Britain should provide a home for 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has said while on a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos – the main EU landing point for refugees from the Middle East.
Farron, who on Tuesday became the first leader of a British political party to visit the migrant camps in Greece, will use Wednesday’s prime minister’s question time to ask David Cameron to commit Britain to taking in the country’s “fair share” of children who have landed in Europe alone.
There is no accurate tally of the total number of child refugees who have arrived unaccompanied in Europe since the beginning of the crisis, but the UNHCR estimates that 8,500 children have arrived in Italy without family members since the beginning of the year and around 4,000 have been registered in Serbia alone.
On a visit to the part of Lesbos’s coast that is closest to Turkey, Farron assisted a boat of around 40 people landing on the shore after making the journey across the Aegean, steadying the boat to help them on to dry land and handing out bottles of water to those who had arrived. “Why don’t you stop handing out water bottles and take some more refugees?”said one nearby aid worker dismissively.
“She has a point,” said Farron later. “I get a real sense of a kind of polite irritation at best with the NGOs I meet ... the sense that we’re not pulling our weight, frankly. And here is one of the poorest countries in Europe dealing with the lion share of it here.”
Around 111,000 refugees, adults and children, have arrived on Lesbos since 1 October and, as of Wednesday 21 October, there were 16,000 people on the island awaiting departure to Athens. Despite a drop-off in media attention, officials say the situation is deteriorating and that the number of daily arrivals has spiked from 2,000 every day in late August to up to 8,000 daily last week.
An analysis by Save the Children of what the UK’s “fair share” of unaccompanied minors would be – which takes the country’s GDP, population, and employment rates into consideration – suggests that the UK should take 3,000 such children.
“It seems an opportunity for Britain to do something which is of unalloyed good in this horrific crisis that we’ve seen a glimpse of today,” said Farron. “There are thousands of unaccompanied children, as young as six, and at very, very grave danger of the worst forms of exploitation and destitution.
“We have an opportunity to step up to the mark and accede to the request that Save the Children has put our way. We’ll continue to have the discussion about Britain taking its fair share of the refugee population in Europe, but this is a specific issue surely and David Cameron can find no reasonable excuse not to agree to it.”
Kate O’Sullivan from Save the Children, who is working at the barbed wire-strewn Moria refugee camp on the east side of the island, said that the problem of unaccompanied minors was one of the organisation’s biggest concerns.
“They’re incredibly vulnerable, they’ve come from incredibly difficult situations, they arrive here after an incredibly difficult journey and then they move on toward Athens,” she said.
“We don’t know who they’re with – there are smuggler networks in Athens. What we do know is that these children are subject to be being exploited ... they’re pretty much travelling on their own through Europe and that’s a very difficult journey to do especially if you’re from Syria or Afghanistan.”
She added: “These children have been going through horrors. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m really shocked about what these children are telling me. I’ve met kids who have burn marks all over their bodies because they’ve been tortured.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 27th October 2015 19.02 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010