I speak on behalf of a vast proportion of the British public when I express my profound disappointment that 294 members of the party ruling our country voted against potentially saving the lives of 3,000 children on Monday. Whilst the proposal to resettle vulnerable children from Syria and the surrounding regions must not be overlooked and should, indeed, be applauded, this move must not come in lieu of rescuing unaccompanied, unprotected, unsafe children so close to our own home.
Last year, over 95,000 child refugees arrived, unaccompanied, to the EU. By the end of the year, 10,000 of those children had vanished - many into the hands (or rather, beds, cells and markets) of human traffickers. During January this year alone, more than the contended number of 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees reached the EU. Political decisions must always reflect the context in which they are made; in the context of these numbers, and of our population of 64.1 million people and position as the fifth wealthiest nation globally, offering safety to 3,000 at-risk children should barely raise a question mark, let alone a heated debate, in the House of Commons.
The Immigration Minister, James Brokenhurst, argued for giving priority to children in the Middle East region because "in essence, Europe should be a safe space" for those here. And what an idyllic world we would live in if it were. But while Europe may, in many obvious ways, be safer than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, please stop insulting everyone's intelligence - including your own - by claiming to believe that this continent houses no potential threats to a child wandering around on their own. Especially a child with no home, no recourse to state support, and little access even to humanitarian aid, as member countries implement increasingly brutal measures to impede contact between volunteers and NGOs and those in need of their help. Facilities housing unaccompanied child refugees in Lampedusa and across Greece have been declared unfit for purpose. If Europe was ever a "safe space" before, EU member states recently have done their utmost to remove all support structures and ensure that it become a deeply unsafe place for those with whom it does not see fit to share that safety.
The Conservative Party has long held a reputation for being less concerned with humanitarian issues - so sterlingly embodied, incidentally, by the Home Secretary's proposition this very same week that we terminate our adherence to the ECHR - than other major parties. It thus seems to me - and to many fellow Brits - inconceivable that the fears motivating most members of your party to vote against bringing these children to the UK were ones of deep concern for any who may follow in their footsteps. Especially when all other major parties, which have historically demonstrated a much stronger tradition of caring for others - were not held back by such worries.
The 95,000 unaccompanied children who reached Europe last year did so despite the absence of "pull-factor" policies. This argument betrays your deep underestimation of the trauma of subjecting yourself and your family to that journey; the mental anguish endured to send your child alone is unimaginable. The unaccompanied child refugees in Europe are on their own for one of the following reasons:
− Their parents died during the journey
− They became separated from their parents during the journey
− Their parents could not afford the smugglers' fees for the whole family, and preferred to stay in a warzone and die to allow their child at least a chance of survival.
I am afraid that you think rather too highly of yourself if you believe that parents are checking just what the UK government's opinion is before sending their children away from one death and quite possibly towards another. The decision to send your child across the world under these conditions is not a political one, based on thorough research and knowledge of the reception structures and processes in various European countries; it is a decision based on an everyday struggle between life and death; a decision born of the desperation of living in a warzone, under either terrorist or murderous government control.
Not only does your "pull factor" theory lack credibility on these grounds, but it also stands directly at odds with the despicable EU/Turkey deal you backed mere weeks ago. The entire raison d'être of this morally degraded and legally dubious - or dubiously legal - piece of legislation was, purportedly, to remove all incentive for people to make the journey to Europe. It was in this capacity that you offered it "this country's full support" (against the wishes of much of the country, I might add). Now, as soon as the possibility of giving shelter in the UK to a small number of lonely children has arisen, that disincentivising effect seems to have been quickly forgotten and the "pull factor" revived in full force.
Your predicted "pull factor" would only be even conceivable if selection under the Dubs Amendment appeared possible to children not yet in Europe. This in turn could only be the case given the obscenely excessive timeframe of five years over which to take in the mere 3,000 children - equalling just 600 per year, to whom you have denied safety. If the UK were to select and welcome all 3,000 children within the next few months or year - reverting to the numbers of unaccompanied child refugees granted asylum annually during the mid-2000s, even without the background of a refugee crisis - the risk of any "pull factor" effect would be mitigated.
For the reasons I have outlined, your primary "pull factor" argument is inconsistent and incredible. The decision that each of you has made will certainly, without any doubt, lead to the abuse and death of many young children in this "safe" continent. In rejecting the Dubs Amendment, the government is shirking its responsibility not just morally and to the children needing our help, but also to the EU. The share of the EU's unaccompanied minors we are taking in currently stands at 3%. In 2008, this figure was 36%. The 3,000 children protected under the Dubs Amendment would raise this figure to just 6% - still a far cry from "doing our bit". So I beg each of you to look at the facts, examine your consciences, approve the new amendment next week and give these children the safety that every child deserves.
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