An offer of sanctuary for Europe's refugee children

Posted by Sam Hawke on 06 May 2016

On Wednesday, the Government finally agreed to insert a small fragment of humanity into what has been a discriminatory, divisive, and unjust piece of legislation, the Immigration Bill.

After repeat calls from the public and Parliamentarians, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his Government would not oppose Lord Dubs’ amendment to offer sanctuary to unaccompanied refugee children currently living in squalor in Europe.

Thousands of children are without protection in camps which the UK’s courts have described as “a living hell”. NGOs report that the vast majority of refugee children in Calais, for example, go without fulfilment of their most basic needs.

Meanwhile, unaccompanied children risk being subjected to violence and sexual abuse as they travel within Europe to find protection. Indeed, Interpol have warned that approximately 10,000 have gone missing since their arrival.

The UK has a duty to intervene. An amendment, introduced by Lords Dubs – a beneficiary of the Kindertransport in 1939 – would have allowed for 3,000 such vulnerable children living in Europe’s camps to come to the UK. It was overwhelmingly approved by peers.  

Yet when the Bill returned to the Commons, the Government managed to defeat it. Many MPs were conspicuous by their abstentions, and the Government came under cross-party and public criticism for its refusal to accept what was, by all accounts, a modest proposal.

As a result, peers insisted on another version of the amendment, one which would not require a specific number of children to be protected. And so the Government eventually conceded: a Downing Street press release of the same day announced that the Government will “work with local authorities on plans to resettle unaccompanied children.”

No doubt this small but significant change would not have been made without the admirable work of Lord Dubs and his colleagues, along with the support of the public, including the efforts of Liberty members to contact their MPs.

We must now ensure the Government delivers on its commitment to alleviate the suffering of refugee children in Europe.

And the Government must do more. Its other commitments have been paltry. Contrary to the usual rhetoric, the vast majority of the world’s refugees remain in developing countries, far from Europe’s – much less the UK’s – shores. Those vulnerable few who do make it to Europe come from the world’s top refugee-producing countries, places afflicted by war, systemic violence, and human rights abuses.

The global refugee crisis therefore requires action, not further hostility. And yet our Government is intent on introducing toxic measures such as in the Policing and Crime Bill, which allows the interception of refugee boats to be sent to ports anywhere in the world.

With the Government’s acceptance of Lord Dubs’ amendment, it has recognised the ties of basic human decency which bind us to those in need of protection in Europe. But David Cameron is still yet to propose any kind of real, humane approach to the refugee crisis, and define the UK’s role in responding to it.

We urge the Government to build on the commitment to protect refugee children in Europe: we must find a solution to the wider crisis.

Campaign reference: 

Immigration Act 2016