Borders MP Calum Kerr takes government to task on Syria

Qab Elials refugee camp in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.
Qab Elials refugee camp in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

Borders MP Calum Kerr has challenged UK government ministers over the current refugee crisis by demanding that they do more to help vulnerable children arriving on the shores of Europe.

He told a Commons hearing that lone youngsters faced the very serious risk of falling prey to traffickers or being forced into child labour or prostitution.

Mr Kerr – a member of Westminster’s European Scrutiny Committee – asked Home Office immigration minister James Brokenshire, who was being questioned during the session: “If the government really wants to show leadership and has compassion at its core, doesn’t it need to look at some of the most vulnerable people that are arriving on EU shores?”

Mr Kerr said that more than 13,000 children arrived alone in Italy during last year, and that of these, more than 3,700 had then disappeared.

This figure, he added, was expected to be higher this year.

The Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk SNP MP continued: “Why doesn’t the government take its fair share of these vulnerable children?”

The minister told him that the UK met its “profound responsibilities” in a “different way” from other EU member states.

But Mr Kerr responded that he believed the Home Office was “turning a blind eye” when it should be focusing on those who were most vulnerable.

After the hearing, the Borders MP said: “These answers from James Brokenshire weren’t anything like good enough – David Cameron and his Tory colleagues are simply failing to take responsibility for these at-risk children and others.

Mr Kerr – who worked with Save the Children in collating the figures – said the numbers of sole youngsters disappearing was a real cause for worry.

“I do accept that the work the UK Government is doing in funding the camps around Syria is to be praised, but it does not absolve them of any responsibility for those that are arriving on the shores of the EU.

“I know from the sheer number of my constituents who have contacted me that this is a matter of huge concern to people right here in this part of Scotland.

“They want answers as to why the UK Government isn’t doing more to help these refugees and I’m sure they will be as shocked as I am that so many children are making it to Europe and then simply going missing.”

He went on: “Local people in the Borders are showing huge compassion by asking searching questions about the Whitehall policy on those arriving in Europe and by making it clear that they are happy to take those who do come to Scotland into their own homes.

“The people who have contacted me can rest assured that I will keep pressing the Home Office on this hugely important issue.

“We need to get a better deal for these vulnerable people, and for children in particular.”