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Tue, 27 October 2020

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By Lord Morris
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EXCL Lord Dubs urges MPs to defy Boris Johnson and show 'what they're made of' on child refugees

EXCL Lord Dubs urges MPs to defy Boris Johnson and show 'what they're made of' on child refugees
3 min read

The House of Commons must "decide what it’s made of" and force Boris Johnson to reinstate protections for the most vulnerable child refugees, Lord Dubs has declared.


The Labour peer, a former child refugee who was saved from the Nazis, urged MPs not to ignore fresh calls from the House of Lords for the Prime Minister to put protections for unaccompanied migrant children back into his flagship Brexit bill.

Family reunification protections were originally included in Theresa May's version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, but were later dumped by Mr Johnson in the wake of his December election victory.

Campaigners have been pushing to ensure that unaccompanied refugee children with relatives in the UK have a right to be joined by family members, and the Lords on Tuesday voted 300 to 220 to bring the amendment back, defying an earlier Commons rejection.

The move tees up a renewed clash with the Commons on Wednesday, when MPs will get another chance to vote on the demand. 

A previous attempt by Labour to amend the bill in the Commons was defeated by 348 votes to 252 earlier this month.

Writing for PoliticsHome ahead of the crunch vote, Lord Dubs said the Government's removal of the protections had come as a "shock and a disappointment".

And, throwing down the gauntlet to MPs, the Labour peer said:  "Now my amendment has passed the Lords, it is up to the Commons to decide what it’s made of and whether it wants to ignore the Lords amendment, the wishes of the previous government and the children waiting in Calais or the Greek Islands in the hope that they will be able to reach their families legally and safely.

"My sense is that public opinion is on our side and will be crucial in influencing how the MPs vote today. A petition requesting the government rethink its position on refugee children has been signed by almost a quarter of a million people and I met supporters in parliament square who had travelled from as far as Dewsbury and Devon to lend their voice."

'PROUD BRITISH TRADITION'

Hundreds of unaccompanied childern are estimated to be sleeping rough in Calais, Northern France, and Lord Dubs said those living in both Calais and the Greek island of Lesbos were currently doing so in "appalling conditions" - with some living in fear of sexual assault and exploitation.

"Without legal routes to safety the only available route to family in the UK for these desperate children is via traffickers or smugglers," he said.

"These are dangerous routes that can lead to exploitation, prostitution, slavery or worse.

"Earlier this month eight children were among the 11 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off Turkey's western coast, on their way to Greece."

Urging MPs to act, the Labour peer said:  "Children deserve our protection. The UK has a long humanitarian tradition which meant that 81 years ago my life, and the life of 10,000 other refugee children like me, was saved when we fled war and the Holocaust. There can be no-one more deserving of our compassion and protection than the refugee children of today.

"On their behalves I hope the Commons support my amendment so we can continue the proud British tradition of offering sanctuary to the most vulnerable."

The Government has insisted that it remains committed to guaranteeing the rights of unaccompanied minors.

Speaking in the Lords on Tuesday Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford, said the government had already given a "statutory guarantee" to set out their new policy on child refugees within two months of the UK's exit date.

She added: "This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide scrutiny."

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