THE BLOG

Britain Must Not Let Refugee Children Live In Hopeless Despair

15/12/2016 08:02 | Updated 15 December 2016
DANIEL MIHAILESCU via Getty Images

This week a 14-year-old boy who had escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan jumped from a building in Toulouse. He spent months in the Calais jungle, and was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of trafficking gangs. He had gone willingly to a centre in the South of France after being told he could qualify under the Dubs amendment to come to Britain. A month later and no sign of this happening he had given up hope.

He's now in hospital, watched by volunteer youth workers who are in despair as to whether Britain will do what we pledged- take our fair share of refugee children who have no one else in the world to which to turn. He has been caught up in the retrospective changes the Government has made as to who will qualify under the Dubs amendment. Dubs was designed to help those who don't have any connection to any other country except the one from which they fled. Home Office guidelines quietly slipped out mean only those over 13 from the Sudan or Syria will be accepted.

Over the course of the last year the fight to help child refugees stuck in Europe - whether in Greece, Italy or Calais - has divided Britain. From those who think this is a moral imperative to those who think all of them are 35-year-old men in baggy clothing, everyone has a view. Despite some hysterical media coverage, progress has been made for which the Government should be commended. Nearly 750 have now arrived, both those who are orphaned and those who can be reunited with family.

This is still a fraction of the number left - and as this case shows many are stuck because the UK is using nationality not need to determine who to help. This contradicts the UN Convention on the rights of the child which says their best interests should be the basis of any decision about how they are treated. It is explicit states cannot discriminate against on grounds of their religion, race or ethnicity so it is troubling the Government have acted in this way- and reason enough for action.

Amendments 16 and 17 to the Children and Social Work Bill will ensure we put the best interests of all children first - including refugee children- in safeguarding matters. On the table for debate today in parliament, the Government will have to explain why if they oppose such a measure they consider it acceptable or legal to treat some of the most vulnerable children in the world as second class citizens.

Times are going to be immeasurably tougher for most Brits in 2017; rising inflation, economic uncertainty and higher costs for basic goods and services. Making the case to help these children is undoubtedly difficult. At stake is not only the question of it was your child, your niece, your nephew, your cousin, in peril how would you like them to be treated. It is also about what we will lose if we don't help. Each of them could go on - as Lord Alf Dubs and the other kindertransport children did as nobel prize winners, mechanical engineers, politicians - to make substantial contributions to their host nations.

Taking 1,000 from France would be half of all those who were in Calais; putting in place this amendment would ensure any further unaccompanied kids from Greece or Italy would be treated in accordance with international law. With a third of the children remaining in France now reported to have absconded from the children's homes that they were taken to when the Calais Jungle was demolished, their Christmas is looking bleak at best. It is neither sustainable nor sensible to leave them to the mercy of gangs or to cripple their hopes with bureaucracy.

The bitter reality of the uncertain world in which we live now also means these are unlikely to be the last driven from their homelands by war, persecution and disaster. There are nineteen million refugees worldwide, with just one million of them in all of Europe. Populist far right movements are on the rise, demanding refugees are turned back at our chaotic borders.

Whether Syrian, Sudanese, Afghan, Eritrean, Ethiopian or Oromo these are children caught up in conflicts not of their making. No one is suggesting all those seeking sanctuary in Europe should come to Britain, but we are saying we can and should do our bit to help. In such circumstances it has become a test of our national character whether we can resist the siren calls of isolationism and commit to act in the best interests of every child. That is the choice before us. Let's make 2017 the year we show Britain will not let children live in hopeless despair wherever they were born.

Stella Creasy is the Labour MP for Walthamstow

Comments

CONVERSATIONS