LONDON – A charity took the British government to court Friday seeking to reverse the closure of a program bringing unaccompanied child migrants to the U.K., as the head of the Anglican Church said children will be trafficked and exploited as a result of the government's decision.
The government has announced it will close the program after 350 children have arrived — far fewer than the 3,000 originally expected under a law passed to help some of the tens of thousands of migrant children stranded across Europe.
Around 200 children have so far come to the U.K. under the law named for Alf Dubs, a former Labour lawmaker who came to Britain from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as a child in 1939.
The Help Refugees charity on Friday launched a bid at the High Court in London to overturn the decision to end the resettlements. Lawyer Rosa Curling said the number of children being accepted was "woefully low" and had been reached by an unlawful process.
Judge James Holman said he would aim to hear the case in May.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the BBC that if vulnerable children could not come to Britain legally, "the alternative is they will be trafficked ... and they will end up in brothels, they will end up in places where they are exploited, ill-treated, manipulated and very often finally killed."
William Spindler, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, said last year more than 30,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe, many trying to reach relatives in Britain and other countries.
He said "hundreds of children's lives have been saved" through the generosity of local communities and authorities in Britain.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Thursday that Britain decided to stop the resettlement program after France raised concerns that it was encouraging children to make perilous journeys to Europe.
But Spindler dismissed the idea of a "pull factor."
"People who are fleeing situations of violence and persecution are not simply going to a country X or Y because of what they will find there, but are fleeing from another situation," he said.
Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this story.