The Government has announced it will resettle 3000 children and adults fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by the end of this Parliament.
Last January, Whitehall commissioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop a new initiative to take in vulnerable children and their families impacted by ongoing conflicts such as the civil war in Syria.
The UNHCR recommended the scheme should not only support unaccompanied children, but should also help those at risk from child labour, child marriage and other forms of abuse or exploitation.
The Government says it will be open to all ‘at risk’ groups and nationalities within the region, and added this would be in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees Downing Street has already committed to resettling under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
UNHCR data estimates there are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees, and 6.6 million internally displaced people.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said: ‘We have always been clear that the vast majority of vulnerable children are better off remaining in host countries in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members.
‘However, there are exceptional circumstances in which it is in a child’s best interests to be resettled in the UK.’
Responding to the Government's announcement, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, said: ‘Local government continues to stand ready to help those who need it, with the vast majority of councils already settling unaccompanied children and children in Syrian refugee families.
‘It is right that the increased resettlement programme is phased in over time and is subject to review, given the vulnerability of the children councils will be welcoming into their communities.
‘These new measures must be planned in full partnership with councils and be effectively funded to ensure that services are able to cope with any additional demand and meet children's needs.’
The councillor did, however, voice concern over long-term funding arrangements and urged the Government to formulate a national scheme for dealing with the increased numbers of refugees.
‘Councils remain concerned that the Government is still unable to clarify the long-term funding arrangements for councils looking after unaccompanied children, or provide any detail of how a national dispersal mechanism will operate,’ he said.
Referring to a new scheme to give increased support to Kent, where many child refugees have become concentrated, Cllr Simmonds continued: ‘While the extended funding boost for children arriving into Kent recognises the current shortfall facing councils caring for unaccompanied children, it is crucial that this arrangement is now extended into a properly funded national scheme to support all areas struggling with increased numbers.’