The Church of England's leader the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he is "saddened and shocked" over the UK government's decision to take just 350 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe.
Justin Welby issued the intervention a day after Conservative immigration minister Robert Goodwill quietly disclosed the decision to the House of Commons in a written ministerial statement.
"Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings made in the image of God who deserve safety, freedom and the opportunity to flourish. Jesus commands us to care for the most vulnerable among us," he said.
The government had promised to take the lone under-18s from the continent after Labour's Lord Alf Dubs, who came to the UK on the Kindertransport programme for Jewish children during the Second World War, led a campaign to take 3,000 of the unaccompanied children.
But ministers had not put a number on the amount of child refugees that UK would take until now. Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to defend the decision in the Commons after an urgent question from Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper.
The senior Conservative suggested that the Dubs scheme could encourage people traffickers. "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," Rudd told MPs.
Cooper, a former Labour minister, branded the response as "completely inadequate".
She added: "Far from deterring traffickers, this decision to halt legal routes to sanctuary will encourage traffickers instead.
"By closing both the Dubs scheme and the fast track Dublin scheme for child refugees with family in Britain, at the same time as the French are closing some of their support, the government is pushing vulnerable children back into the arms of smuggler and trafficker gangs, and back into modern slavery."
Full statement from Archbishop of Canterbury
I was saddened and shocked to read in the ministerial statement released yesterday that only 350 children will be received under the regulations in the Dubs Amendment. Our country has a great history of welcoming those in need, particularly the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children.
Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings made in the image of God who deserve safety, freedom and the opportunity to flourish. Jesus commands us to care for the most vulnerable among us:
The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40).
The government's decision last year to take in vulnerable children was the right thing to do and was further evidence of the UK's leadership on the response to the Syrian and wider migration crisis. Our government's leadership on financial and technical support in the region, and its leadership in resettling refugees from UNHCR camps is to be commended. However, I fear that this week's decision does not meet the spirit of the commitment that was given during the passage of the Immigration Act last year.
I agree entirely with colleagues who have spoken out on this already that for those of us who supported the Dubs amendment, we believed that the government was committed to welcoming up to 3000 children under this scheme. To end the scheme now, when such a small proportion have actually entered the country, is regrettable. Local authorities, who are bearing the costs of the resettlement, must be given the resources and time needed to meet our original commitment.
On Tuesday, I was in Istanbul to co-sponsor a forum on modern slavery and trafficking. During the event, we heard about the clear and terrible link between the large-scale movement of refugees and the risk of trafficking. Providing safe passage for unaccompanied children already in Europe, into caring and loving homes – in some cases through Christian groups such as the excellent Home for Good – is a clear and tangible way in which we as a country can demonstrate our values of protecting the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger.
We must resist and turn back the worrying trends we are seeing around the world, towards seeing the movement of desperate people as more of a threat to identity and security than an opportunity to do our duty. We cannot withdraw from our long and proud history of helping the most vulnerable.
I very much hope that the government will reconsider this decision, and work with church groups and others to find a sustainable and compassionate solution that allows those most in need to find sanctuary in our country.