RELIGIOUS leaders in the Braintree district have joined growing calls for the Government to ensure it protects refugee families.

A total of eight signatories from Witham, the Notleys and Rayne have all signed a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel asking her to safeguard rules surrounding family reunification for unaccompanied child refugees after the UK leaves the European Union.

The letter was sent last month but the signatories have since spoken out following the shocking news in Grays, Essex, last week where 39 Chinese nationals were found dead inside a refrigerated lorry.

Among those to voice concerns and sign the letter is Beks Knorniej, from the Witham area.

She said: "I can’t imagine how desperate or how vulnerable someone must be to get into the back of a lorry. It must feel like a last resort from a life in danger or extreme poverty.

"I know that unaccompanied refugee children stuck in places across Europe are so desperate to be reunited with their families in the UK that they are often tempted to try dangerous methods, but their lives are at risk."

A new scheme called the Dublin 3 was launched several years ago to help reunite refugee children with their families in Britain.

With the uncertainty around what shape Brexit may take, religious leaders have voiced concerns the scheme may become redundant or void if no deal can be agreed with the EU.

Revd Canon Beth Bendrey of All Saints, Rayne; St. Peter and St. Paul, Black Notley and The Church in Great Notley, said: "We wrote this letter last month to say thank you to our MP that the Home Office has in part, been implementing safe routes for children under a scheme called Dublin 3.

"But we are deeply concerned that if there is a no-deal Brexit, the UK will stop accepting family reunion applications from unaccompanied children stranded in Europe.

"This will only lead to more people taking perilous journeys in lorries and boats.

"We want our MP to take action to make sure families in the UK do not lose the right to bring their children to safety here because of Brexit."

Residents and workers in the Witham constituency have been worked to resettle a Syrian family in the area who arrived in May this year.

David Brett of Bethel Christian Fellowship, Witham, added: "Sometimes you look at the news and feel you can’t do anything to make a change. But through working to resettle one family we did. "We can’t all help everyone, but we can all help someone."