“We must not fail those children waiting in Calais and the Greek Islands in the hope that they will be able to reach their families legally and safely.”Diane Abbott MP
It was deeply disappointing to see Tory MPs vote down a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have guaranteed family reunion rights for unaccompanied child refugees after Brexit.
Despite appeals from children’s charities, in addition articulate and eloquent interventions from Lords Dubs himself and many of his colleagues, Parliament rejected the safeguards in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill by a margin of 342 votes to 254 – a majority of 88. All of those voting against the measure were Tories.
It is disgraceful that this Government has effectively reduced child refugees to a Brexit bargaining chip, and this vote clearly shows that the government is attempting to shirk its moral and legal obligation to child refugees and their families.
The Tory manifesto just a month ago claimed they would continue to support refugees, and even that they would increase that support. This is a shameful betrayal of those promises.
The original amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs on Tuesday and was passed by peers by 300 to 220 on Tuesday. It would have required ministers to negotiate a scheme with the UK’s former EU partners for child asylum-seekers stranded alone on the continent to be reunited with family in Britain, thereby restoring the right to family reunion for unaccompanied refugee children stranded in Europe who have relatives here in the UK.
Lords Dubs has campaigned strongly on this matter in recent years, and was himself a child refugee taken in by the UK after fleeing the Nazis.
In response to the Tory MPs defeating the amendment, he said: “This is very disappointing news, especially given the public statements made by this government which suggested that they shared the public’s wish to help child refugees.”
Those working in this area have condemned the Government’s attitude on this matter across the board.
Safe Passage International, a coalition of charities defending child refugees, said it will be closely watching the Government on this matter, explaining that “Many of the children we support have lost their parents but they have grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles living in the UK and ready to care for them. It is illogical that these children be denied safe passage to the UK, left with no other choice but to consider smuggling just to reach their loved ones, or to grow up alone without the care of their family many surviving in camps and car parks across Europe.”
Oxfam described the outcome of the vote as “a very sad start to the future of Britain outside the EU”, adding that “the UK should not be turning its back on vulnerable young people who have been forced to flee their homes through no fault of their own.”
A UNICEF spokesperson meanwhile said, “The news is disappointing and also raises concerns about the safety of children and young people and the need to ensure they have safe and legal route to being reunited with extended family in the UK.”
In September 2015, we were all shocked by the pictures of Syrian child refugee Alan Kurdi, yet we are still failing child refugees.
Wearing denim shorts and a red T-shirt and denim shorts, lying face-down in the sand, the awful image of Alan alerted people around the world to the deadly journeys that have cost thousands of Syrians their lives in recent years.
Yet in over four years since, the British government is amongst those who have again and again failed to fulfil their international obligations when it comes to the refugee crisis, at a time when we are still seeing too many children having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety.
Boris Johnson’s Government is following in the footsteps of Theresa May’s Government in this area by continually seeking to wriggle out of its obligation to accept child refugees, shutting the door on the most vulnerable in the process.
The Tories actions and the vote this week have consequences.
We need to be clear that where safe and legal routes are blocked for these children, they are left with a terrible choice between train tracks on the one hand, and people traffickers on the other. These children have been identified as the most vulnerable in the world, including girls without parents, who are susceptible to sex traffickers.
Let’s keep the pressure up on this vital issue. We must not fail those children waiting in Calais and the Greek Islands in the hope that they will be able to reach their families legally and safely.
I have seen myself the appalling conditions in which refugee children in these two places live, and public opinion is clearly on our side on this matter.
As Lord Dubs said this week, “there can be no-one more deserving of our compassion and protection than the refugee children of today.”
The government should commit to meeting their international treaty obligations when it comes to the refugee crisis and stop using child refugees as a Brexit bargaining chip.