By Alex Whiting
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain will take in some unaccompanied refugee children from Syria, North Africa and other conflict areas, the Home Office (interior ministry) said on Thursday, but it did not say how many.
This is in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees the government has pledged to take in by 2020. More than 1,000 of them – around half of them children - have already been resettled in Britain under this scheme, the government says.
The Home Office said it would work with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) to identify particularly vulnerable children, though the government has said the majority of refugee children are better off staying in their region of origin so they can be reunited with their families.
"The crisis in Syria and events in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond have separated a large number of refugee children from their families," Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said in a statement.
"... we have asked the UNHCR to identify the exceptional cases where a child's best interests are served by resettlement to the UK and help us to bring them here," Brokenshire said.
Aid agencies cautiously welcomed the announcement.
"The UK has a responsibility to protect vulnerable children, it is absolutely right that the government is committed to resettle unaccompanied children from conflict regions," the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said.
Tanya Barron, CEO of children's charity Plan UK, said: "Any and all help for children who have been separated from their families by the war in Syria should be encouraged.
"In many cases, they are traumatized having seen their homes destroyed and loved ones killed or injured. These children urgently need help to try and rebuild their shattered lives."
UNICEF said there were tens of thousands of unaccompanied refugee children, many of whom had relatives in the United Kingdom.
They should be given information about their right to family reunification and how to claim it, the agency said.
(Reporting by Alex Whiting, editing by Tim Pearce.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)