Thank you for contacting me about the transfer of child refugees to the UK. I will do my best to attend the debate although, at the present time, parliamentary business is very 'fluid' and requires an enormous amount of juggling of diaries.
However I do believe that Britain has always stepped up to help the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and the present Government is committed to continuing this fine tradition.
Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why we will resettle 20,000 Syrians over the course of this parliament and we will also resettle 3,000 children and their families from the wider region. In the last year we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and, of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.
This week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment. This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France, and will include a further 150 over the coming months.
The scheme has not closed, as reported by some. The Government was obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. This is the number that we have published and we will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment.
The Government is clear that behind these numbers are children and it's vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support they will need. As I'm sure you will appreciate many of these children require very specific, expert care from dedicated professionals and it would be wrong to pressurise councils into accepting children when such an infrastructure is not in place.
Local authorities were consulted with over several months to reach this number, but if any local authority suggests they have extra capacity to take children they would be encouraged to participate in the National Transfer Scheme. Each year we have around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in Britain and currently a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children.
The Government has also always been clear that it does not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children. That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act.
I completely understand that this is an incredibly emotive issue and I am delighted that Suffolk has taken some 26 families. Only last week I was approached by a local group to see how they could help further. Suffolk's assistance is largely centred on Ipswich where we are able to give these highly traumatised individuals the best help we can offer.
I will never forget my trip to the refugee camp in Lesvos where the enormity and complexity of the issue fully struck me. However I do believe that the Government is doing its best to strike a balance in order to ensure that the children who arrive in UK have the very best start to their new life. Notwithstanding that, I will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue talking to Ministers to ensure that, where we can do more, we do.