Explainer: Cameron’s u-turn on refugee children

Nando Sigona offers his views on Cameron’s u-turn on refugee children from within the EU on BBC News.

In brief, Nando argues that it is a welcome development, particularly because it is the first time in the current refugee crisis the UK government is accepting refugees already in the EU. However, the details of the decision and its implementation must be closely monitored. The precedent is the very slow implementation of the not exactly generous commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees from the region in 5 years, basically subjecting the lives of people escaping from war zones to the length of UK’s electoral cycle. The crisis is now, and it is now that the UK government should act, not in a hardly foreseeable future.

Moreover, the government’s compassionate turn has a couple of important caveats: firstly, it is not committing to a specific number of resettlements, but has skilfully transferred the onus on local authorities who are now tasked to say how many minors they are prepared to receive. These are the same local authorities the government is subjecting to draconian budget cuts, that are forced to close down children services, and that have struggled to cope with current level of UASC arrivals. But the real issue is not the number per se, in fact LAs have been able to assist and support more refugee children in the recent past. So it is hard to imagine they will have the resources to do much, unless there is strong financial incentive from the government. Secondly, to ensure the scheme doesn’t become a pull factor (a justification the government has recurred to frequently but without presenting any evidence in support for its claim), only minors arrived before 20th March 2016 are eligible, as if the root causes that have forced a mass exodus from war zones ceased with the EU-Turkey deal and as if those arriving via Libya and Egypt don’t even exist.

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