The government’s decision to back out of its commitment to settle 3,000 Syrian child refugees in the UK has been condemned as “sickening” by Jewish groups.
Campaigners expressed their shock at a Home Office announcement that only an additional 150 lone child refugees are to be brought to Britain, bringing the total number let in so far to 350.
Under the Dubs amendment, introduced by Jewish peer Lord Alfred Dubs, the government was expected to provide refuge for 3,000 vulnerable Syrian children.
Lord Dubs, who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport, said the government seemed to be intent on “closing down” the scheme, he and other campaigners had worked hard on getting, former Prime Minister, David Cameron, to agree to.
He said: “They are blaming local authorities for not being able to take more but they are just making excuses.
“It is very worrying. I feel very disappointed, not for me personally, but for all the children who are not being helped.”
He appealed to Prime Minister Theresa May not to “shut the door” to some of the most vulnerable refugee children.
The Labour peer said: “During the Kindertransport, Sir Nicky Winton rescued 669 children from Nazi persecution virtually singlehandedly.
“I was one of those lucky ones. It would be a terrible betrayal of his legacy if as a country we were unable to do more than this to help a new generation of refugees.”
The immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, said local authorities had the capacity to provide places for only 400 unaccompanied children until the end of March.
Mr Goodwill said: “The UK can be proud of its record helping refugee children and I can today announce, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act, that the government will transfer the specified number of 350 children pursuant to that section, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision.
“As required by the legislation, we have consulted with local authorities on their capacity to care for and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children before arriving at this number.
“Local authorities told us they have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year.”
Edie Friedman, director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said the government’s decision was “sickening”.
She said: “We are facing a world-wide crisis and if Britain can only manage 350 children that is profoundly shocking.
“Britain is better than this, we have to show our generosity of spirit and not turn our back on child refugees.”
The daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton, the British humanitarian who organised the Kindertransport has also called on Mrs May, who was his MP, to “do the right thing” and not forget her father’s legacy.
Barbara Winton has written an open letter to Mrs May saying: “As my father’s MP I know he deeply valued the relationship he had with you towards the end of his life, and at his memorial you very generously described him as ‘an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times’ and said: ‘I hope that his life will serve as an inspiration for us all … and encourage us to do the right thing.’
“As the world once again teeters on the edge of dark times, I ask you to remember those words.”
In a statement, Rabbis Paul Freedman and Josh Levy, co-chairs of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, urged the government to think again.
They said: "When Jews look at refugees, we see ourselves, remembering our historic identity as migrants and refugees. Our Reform Jewish values command and compel us to defend other refugees and we urge the government to reconsider its decision.
"Britain is a generous country and has at many times shown kindness and solidarity to those in desperate need. We now call on the government to honour this heritage and show global leadership in welcoming child refugees."
Here in London we have a proud history of welcoming refugees. My full statement on the Govt's shameful decision to end the Dubs Amendment: pic.twitter.com/0EfO0jgift— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) February 8, 2017
Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies president, has also expressed his concern over the government’s decision, by writing to the Home Secretary.
Mr Arkush said: “Bearing in mind the ‘intention and spirit’ of Section 67 of the Immigration Act, the expectation was that there would be a larger number of children resettled.
“The situation in continental Europe is that hundreds of thousands of refugees, including frightened and vulnerable children, have been facing harsh conditions, and there are numerous children being kept away from their parents or family members.
“Many in our community came to the UK as frightened and vulnerable young children – some on the kindertransport – and were welcomed into this country.
“We expect that other communities who are in need receive the same treatment.”
He urged the government to reconsider the number of children it could help.
Meanwhile, a High Court challenge to the decision to close the Dubs scheme for lone child refugees is to be heard in early May.
The charity Help Refugees, which is leading the legal challenge, said the consultation process with local authorities that led to the 350 cut off was “fundamentally flawed”.
Mr Justice Holman has scheduled full hearing of the case. He said he was “very, very determined” it should be moved forward as fast as possible.
On Friday he told a preliminary hearing: “There is a huge political dimension to this. It is extremely important to establish as soon as reasonably practical whether the number specified is or is not lawful.”