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Will Parliament Vote to Support Vulnerable Refugee Children in Europe?

22/04/2016 09:32
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It is often easy to despair at each piece of news which emerges about the European refugee crisis. The Government is trumpeting an announcement on how it plans to protect refugee children caught up in this crisis, but those working on this issue know too well that the promises made fall short of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable on our doorstep.

Refugees fleeing war, torture and persecution are making terrifying journeys only to find country after country closing their borders. We stand witness to European political leaders signing off a deal that puts border security above saving lives. All the while we see images of newborn babies being washed in puddles, children running from teargas and grown men weeping at their children's feet.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Last month, the House of Lords voted by a majority of over 100 to support an amendment to the Immigration Bill that could transform the lives of thousands of children who are currently alone in Europe.

The amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs - himself rescued from the terrors of war via the Kindertransport, which relocated 10,000 lone children from Nazi persecution. As the world faces the biggest movement of people since the Second World War, he is calling on the UK government to follow its proud tradition of showing humanity in the face of horror by putting into law our call to relocate 3,000 unaccompanied children who are currently in Europe. On Monday, the House of Commons will decide whether to accept or reject Lord Dubs' plea.

Since June last year we have seen a massive groundswell of political and public support. Save the Children's call has been championed by Conservative MPs who have visited the frontline of the crisis in Greece and Calais; senior figures across Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and cross-party expert committees in parliament. An incredible 10,000 families offered to bring refugee children into their homes through Home for Good.

Following this political and public pressure, the government made a welcome announcement at the end of January. This set out significant commitments to do the following: improve support for children in Greece and Italy; speed up family reunification for children in Europe; and resettle children from conflict zones located in the Middle East and North Africa. This was a huge win for thousands of vulnerable children but stopped short of the UK offering safety to children alone in Europe who cannot be reunited with family members.

On Thursday, the Government gave further details of how those January promises could be fulfilled. But let us be clear, these commitments are not new and still fail to offer sanctuary to thousands of vulnerable children who remain alone in Europe.

95,000 lone children made asylum applications last year - almost four times higher than estimates suggested. Unfortunately, reaching Europe does not mean children are safe. Europol (the European Union's law enforcement agency) reported that 10,000 unaccompanied children went missing in Europe in 2015 after being registered with the authorities. We know from our programmes that lone children are in danger of falling prey to people traffickers and being forced into prostitution, child labour, and the drugs trade.

Recent deaths of children who have tried to make their way across the Channel show just how desperate the situation is. After three months waiting alone in 'the jungle' in Calais, 15-year-old Masud lost faith that his claim for asylum in Britain would ever be heard. He stowed himself away on a lorry hoping to be reunited with his sister already in the UK. Concerned the lorry might not be headed for the Britain, he looked out the top of the lorry as it passed under a bridge and tragically died of a head injury.

This month another boy, 17-year-old Mohammed Hassan from the Kurdish region of Iraq, was killed when the lorry he stowed away in crashed. He was trying to reach his uncle in Manchester.

As long as we continue to turn our backs on children in Europe, we will continue to see more of these tragedies. We are failing children whose only wish is to grow up in safety. This is an utter scandal when a solution is within our reach.

I sincerely hope that Monday's vote will be a reflection of UK's proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those who need it the most, and not yet another missed opportunity to protect the extremely vulnerable.

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