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Britain can – and must – open its arms to refugee children

According to Save the Children, there are currently around 5,000 unaccompanied children languishing in European refugee camps. Many of them are from Syria, but they’re also from Iraq, Libya, Eretria and other war-torn parts of the world. For the most part, they’ve become separated from their parents in the course of making the journeys from home – in all likelihood, the majority are now orphans.


Two months ago, I started a petition on Change.org, urging David Cameron to allow 1,500 of these children to be fostered by British families. It was the example of Sir Nicholas Winton that made me think we could do more – the British Schindler who helped save 669 Jewish children from the Nazis in 1939. I was also thinking of the Kindertransport, something I’d been reminded of when reading the first volume of Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher biography. Her family took in a Jewish refugee during the Second World War and the young Margaret Roberts heard first hand some of the horror stories of Nazi persecution – one of the reasons she was a lifelong friend to the Jews.
Don’t misunderstand me. I understand the Prime Minister’s reluctance to take in more refugees. I’ve yet to hear a convincing reply to the argument that granting more people asylum will open the floodgates, just as it has in Germany, where more than 300,000 refugees have applied for asylum in the past year, compared to around 25,000 in the UK in the same time period. The reason 1,000 migrants are crossing from Serbia into Hungary every day is because that's the way to Germany.

But I think the moral case for allowing 1,500 unaccompanied refugee children to settle here is overwhelming. That’s Save the Children’s number, by the way, not mine, but it strikes me as a realistic figure. They’re already in Europe and, provided the government makes it clear that that is the maximum, it won’t necessarily encourage others to make the journey across the Mediterranean. In any case, few parents in Africa and the Middle East will dispatch their children on such a perilous journey unaccompanied in the hope that they’ll end up in a British foster home.

Hardly anyone is safe in Europe’s refugee camps, but unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable. They are prey to the worst kind of human predators and many face horrific fates if they’re not rescued. Indeed, for some it’s already too late – they have been taken by trafficking gangs and disappeared into the criminal underground. When I think of my own children – aged seven, eight, 10 and 12 – having to fend for themselves in a place like the Jungle, I shudder in horror.
Some people reading this will think it’s unrealistic to imagine our foster care system could absorb an additional 1,500 children. Already, there’s a glut of children being looked after by local authorities with no homes to go to. But I'm sure that if the government was to ask for volunteers – particularly in the wake of the horrific pictures on the front pages of today’s newspapers – more than 1,500 families would come forward.

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