Now my amendment has passed the Lords, the Commons must decide what it’s made of
The Commons must not fail the children waiting in Calais or the Greek Islands in the hope that they will be able to reach their families legally and safely, says Lord Dubs.
This week I was pleased to address a crowd in parliament square who had gathered to support my amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. The amendment seeks to restore the right to family reunion for unaccompanied refugee children stranded in Europe who have relatives here in the UK.
Among those addressing the crowd were supporters from several parties, including Diane Abbott for the Labour Party, Ed Davey for the Liberal Democrats, Jenny Jones for the Green Party and Stewart McDonald for the SNP. The cross-party nature of the crowd in Parliament Square reflected the cross-party support my campaign for the rights of refugee children has enjoyed. Indeed, my previous amendment, to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, was passed by a large majority in The Lords and then accepted by the government when it reached the Commons. So its removal in the latest incarnation of the Bill came as a shock and a disappointment.
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.
Refugee children in Calais and Greece live in appalling conditions. I have seen for myself children living rough, on the streets or in woods and sometimes even in make-shift shelters on rubbish tips. The situation in camps is scarcely better. During a visit I made last year to the Moria camp on Lesbos in Greece doctors confided to me that unaccompanied children are left unprotected at night and are often sexually assaulted or raped. The camp, which was built to accommodate around 2,000 people, is currently “home” to almost 20,000. But it is no kind of home for anyone, least of all children.
Without legal routes to safety the only available route to family in the UK for these desperate children is via traffickers or smugglers. 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.
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.
Lord Dubs is a Labour Member of the House of Lords.
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