More than 50,000 people are calling on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to “respect the rights of young refugees” after the government ditched its scheme to accept children living alone in Europe.
The government’s decision to scrap the Dubs Amendment scheme, which sought to relocate about 3,000 vulnerable child refugees in France, Italy and Greece, has sparked outrage from groups working with displaced minors.
Three volunteers who met while working in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp have launched a petition calling on Rudd to transfer the agreed number of children to safety in the UK. Just 350 displaced youngsters have arrived in the UK.
The petition describes the “failure” of the British and French governments to put in place adequate safeguards for children living in the camp before, during and after its demolition.
The volunteers describe their shock at the “neglectful treatment” children had suffered “both in their day-to-day lives and in their dealings with the Home Office”.
“Your plan to halt transfers of unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs Amendment, after having accepted just 350 children, is shameful. When the Amendment was passed it was widely agreed that 3000 would be a ‘fair share’ for the U.K to take in. There are 21.3 million refugees worldwide, and over half of them are under 18. Clearly we can and must do more.
“We are also deeply concerned about the children who have had their family reunification requests rejected without being given the reasons for their refusal. Despite telling unaccompanied children during the closure of the Calais ‘Jungle’ that their cases to come to the U.K. would be processed fairly, the government decided to work within a scheme based on the Dublin III Regulations, but which operated outside of them. As a result, hundreds of children who have had their claims denied by the Home Office have been given no reasons for their rejections and no way to appeal, despite the fact that they have family waiting in the U.K.
“Because the legal pathways for reaching the United Kingdom are closing, children eligible under both schemes are running away from accommodation centres across France to sleep rough in Calais and Paris, where they are vulnerable to trafficking and freezing temperatures, with the hope of getting across in more dangerous ways.”
Many people have listed a variety of reasons why they signed the petition.
One person, who said his name was Professor Sir Richard Jolly, wrote: “As an evacuee during the Second World War, I have been following the Dubs Amendment closely. Please restore commitment to the Dubs Amendment - and the UK’s good name.”
The petition calls on the government to transfer at least 3,000 children from European countries, such as Greece, Italy and France, “with due haste”.
Impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner lent his support to the campaign, tweeting a link to the petition.
The Dubs Amendment was closed last week, with the government announcing it had “reasonably” met the “intention and spirit” of the scheme.
The scheme was named after the Labour peer, Lord Alf Dubs, who was rescued from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 and brought to the UK under the ‘Kindertransport’.
Lord Dubs said the government appeared to be breaching the “letter and spirit” of the law.
Lord Dubs said: “It wasn’t long ago that I remember the Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary told me the Government was prepared to accept the amendment.
“It was on the same day the then immigration minister told me the Government would accept the letter and the spirit of that amendment.
“I believe in arbitrarily closing down the scheme without any good reason for doing so the Government is in breach of its own commitments.”
Rudd suggested that another reason for the scheme ending was that the French authorities had urged her not to make the Dubs scheme open-ended as it encourages people to make the dangerous journey to Europe.
Rudd said: “I am clear that when working with my French counterparts, they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment because they specify and I agree with them that it acts as a draw, it acts as a pull, it encourages the people traffickers.”
Unicef said that 30,000 children arrived in Greece and Italy last year and that thousands of them “alone and highly vulnerable”.