The government’s decision to end a scheme allowing vulnerable refugee children into the UK is “shameful”, Labour’s Yvette Cooper has said.
Ministers announced on Wednesday they would stop arrivals in March once they reached 350 – far fewer than the 3,000 originally expected – due to fears it was encouraging people traffickers.
Ms Cooper said the government was “turning its back” on children.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he was “saddened and shocked”.
The so-called Dubs amendment, designed by the Labour peer and former child refugee Lord Dubs, aimed to help some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe.
Ms Rudd defended the decision to end the scheme, which she said had been made after France raised concerns it could be encouraging more children to make the perilous journey to Europe.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons from Ms Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, Ms Rudd said: “I am clear that when working with my French counterparts they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment because they specify, and I agree with them, that it acts as a draw.
“It acts as a pull. It encourages the people traffickers.”
Faced with a rebellion in the House of Lords, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced last year that he would accept the Dubs amendment and settle more child refugees.
On Wednesday, ministers announced that 200 children had been brought in under the scheme and that it would close after another 150 were settled in the UK.
‘Squalor and hopelessness’
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Cooper said thousands of child refugees were languishing in camps in Greece and Italy, desperate for help and at risk of abuse, exploitation and modern slavery.
“Britain can do better than this. Will she accept that and reinstate the Dubs programme now?”
But Ms Rudd said the UK was concentrating its efforts on providing aid and resettlement to vulnerable people in crisis-hit regions such as Syria.
She said: “I completely reject her attack. The UK has a strong reputation in Europe and internationally for looking after the most vulnerable. That will continue.
“We have a different approach to where those most vulnerable are, we believe that they are in the region.
“That’s why we have made a pledge to accept 3,000 children from the region and we are committed to delivering on that.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott attacked Ms Rudd, saying: “How does she live with herself, leaving thousands of children subject to disease, people trafficking, squalor and hopelessness?”
Responding in the House of Lords, Lord Dubs said: “It wasn’t long ago that I remember that the prime minister when she was home secretary told me the government was prepared to accept the amendment.
“It was on the same day that the then immigration minister said to me that the government would accept the letter and the spirit of that amendment.
“I believe in arbitrarily closing down the scheme, without any good reason for doing so, the government is in breach of its own commitments.”
Tory Lord Cormack said concern over the government’s decision was not confined to the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches.
Senior Church of England clergy have also condemned the decision.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby said the UK had a “great history of welcoming those in need, particularly the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children”.
He went on to say he believed the government was committed to welcoming up to 3,000 children under the scheme and to end it now was “regrettable” and that he hoped it would reconsider its decision.
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, who has been involved with the Church’s efforts to welcome child migrants, said the government was “in effect helping the trafficking industry”.
A legal challenge on how the government has handled the legal commitment will go ahead on Friday.