MPs must act to provide sanctuary to desperate refugee children

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 28 April 2016

This week the battle to bring some compassion to the Government’s toxic Immigration Bill raged in both Houses of Parliament.

MPs and Peers grappled with issues of modern slavery, the treatment of asylum seekers and the UK’s response to the refugee crisis.

Several promising amendments had been made to the Bill by Peers. Yet on Monday night a 3 hour Commons deadline to debate Lords' amendments meant that vital issues were overlooked, including the right to work for asylum seekers.

Dignity denied for asylum seekers

Back in the House of Lords, Labour Peer, Lord Alton, courageously pushed an amendment which would provide a right to work for those waiting more than 9 months for Home Office decisions. 

In a shameful moment for the Labour frontbench, they abandoned a cause they have supported during the course of the Bill, preferring to leave the issue to an internal party review. News flash for the Labour party: the time to make a change was in this legislation. Your internal review will do nothing to help secure dignity for asylum seekers waiting lengthy periods for Home Office decisions and forced to survive on £5 per day.

As Labour stood by and watched, the Government rolled out the same-old tired and discredited arguments and showed its habitual lack of compassion for those seeking sanctuary in this country.

Modern Slavery continues

This week we also said goodbye to the prospect of achieving a viable route out of slavery for domestic workers through this Immigration Bill.

Eleventh hour Government reassurances offered little solace. The Immigration Minister announced that individuals who enter the National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking can continue to work whilst their referral is considered. This does not address long-standing concerns with the fairness and reliability of the NRM system nor does it provide a practical route into alternative employment. A worker who cannot tell an employer how long they will be available for work is highly unlikely, in practice, to be able to access safe, alternative employment.

Ministers in both Houses were brazen in their refusal to implement the findings of Government appointed expert, James Ewins QC, and provide a genuine and unconditional route out of modern day slavery for vulnerable workers.

Liberty will not let this issue go. We will continue to pursue it at every opportunity. The sterling work of Peers such as Crossbencher, Lord Hylton, and the steadfast commitment of the Liberal Democrat and SNP frontbenches have given us heart that Parliament will act to give this vulnerable group the protection they deserve.

Refugee children

Some progress was made on the scandal of detaining pregnant women in immigration prisons – but the most important battle of wills between each House was over the issue of Europe’s child refugees.

Whilst the Commons sickeningly rejected Lord Dubs’ amendment to provide sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied children in European countries, the vote was lost by a narrow margin.

Labour’s Immigration lead, Sir Keir Starmer, the SNP’s Stuart McDonald and Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, delivered stirring speeches advocating the basic humanity the Government is determined to deny these children who against all odds, have made it as far as Europe. They pointed to the risk of violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation facing separated children strewn across the continent’s refugee camps and called on MPs to agree Lord Dubs’ amendment.

The opposition parties deserve great credit for their principled perseverance, as do the heroes who emerged on the Government’s benches. Conservative backbencher Stephen Phillips spoke of the plight of unaccompanied children:

they are cold, frightened, hungry and frequently without help or access to those who might help or protect them. Their lives are miserable and brutish, and at least half of them have experienced or seen violence that we can only dream of in our nightmares…”

He was joined in his courageous dissent by Conservatives Heidi Allen and Dr Tania Mathias, who reminded the House that we have the power to help refugee children, not just in conflict regions, but after they have made treacherous journeys to European countries.

Labour Peer, Lord Dubs took up a new version of his amendment when the Bill returned to the Lords on Tuesday. He called on Government to implement a scheme, following consultation with local authorities, to provide sanctuary to child refugees on this county’s doorstep.  He received overwhelming support from across the House and his amendment soared to victory by a margin of 107 votes.

The issue will come back before the Commons soon again and our elected representatives will be asked to consider extending sanctuary to children in desperate need. Let’s hope that those who have shown such conviction stand firm and persuade more of their colleagues to join them.

Please email your MP today and ask them: do not forget those children desperately in need of help and so close to our shores. 

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager