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Even If Protecting Ourselves Were Our Only Concern, Turning Away Child Refugees Is A Bad Idea

31/03/2017 15:50
ElenkaSi via Getty Images

The attack outside Westminster last week prompted the predictable Islamophobic backlash which occurs whenever an act of terror is carried out. Britain First and it's ilk took to social media to advocate for tighter borders, stopping Islam and vilifying innocent people. This right-wing rhetoric feeds into the politics of fear used to justify anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy. Isn't it time we started to look at the wider picture and fight hate by being the accepting and tolerant nation we pride ourselves on being? The answer could be that simple.

In the midst of this political climate, the Dubs scheme for the resettlement of unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to the U.K was closed two weeks ago. The vote ended a scheme originally intended to offer safe refuge to 3000 child refugees after taking in just 350. It made few headlines, and generated little outrage.

The decision to close Dubs is not only morally reprehensible, but is also counterproductive in the fight to curb radicalisation. This decision, 'justified' to many by the idea that closing our borders keeps us safer, will in fact push vulnerable children in the path of those who would seek to radicalise them. This puts especially these children, but also European citizens and residents in danger.

The construction of this fearful political narrative also blinds people to the dangers facing child refugees in Europe, by giving people an excuse not to engage with the real problem. They can then use hasty convictions to dismiss our nation's responsibility to safeguard refugee minors.

The children this rhetoric has helped slam the door on, are unaccompanied young people currently living in Europe. It is the children who spent months in Calais. It is those en route, somewhere in Italy or Serbia. It is those sleeping in parks in Athens, because the current waiting list for official accommodation for unaccompanied minors is more than 1600 names long. Despite being in supposedly 'safe' Europe, so many are not under official protection, and are therefore without care. Many are sleeping rough, without a reliable source of food or money. On Greek Islands, minors report being detained upon arrival and remaining in jail for up to half a year. When asked what reason was given for their detention, one sixteen year-old from Afghanistan who had suffered this treatment stated, "police say, outside not safe. Here, inside, you are safe". Why are vulnerable children put in detention centres - which are hardly better than prisons - instead of being provided adequate care.

In Athens, without hope of any other ways of receiving money, some minors are turning to prostitution, hoping to save enough to pay a smuggler to get them to a country where they will be given accommodation and be able to attend school. In Calais a recent mayoral order required charities to stop distributing food to refugees who have returned to the site of the razed 'Jungle' camp. Most of those affected, before the ban was ruled illegal by a court in Lille last week, were minors. In Serbia last month, a fourteen year-old reported being viciously beaten by border police before being attacked by their dogs. This neglect and brutality is the reality facing the children we are unwilling to help. It is because we refuse our assistance, that those who would seek to radicalise them have an opening. They present themselves as the children's only option.

Safe Passage UK reported that if the Dubs Scheme closed, traffickers would make millions. There is no doubt that because of this decision, some minors who could have been resettled in the UK, will instead be sold into slavery in Europe. And some will be radicalised. A report from the Council of Europe warned that European government's inaction also leaves children vulnerable to smugglers and traffickers. Quilliam think tank reported that extremists are recruiting in refugee camps, and specifically targeting unaccompanied minors. 88,300 children, reported as missing by EuroStat, are thought to be at risk of radicalisation.

Acts of ideological terror, whether nationalistic or religious, are frightening. And we must of course examine the causes of these acts of violence, and seek to stop them. But in doing so, we must not buckle under hateful rhetoric. We must remain clear-headed enough to examine the facts and not to lose our values of equality and humanity. We must instead stand together. We must continue to see children as children, worthy of protection at all costs. Extremists who would use their vulnerability for their own purposes need to be thwarted. The way to begin to do both is to dramatically improve the treatment and protection of child refugees, and all refugees, in Europe immediately.

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