Lord Dubs: Leaving the EU must not mean turning our backs on our humanitarian principles
The family unity provisions of the Dublin Treaty must be included in the Brexit negotiations, argues Alf Dubs
Late last month, amid the bustle of families and friends there was a very special reunion at St Pancras Station. Two brothers – one in his early twenties, the other just turned 15 – were reunited after years apart. The younger brother had been waiting in Calais having fled Eritrea alone over two years ago, but instead of risking his life to cross the channel, these brothers were reunited safely and legally by the French and British governments because of an EU agreement known as Dublin III.
Without this regulation, countless unaccompanied refugee children, spouses and dependants, who’ve arrived in Europe because of the refugee crisis, would have no safe way to reunite with their loved ones in Britain.
It is estimated that there are around 200 eligible Dublin III children in France and between 1,000 and 2,000 in Greece. Some are in a desperate situation and all are vulnerable to traffickers and criminals.
Since 2015, 815 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe have successfully been reunited with family in Britain from camps in Greece, France and elsewhere under Dublin III.
But Britain’s departure from the EU will close down this vital route.
It is worth noting that the Dublin III procedures are distinct from the other legal route via which unaccompanied child refugees can enter the UK – namely S67 of the Immigration Act. Known as the Dubs Amendment, S67 applies to children with no relatives in the UK.
The government has suffered 15 defeats during the report stage of the EU Withdrawal bill. Most of the divisions were late afternoon or early evening. There was one exception, an amendment I put down with cross-Party support alongside Lord Bassam, Crossbench Peer Baroness Butler-Sloss and Lib Dem Baroness Sheehan. The vote took place at about 10.10pm and the Government was defeated by 24 votes. Few of us can remember an occasion when the government lost a vote in the Lords so late in the evening.
The purpose of my amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill is to require the government, in its Brexit negotiations, to endeavour to keep the vital family unity provisions of the Dublin Treaty in effect.
This has to be done by negotiation because it requires other EU governments, which are responsible for the safety and well-being of the child, to be party to the arrangement. In other words, there must be full Europe-wide co-operation, which is agreed and accepted by our government, to help identify a child as having a relative in the UK.
This is a very modest proposal which involves no change to existing UK policy and practice. But it would keep open a legal route to safety for a relatively small number of young people.
I’ve visited the refugee camps in Greece and France, they are no place for adults let alone unaccompanied children and teenagers. Without safe and legal routes by which these children can join their families in Britain, they will simply fall prey to the lure of smugglers and traffickers who promise them swift transfer.
My understanding is that the government is not fundamentally opposed to the principle in this amendment. But the provision must be on the face of the bill so that there can be no doubt of Parliament and Britain’s intentions to maintain this vital route.
Our departure from the EU must not mean we turn our backs on our obligations in Europe and our humanitarian principles.
Lord Dubs is a Labour peer