Unaccompanied Refugee Children

What’s the story?

As migrants continue to pour into Europe from Syria and other countries devastated by war and civil unrest, the numbers of unaccompanied children trapped in dangerous and impoverished conditions continues to spiral. However, in a parliamentary vote, British MP’s narrowly voted to reject a proposal to accept 3,000 of these children into care in the UK.

What’s happening?

Separated from their families, far from home; alone. Save the Children’s original estimate that there were 26,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe from Syria, North Africa and elsewhere now looks desperately inaccurate; the true total could be much closer to 100,000. Many of them have become ill; some have fallen into the hands of traffickers and others who would exploit them.

The desperation of this situation is what prompted Lord Alf Dubs – himself a beneficiary of Britain’s kind pre-war stance on immigration – to table an amendment to the UK Immigration Bill. It proposed that the UK accept 3,000 of these children into local authority care – what would have amounted to 5 children per parliamentary constituency.

MP’s however voted to reject the House of Lords’ proposal, by the fairly narrow margin of 294 to 276. Although some rebelled, the Government instructed its own party to vote against, amid suggestions that a ‘yes’ vote would only encourage more Syrians to send their children toward Britain in hope of a better life.

David Cameron later announced that the UK would begin to accept unaccompanied child refugees from Europe (it already accepts some direct from Syria and its neighbours), although he has not committed to a specific figure. He told the House of Commons that he had accepted a revised amendment from Lord Dubs, which did not make include the 3,000 requirement. He also restated the concern that simply accepting children from Europe would lead to more refugees making the journey: ”our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying [rather] than more people getting a good life.”

What have others been saying?

The Telegraph says that in fact, Britain won’t begin accepting child refugees until the very end of 2016, and provides a helpful guide to some of the key statistics.

Conservative MP Stephen Phillips writes about why he voted against the party whip and supported the unsuccessful motion to accept 3,000 unaccompanied minors.

Krish Kandiah writes on Christian Today that “rescuing the innocent victims of war is right and godly.”



The Bible repeatedly uses the phrase ‘orphan and widow’ (or some approximation of it) to refer to the most needy in our society. But although it shouldn’t only lead us to care for those two groups specifically, the fact that in both cases it is talking about those in our society who have been left alone tells us that God is clearly concerned that his church should take care of them. When Isaiah (in 1:17) writes that we should ‘bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’, there are some very specific modern applications for Christians to engage with, and the plight of all unaccompanied refugees in Europe seems to be one of the clearest examples.


We are blessed in Britain with relatively plentiful resources; as Christians we’re mandated to use these to offer hospitality. The writer of Hebrews (13:2) famously writes that ‘some have entertained angels’ by offering such kindness to strangers; but perhaps more importantly sharing what we have best reflects to others the change that Jesus makes in us. Hospitality comes up again and again in the Bible, in 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, Leviticus 19:34 and in countless other verses. And as Jesus says, when we offer kindness, care and hospitality to others, we are in a way offering an act of worship and service directly to him: ‘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)

Points for prayer

  • Pray for the tens of thousands of children who are currently marooned in Calais and other makeshift refugee camps – for safety, health, protection and eventually a safe way home.

  • Pray for agencies looking to offer relief and support to those most in need.

  • Pray against people traffickers and others who would look to exploit the poverty and desperate situation that migrants find themselves in.
  • Pray for peace in Syria, and across the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Pray for the UK government, that they would quickly find a workable solution to the question of unaccompanied child refugees.


martin saunders

Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.