West Suffolk MPs defend child refugees vote

Conservative MP Jo Churchill holds baby Sarah* during a visit to the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Picture courtesy of Matt Crossick/Save The Children ANL-160402-151324001
Conservative MP Jo Churchill holds baby Sarah* during a visit to the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Picture courtesy of Matt Crossick/Save The Children ANL-160402-151324001
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West Suffolk MPs have defended voting against an attempt to compel the Government to accept 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe into the UK.

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock were among 294 who voted against amending the Immigration Bill last week. With 276 in favour, it was rejected by a majority of 18.

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

Both argued that resettling the children will encourage more to put their lives at risk by making the dangerous sea crossing to Europe and play into the hands of people traffickers.

However, following reports of a growing rebellion on the issue by Conservative MPs the Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said he would accept a revised amendment without a specific figure attached. Children registered in Greece, Italy or France before March 20 will now be eligible for resettlement in the UK.

There will be discussions with local councils before a decision is made on how many can be resettled. Downing Street said the retrospective nature of the scheme means the UK ‘can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey’.

Rebecca Cordell, 27, from Bury, used to volunteer with unaccompanied refugee children in Birmingham. She called the vote on the initial amendment ‘heartbreaking’ and welcomed Mr Cameron’s announcement.

Mrs Churchill witnessed the plight of refugees when she visited the Greek island of Lesbos. Asked about her vote, on Tuesday she said: “Whilst on my visit, a boat capsized killing 33 people including five children. My concern was then, and remains, that to resettle any number of refugee children from Europe will only encourage more and more children to put their lives at greater risk by making the crossing.” She said almost 10 per cent of refugee children fleeing to Europe go missing and a formal and accurate registration system was ‘essential’.

Mrs Churchill said more needs to be done to ‘safely resettle refugee children from their own region, whilst delivering efforts to protect those arriving on this continent’.

On Tuesday, Mr Hancock said the resettlement of children from European countries could lead to people traffickers encouraging ‘more people to put their lives at risk by making the dangerous sea crossing’.