Tim Farron has accused the British government of ignoring the plight of refugee orphans who wash up on Europe's shores, in some of his harshest criticism yet of David Cameron's refugee policy.
The comments come as Farron sends a letter to the prime minister demanding he accept 3,000 unaccompanied orphans from the Middle East in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees the UK is already pledged to take over the next five years.
"The British and French governments are guilty of turning their backs on hundreds of unaccompanied children in Calais and Dunkirk, with increasing evidence that these kids are subject to trafficking by criminal gangs involved in prostitution and drugs," Farron told Politics.co.uk
"Ignoring the desperation these vulnerable children find themselves in will only allow the situation to get worse, and the longer our government pretends this is not their problem the more these orphans lose hope at finding a home, securing an education and living a stable and peaceful life."
Save the Children and the international development committee have already called for the UK to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees, but there has so far been no commitment from the government. "I sincerely believe that 3,000 children is a number we can handle," Farron wrote to the prime minister.
"It amounts to just five children per parliamentary constituency and is less than a third of the children we took in during the kindertransport, a programme very similar to this proposal.
"What we need now is decisive leadership and for that we look to you. The pictures of Aylan Kurdi put you and your government on the wrong side of the tide so I would urge you not to be caught in the current again."
The 3,000 number was originally developed by Save the Children following reports that 4,000 children went under the radar since arriving in Italy in 2014. The fear from authorities is that the children have been taken by people traffickers and forced into drugs or prostitution.
Cameron is reluctant to support any initiative which is based on helping those arriving in Europe, preferring to target aid at support in the region. But the government has confirmed the Save the Children proposal is "under discussion" as part of a wider review into supporting orphans.
The full text of Farron's letter to the prime minister is below:
Allow me first to extend my best wishes for the year ahead.
Last year I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill entitled Asylum (Unaccompanied Children Displaced by Conflict). This Bill, if enacted, wold make provision for the award of asylum-seeker status in the United Kingdom to certain unaccompanied children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea displaced by conflict and present within the European Union.
This cold act as a crucial lifeline to the thosands ofunaccompanied refugee children who have made treacheros jorneys from war torn cotries either alone from the start or who have lost parents and guardians en rote. Those who have made it to European shores now face cold winters, harsh conditions are vulnerable to traffickers and those who want to exploit them. You will know that in 2014 alone the Italian authorities alone suggested that up to 4,000 children had simply disappeared off their radar since arriving. We do not yet have comparable numbers for 2015, but given the rise refugees this year, we can expect a much higher number of disappeared children too.
I have been supporting Save the Children’s call for the UK to take 3,000 unaccompanied children because I strongly believe that this is the right thing to do. The International Development Committee has now added its weight to this call and I am certain that pressure for the UK Government to do more will continue to mot.
I sincerely believe that 3,000 children is a number we can handle. It amounts to just five children per parliamentary constituency and is less than a third of the children we took in during the kinderstransport, a programme very similar to this proposal. What we need now is decisive leadership and for that we look to you. The pictures of Aylan Kurdi put yo and yor government on the wrong side of the tide so I wold urge yo not to be caught in the current again.
I commend the work the government is doing to find a peaceful solution to the war in Syria, provide humanitarian assistance and aid to the region and the leadership or country has shown in fighting Daesh. But, as a country we can and must do more, I do not pretend that taking in 3,000 will solve everything but it is a start.
I look forward to receiving your response,