A GOVERNMENT initiative aimed at helping vulnerable refugee children has been stunted for fears it was acting as a ‘pull’ for refugees to carry out perilous journeys.

The Dubs Amendment was introduced at the end of last year as part of the Immigration Act 2016, which agreed to rehome and relocate unaccompanied refugee children, as well as reunite them with their families.

The scheme was initiated by Lord Alf Dubs, who was a child refugee himself after fleeing the Nazis in the Second World War.

As part of the amendment, the number was loosely agreed by campaigners to stand at around 3,000 but now the Government has decided to ditch the agreement, saying it was encouraging child traffickers and it had never agreed a figure.

So far, just 350 people children have been helped due to the agreement.

It was a controversial bill when it was proposed, only just scraping through a House of Commons vote, with Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, West Somerset and Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger and North Somerset MP James Heappey all voting against the amendment.

Following the agreement, a number of local authorities across the country, including Somerset County Council, agreed to help rehome a number of families.

However, speaking last week, the Home Office said that due to a lack of places for vulnerable child refugees identified by local authorities, the scheme would finish at the end of the financial year.

Amber Rudd, home secretary for the Government, said: “The Dubs amendment that is in place is not closed.

“We have done what we were obliged to do, and we have correctly put a number on it.

“When we accept them here, it is not job done; it is about making sure that we work with local authorities and that we have the right safeguarding in place.

“That is why we engage with local authorities – why we make sure they have sufficient funds, which we have increased, to look after those young people.

“I am clear, through working with my French counterparts, that they do not want us to continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment indefinitely.

“They specify that that acts as a draw, and I agree with them. It acts as a pull. It encourages the people traffickers.”

An open letter to convince the government not to end the Dubs scheme has been signed by a host of famous names. Among those to sign the letter are Coldplay, Juliet Stevenson, Gok Wan, Caroline Flack, Jude Law, Michael Morpurgo, Douglas Booth, Joely Richardson, Lily Allen, Sir Mark Rylance and Ruby Wax.

Josie Naughton, co-founder of Help Refugees, said: “The outpouring of support for the continuation of the Dubs scheme by these well-known figures and the public demonstrates that its closure is at odds with the British values that make this country great.

“We ask that the Government finds a way to do more to protect these vulnerable children fleeing war and conflict just as we did before the Second World War.”

Somerset has helped a handful of refugee families to settle in the area.

MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow, who initially voted against the amendment, said: “The government’s priority is to ensure that vulnerable children who are eligible to come here are safeguarded and have their welfare promoted as soon as they arrive in our country.

“The government has provided advice and guidance to local authorities, through the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, to make sure that this happens.

“Locally, I have had a successful meeting with church representatives recently and the child refugee situation was discussed at some length.

“My understanding is that a new family is shortly arriving in Taunton Deane through the CARIS support scheme and that there is a will locally to take more children. I will of course be feeding this information back to Westminster as appropriate.”

Pete Stevenson, West Somerset Intercultural Friendship Group, said he was saddened by the Government’s decision, and said there was more room available in the area to help rehome the children.

He said: “Those of us in the West Somerset Intercultural Friendship Group recognise the tremendous contribution made by immigrants to our farms, care homes, building sites, and in a multitude of other professions.

“The NHS would suffer greatly without the contribution of immigrants and as an independent teacher working across Somerset I can testify to the fact children from Eastern Europe are enriching our schools because of the respect they show their teachers and their high work ethic.

“A representative of Ian Liddell-Grainger recently told me, in response to the sadness I expressed at the refusal of the government to accept no more unaccompanied child refugees, that the county was ‘overwhelmed’.

“This is absolutely not the case. We have the room to welcome far more frightened children who have lost their parents and I can confidently announce many of our village schools would delight in the arrival of new children as so many of them have very few numbers on roll.”

Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, did not wish to comment on the issue.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: “We are part of the government’s scheme to resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

“We continue to look after these children placed with us by the Home Office and wait to hear how the changes in government legislation will impact on the number of children coming to Somerset.”