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Voting Against the Government on Child Refugees Was Both the Easiest and the Hardest Decision of My Career

26/04/2016 17:12

My decision to vote against the Government on Monday night over the resettlement of child refugees already in Europe was both the easiest and most difficult one of this Parliament. Difficult, because voting against the whip is not something that most MPs take lightly; easy because my convictions on this matter are so strong.

The vote, on an amendment proposed by Lord Dubs in the House of Lords, would have obliged the Government to give safe haven in the UK to 3,000 unaccompanied children in Europe who have fled the conflicts raging in the Middle East and - all too often forgotten - parts of Africa too. The Government rightly points out that the UK has already done a great deal to help, and certainly more than other nations; and that taking these children would only encourage others to make the dangerous journey to our shores.

Whilst I don't doubt the sincerity of Government ministers and their desire to do the right thing for those forced to flee their homes - efforts which have including taking refugees from camps in Syria and the surrounding region - these arguments carry little weight. The amendment concerned those unaccompanied children who are already in Europe, who have faced unspeakable horrors in their homelands, and who are exposed daily to violence and exploitation we can only imagine. They have lost or become separated from their families, often for reasons over which they have no control. They have braved the journey to our continent hoping for safety, only to end up in camps or on the streets. And they are children.

These children are in Europe, but they are in danger. They are at risk from sexual abuse and human trafficking. Europol estimates that 10,000 of them went missing last year, even after they had been registered with the authorities. And as a former Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in a national newspaper over the weekend, doctors report that as many as half of them require treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, almost certainly acquired from sexual exploitation during their journey to Europe.

We have a proud history in the UK of helping refugees escaping from appalling horrors, particularly children. Had we not given safe haven via the Kindertransport programme to thousands of Jewish children in the run up to the Second World War, most would have died in the Holocaust. We took in refugees from Iran and Vietnam, and those fleeing Idi Amin in Uganda. We did the right thing, and I believe we must do so again.

But my conviction on this also comes from the fact that I am a father. Many of the children in these European camps are the same age as mine, and I think about what I would want for them if they were in the appalling situation which these children face. I would want them to be safe, warm, well-fed and given a chance to create a life for themselves away from conflict. That's why I voted against the Government on this issue, and, if the Lords stick to their guns, it's why I will continue to do so.

Stephen Phillips QC MP is the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham

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