Can Syria’s “Unaccompanied” Children Be Safe In Britain?

On Tuesday last week I had the pleasure of speaking to Mother Agnes Mariam about the situation in Syria.

One of the questions I asked was about “unaccompanied” children — those orphaned by the conflict. She explained that many are left in a desperate situation. In some cases they are effectively press-ganged into fighting with the armed opposition including ISIS. Others end up being trafficked for sex.

So there is clearly some justification in calls for Britain to step in and assist.

One voice who quite quickly got behind these calls was Tim Farron MP, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.

I have some familiarity with Tim Farron, and his record with regard to chid protection. Despite appearing to support Hollie Greig in her campaign for a proper police investigation into her allegations of sexual abuse, for example, nothing of substance was ever done for her.

In 2014, then President of the Liberal Democrat Party, Farron said that his party must “answer serious questions” over who knew of the allegations of sexual abuse against its former MP Sir Cyril Smith. None of these questions have been answered.

And Tim Farron has done nothing for Britain’s missing children.

You may wonder which missing children I’m referring to, since we hear nothing of this in the news. Yet in 2010, the Home Office estimated that around 140,000 children go missing in the UK each year.

Most of these missing children return home or are found, but not all. In fact, no-one actually knows how many just “disappear”.

In 2012, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked after Children and Care Leavers issued a report (pdf) following an inquiry into missing children. The inquiry was co-chaired by Ann Coffey MP, chair the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, and Earl of Listowel, vice-chair of the APPG for Looked after Children and Care Leavers. The first paragraph of the foreword says it all:

There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue it was going on pretty much unnoticed.

According to the APPG report, there are 68,000 children in care in the UK. The report says that “the local authority with responsibility for a child is required to report on whether they have run away for more than 24 hours to the Department of Education once a year. Data for 2011 shows that 930 individual children went missing. Using this measure of going missing for over 24 hours, police figures suggest 17,000 incidents and 5,000 individual children going missing from care every year.” [my emphasis]

How many of these children return? How many end up being trafficked? The APPG report says, “there are also major problems with quality of data collected on trafficked children. The numbers recorded by CEOP approximately 300 between 2007 and 2010 is widely thought to be the very tip of the iceberg and the lack of robust and comprehensive data was also identified by the Inquiry as a key obstacle to keeping these children safe.”

As I have looked into this issue over the years, it is the fact that no-one seems to know which has really made me pause. 140,000 children go missing every single year, many of them from the care system, and there is no proper mechanism for recording whether any of them return safely.

This is the Britain that Tim Farron wants to bring thousands of “unaccompanied” Syrian children to.

There is no question that these children need help, yet the saying “out of the frying pan, into the fire” springs to mind.

Is Britain capable of providing these children with a safe, loving environment? I don’t see any evidence of it.

So here is my challenge Tim Farron. He has spent so much time and effort clearing the way for these children to come to Britain. Can he assure me they won’t simply become a huge potential source of new blood for Britain’s paedophile networks? Will he be spending as much time and effort making sure that never happens as he did running his campaign to get them here in the first place? Will he take full personal responsibility for the wellbeing of each and every child that is brought here? If he is asked in a year, or in ten, “what happened to young Ahmad”, will he have an answer?