Belfast City Council backs Liberty and Help Refugees campaign to Protect Refugee Children – and urges Northern Ireland Executive to play its part

05 September 2016

Belfast City Council has thrown its support behind Liberty and Help Refugees’ Protect Refugee Children campaign – confirming its commitment to resettling children in desperate need and calling on the Executive to urgently play its part.

Liberty and Help Refugees have joined forces to harness the support of local councillors across the UK, in a bid to pressure the Government to deliver on its promise to bring unaccompanied refugee children in Europe to safety on our shores.

In May 2016, the Government committed to work with councils to resettle an unspecified number of children. Three months later, they have failed to deliver on their promise – despite widespread support for the scheme from local authorities across the country.

Belfast City Council members have unanimously backed the campaign, which has so far been supported by councillors from Argyll and Bute to Bournemouth.

The Council’s motion reads:

“This Council welcomes the UK Government’s creation of a resettlement scheme to bring unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to safety in the UK. We recognise the vital role that we can and should play in caring for children seeking sanctuary here and express our disappointment that no children have yet been brought to the UK under the scheme.

“We call upon the Northern Ireland Executive to carry out a feasibility study as to how to fund and build the essential regional infrastructure necessary to secure the placement and support of children across the country and help us build them a brighter, safer future.”

Safeguarding children in desperate need

After initial refusal, the Government committed in May to create a scheme proposed by Lord Dubs – himself a child of the Kindertransport – to resettle refugee children currently stranded in France, Greece and Italy in the UK.

However it is unclear whether any children have been accepted under the Dubs scheme who did not already have the right to be in the UK. Moreover the Government has yet to provide enough information about how the scheme will be implemented or funded.

Help Refugees’ latest census of the ‘jungle’ in Calais revealed 608 unaccompanied children in the camp – an increase of 64 per cent since the Government committed to the Dubs Scheme. The youngest lone child is eight years old. Europol has estimated that 10,000 children have disappeared since registering in Europe and despite the best efforts of charities working in the camp, warnings emerged on Friday that food is running scarce.

Rachel Robinson, Policy Officer for Liberty, said: “As Belfast has shown, councils from all corners of UK want to play their part in safeguarding refugee children in desperate need. Now the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive must do the same.

“Separated from their families and fleeing war and persecution, stranded children are facing hunger, exploitation and abuse on this country’s doorstep.

“This is a child protection crisis and the time for action is now.”

Cllr Kate Nicholl, the Alliance Party Councillor who brought the motion, said: “The UK Government showed leadership in creating this scheme, which makes it all the more disappointing none have yet been brought to the UK under it. Anyone looking at what these people have gone through cannot help but be horrified by the suffering they have endured and the risk they have taken in trying to escape it.

"Locally, we have a history of helping people in need. That same generosity of spirit now needs to be shown by the Executive in order to support refugee children, and help provide the safe and stable future they need.”

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 / 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

  • A list of local government signatories to Liberty’s and Help Refugees’ statement can be viewed here
  • Liberty is working with Lord Dubs on an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill designed to press the Government to explain how it will implement and fund the resettlement scheme.
  • Help Refugees’ census of the Calais Jungle can be viewed here.