looking at how best to assist these children.

"We are looking at whether we can do more in relation to unaccompanied children. Because children have always been from day one at the heart of our response in the region. We've been right at the forefront frankly of helping children who have been affected by this crisis and we will continue to look at how we can do that in the coming days and weeks."

Government sources say that would be in addition to the 20,000 refugees the UK has already agreed to accept, mainly from camps on the borders of Syria, by 2020.

British government figures show in 2015 there were just over 2,500 asylum applications for people under 18 with no relative or guardian in the UK - an increase of around 50 per cent from 2014.

Unaccompanied children under the age of 16 in Britain are often placed in foster care.

The Chief Executive of the UK Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, says despite the challenges of working with traumatised children, many foster carers in Britain already have the skills and training to care for this group of children.

"We know that children who are unaccompanied are going to have suffered some form of trauma in their lives and we know that foster carers are well suited to meet the needs of children in those circumstances. What we know is that foster carers will support those young people and it may be that we may have to think creatively about how foster care is used."

Advocacy group Missing Children Europe says thousands of children arrive unaccompanied in the European Union every year.

The group says in the first nine months of 2015 10,000 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in Italy and Malta alone.

Just over 5,500 unaccompanied migrant children were also registered in Macedonia between June and October.

But across Europe the real figure is difficult to know, as there remains no effective way to identify this group of children.

Aid agency Save the Children has been working with child migrants in Europe.

Save the Children's Martha MacKenzie says for many children, surviving the journey to Europe does not mark the end of their ordeal.

"Our teams across Europe who are welcoming refugees have been seeing tens of thousands of children coming through who have already suffered extremely harrowing experiences in the region or the country that they have come from and are now all alone in Europe. And these children are at risk of falling prey to people traffickers, prostitution, drugs."

While the numbers of vulnerable children are difficult to document, what is clear is the reasons why children are going to Europe.

Most are fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

The head of the UN Refugee Agency, Filippo Grandi, has been visiting aid agencies in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

He's witnessed there the effects of war and separation on the development of children.

"People that, in addition to being displaced forcibly by war away from their homes, have serious illnesses or children that are traumatised by war, and have developed some problems, some physical, psychological problems as a consequence of that trauma."

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