We must oppose Government attempts to turn its back on vulnerable child refugees
The government is proposing policies that will keep families apart and put young people in serious danger – this must not be allowed, writes Lord Dubs
When the EU Withdrawal Bill was before the House in June last year, I moved an amendment (Amendment 24) to ensure that the existing provisions of the Dublin Treaty regarding child refugees would be negotiated as part of a future Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The relevant provision of the Dublin Treaty, also known as Dublin 3, effectively enables unaccompanied child refugees in one EU country to join family in another EU country. So for instance, under Dublin 3, a Syrian boy in Calais could be legally reunited with an uncle in Stockholm.
Over 800 children with family here have been able to join their relatives in the UK under the family reunion provisions of the Dublin Treaty. The purpose of my amendment was to make sure that family reunification for vulnerable unaccompanied children in Europe, with family in the UK, would continue after Brexit so that children stuck in Europe would still be able to find their families and start new lives with them here.
The Dublin 3 Treaty sits alongside my Amendment to the 2016 Immigration Bill which enabled unaccompanied refugee children in Europe who have no family to also seek safety in the UK. So far approximately 270 children have been able to come to Britain under my amendment – little more than half the original and arbitrary government cap of 480. According to the latest figures produced by Unicef, 30,000 refugee children arrived in Europe last year, 42% of whom (12,700) arrived with no family.
Around 10% of the refugee children in Europe are under 14 and fewer than half the number who arrived last year have been resettled. The rest are still living in camps, or rough on the streets or in woodlands. I have been told of the case of one child who lost his legs and all his fingers as a result of frostbite while living rough through his first winter in the mountains of Northern Greece.
It is bitterly disappointing that so few children have been able to come to the UK under my amendment to the Immigration Act given the appalling conditions they are living in in Europe and the dangers they face. Equally shocking is the government’s announcement earlier this week, which marks 80 years since the last Kindertransport train brought children to safety in the UK, that it will halt its participation in the Dublin 3 arrangements if we leave the EU.
It is not clear whether this will apply only in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal or if the government also intends to remove that provision, contained in the original withdrawal bill, in a future deal, should they be in a position to negotiate one.
The bottom line is that where there are no legal routes to safety children will fall prey to traffickers, will find illegal and dangerous ways of reaching family over here, or worse. If it is the government’s intension to scrap our cooperation with Dublin 3 even in the event of a future Withdrawal Bill they will have (another) fight on their hands.
My amendment was the only Lords Amendment to the Withdrawal Bill to get through last time around, thanks to cross-party support, and I have no reason to think my colleagues have rowed back on their commitment to helping the most vulnerable refugee children in Europe.
Many people will be shocked that the government is proposing policies that will keep families apart and put young people in serious danger. It goes against our humanitarian traditions, which saw us welcome 10,000 refugee children, including myself, who were fleeing the Nazis 80 years ago, and must be condemned and opposed by politicians of all parties.
Alf Dubs is a Labour Peer