NEWS

Lords Dubs, Kindertransport Refugee, Says Government 'Probably Wouldn't Have Taken' In Children Fleeing Nazis

'This lot would've probably said no'.

26/04/2016 14:28 | Updated 26 April 2016

The current Tory government would "have probably said no" to taking in children fleeing the Nazis, a politician whose life was saved by the scheme, and who is fighting for Britain to take more refugee children, has said.

Lord Alfred Dubs, who came to Britain on the 'Kindertransport' for Jewish children fleeing Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia before the Second World War, said MPs voting down a plan to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children was "shameful" and a "sad moment for British politics".

The 83-year-old is fighting to defeat the government on whether Britain should take in the children who have reached Europe, fas war and poverty in the Middle East fuels a refugee crisis in the continent.

Katie Collins/PA Archive
Lord Dubs

The House Of Lords approved his amendment to do so but the Commons voted to reject it, 294 votes to 276, on Monday evening.

The Commons defeat came after Lord Dubs accused the government of "muddying the debate" by announcing last week that the UK would take 3,000 unaccompanied children but only from camps in the Middle East.

Speaking ahead of a Lords debate tonight (Tuesday) on the matter, Lord Dubs told HuffPost UK that taking in the children would honour Britain's Kindertransport legacy.

When asked whether David Cameron's government would have saved 10,000 children, including Lords Dubs, the peer said: "It's a very hypothetical question ... I think this lot wouldn't have, this lot would've probably said no."

He added "the mood was different" and the Conservative Government of the 1930s may have rejected the Kindertransport if it had abided by "today's thinking".

He said the Cameron government is "hung up, obsessed" with opposing bringing children from Europe.

"People were more balanced and rational about these things [in the 1930s] at the time," he said.

"They had long debates in the Commons but in the end they said yes. We took 10,000 ... Other countries said no to the 10,000 ... Even the Americans said no.

"Britain was alone. That's part of the argument today. We were alone then and we set the standard. Why can't we do this bit now as part of the shared responsibility?"

He said he believed his fight was "mega popular" among voters, despite negative stories about migrants and refugees in the press. He added: "I'm astonished at people who've emailed me... I've had almost nothing that's hostile. That's unusual to do with any issue on migration."

Before the Commons vote, there had been speculation 12 Tory MPs could rebel and take the amendment over the line. But only five MPs did.

Even Heidi Allen, who argued before the vote in The Sun that taking more child refugees would allow MPs to "look themselves in the mirror again", abstained.

Lord Dubs said he was "disappointed" at Monday's Commons defeat and attributes the its defeat to "a lot of pressure" from "very anxious" Government Whips.

He bumped into a Tory MP after the vote on Tuesday morning who told him he "agonised" over what to do before deciding to abstain. "In the end he abstained. Well, it won't take many more to abstain for it to work. He was very apologetic as well," he added. Another victory in the Lords tonight could win over the "waverers" in the Commons, he added.

He said the government announcement last week about taking 3,000 kids from the Middle East injected a "certain confusion factor". "It gave people the impression the government were doing something. The government traded on that," he said.

Cameron has previously argued children already in Europe are safe. But there are fears that those travelling alone are vulnerable to traffickers. Europol estimates 10,000 child refugees have disappeared since arriving in the continent. 

Lord Dubs said "It's 2016. Europe is a sophisticated continent. We've got children adrift, children that have disappeared, children vulnerable to being lured into prostitution, vulnerable coerced into some form of slavery. It's a pretty desperate situation."

When asked why Britain specifically should take these children, he pointed out taking 3,000 would amount to just five unaccompanied children per constituency. The 3,000 figure is a "fair share" of what was originally estimated to be 26,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. But newer estimates are much higher. "There could be 95,000 [unaccompanied children in Europe]. So the 3,000 figure looks clearly not even an adequate," he said.

PHILIPPE HUGUEN via Getty Images
A child walks in the Jungle refugee camp in Grande Synthe, near Dunkirk, France

The government has argued that taking more child refugees encourages a "pull factor" that encourages more refugee children to try to come to Britain.

On Tuesday, the prime minister's spokeswoman said it would "fuel a system that is incentivising people to be exploited by trafficking gangs and make perilous journeys".

Lord Dubs said the government's case for this was "presented without much evidence". He told the story of meeting a Syrian refugee on Monday who now in Britain and whose parents had been killed in the fighting there.

"There's not much 'pull factor' there. I think he was a young man who realised there was nothing left for him in Syria. It was dangerous and desperate. His family were dead and he set off to find some safety somewhere else," he said.

"The difficulty facing these children is so severe, it is so serious that the possibility that one or two people might see it as a pull factor, is really very minor compared to what the amendment was seeking to do."

The new amendment, to be debated tonight, calls on the government to "a specified number" of child refugees. This gets around the government tactic of invoking "financial privilege", which would allows the government to say Lord Dubs' original amendment cannot be sent back to MPs.

When asked whether the new amendment was written to outmanoeuvre the government, Lord Dubs said: "A little bit. Look, I hate to be seen to shimmering around a point of principle at stake but as long as we get something agreed in terms of unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, then I think we've achieved the main point."

He said history would not think much of Britain failing to take in more refugee children. "I think, in the future, we will look back on this and see we went through a very bad period," he told HuffPost UK. "It would be a sad moment for British politics."

He added: "It will be shameful to see an issue so large in the world and we fail even to make a small, significant contribution to that."

Lord Dubs came to Britain, aged six, because his "apolitical" father sensed the threat the Nazis posed and vowed to leave if they occupied Czechoslovakia. His father discussed it with his cousin, who decided to stay and see what happened. The cousin died at Auschwitz.

Lord Dubs still remembers, after the German occupation, having to tear out the image of the Czech president from his exercise book and replace it with one of Hitler. Lord Dubs' father served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War, taking part in the Christmas Truce in 1914 and sharing an cigars with a British Army officer. 

Growing up, Lord Dubs' father would not allow him to play with toy guns or tanks. His father was "totally against" war but gave his young son a present that was out of character after they were in Britain. Lord Dubs said: "When the war he started, just before he died, he gave me a box of tin solders, which I think was a symbol of of his despair."

Suggest a correction
Comments

CONVERSATIONS