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Britain should welcome thousands of vulnerable child refugees from Europe on top of its existing commitments, an influential group of MPs has said. The international development committee (IDC) warned unaccompanied children fleeing conflict-torn countries like Syria were at risk of being forced into prostitution, child labour and the drugs trade.
The cross-party group urged the government to "urgently" fulfil calls by charity Save the Children to accept 3,000 more child refugees on top of its current pledge to resettle 20,000 refugees. In a report published on 5 January, the IDC warned that 7.6million Syrian children were currently in need of humanitarian assistance, close to 80% of the country's child population.
It comes after 2015 saw Europe face the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War with more than a million migrants and refugees crossing into the continent during the year. Many came from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq and thousands drowned while trying to reach the continent by sea.
The first known refugee casualty of 2016 was reported on 3 January – a drowned two-year-old boy pulled from the sea off the Greek coast.
Stephen Twigg MP, chair of the IDC, said: "Children are clearly some of the most vulnerable refugees this crisis has created. The committee heard that close to 80% of Syria's child population already needs humanitarian assistance.
"There is a grave possibility that unaccompanied children become the victims of people traffickers who force them into prostitution, child labour and the drugs trade. This is an issue of utmost urgency."
The committee's report, based on evidence from a range of organisations and experts, comes in the same week the government was attacked by 27 leading charities for what they said was an "inadequate" response to the refugee crisis by the UK.
Adding to the calls for the government to ensure more is done in response to the crisis in 2016, the IDC urged ministers to also help refugees from minority groups – like LGBT, Christians and the disabled – to get fair access to the resettlement programme. This comes after warnings from Catholic leaders in the UK that the government was "unintentionally bypassing" Christian refugees trying to enter the UK.
The committee's report also gave a grave analysis of the funding commitments of governments across the world to the refugee crisis. It welcomed the UK's position as the second-largest donor after allocating £1.1bn ($1.6bn) in support, but said other countries like France, Japan and Italy have failed to contribute their "fair share". The MPs warned cuts to humanitarian aid were one of the main factors pushing refugees to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean into Europe.
The government said proposals for accepting more child refugees were "under discussion" but no decision had yet been made.
A government spokesperson said: "As this report rightly makes clear, the UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis and we will continue to push others to honour their commitments."