THE BLOG

As Thousands Gather To Show Solidarity With Refugees, Progress Has Been Too Slow

17/09/2016 10:33
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

A year ago, 100,000 people marched in London to show solidarity with refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. It was a signal of the outpouring of grief and anger felt after Alan Kurdi's body was found washed up on a Turkish beach. And it proved that with the right pressure Government policy towards refugees could be changed.

That week David Cameron announced a programme for Britain to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps in the region over the next 5 years.

And 8 months later, after our campaign by the Refugee Taskforce and Lord Alf Dubs that united MPs from all parties, charities, faith leaders and survivors of the Kindertransport, the Government also agreed to give sanctuary to some of the thousands of lone child refugees sleeping rough and in makeshift camps across Europe.

And in February, Britain led countries from across the world in the London summit to pledge £8bn to provide food, schools, healthcare and jobs for refugees across the Middle East.

But as thousands gather to show solidarity again today, the reality is that progress has been far too slow. Political leaders here and abroad just aren't facing up to the scale of the international problem. Urgent action is needed. Faced with the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, Governments and nations across the globe have done far too little to help.

Because one year on, a further 400 children have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Millions more children have been forced from their homes. And at least 10,000 child refugees have simply disappeared in Europe, many into the hands of trafficking gangs because there simply isn't the accommodation to keep them safe.

In Syria, the fragile ceasefire is holding for now, but over 4 million Syrians are already living as refugees, without access to education or work. The Turkey deal, for all its problems, has reduced the smuggler boats to Greece that have killed so many, but many more desperate families are attempting the dangerous route through Libya and across the Mediterranean to Italy. European leaders seem incapable of agreeing a strategy to protect our security and provide dignity and sanctuary to the thousands of refugees who have already arrived and are living in purgatory.

Little of the money pledged by international governments for refugee camps has yet materialised and millions of people still live in bleak and desperate conditions. In Greece and Italy, where the boats still come, too little support is in place from other European countries. Camps, reception centres and children's homes are full and the authorities struggle to keep up with asylum assessments and security checks. And despite hard-fought for commitments from our own Government just 3,000 Syrian refugees have so-far been brought to sanctuary here in the UK, despite many Local Authorities saying they have support and housing ready for the families expected. At this rate it will take us 7 years to meet our commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees - Canada managed 30,000 in just 3 months.

And to-date, not a single child has been brought to safety from Europe under the Dubs legislation. Every day the Government drags its feet, children are left at risk of exploitation and abuse, sleeping rough in makeshift camps in Northern France and on the streets of Greece and Italy because the children's homes are full.

Even where children have family here, layers of bureaucracy and Government foot-dragging are letting them down. Charities have identified hundreds of unaccompanied children and teenagers in the Calais 'jungle' who have relatives in the UK who could be looking after them. They have a legal right to be reunited with them, and yet, just a handful have been brought to the UK. The rest still risk their lives and safety in the squalid Calais camp.

On Monday Theresa May will travel to New York to the International conference on the refugee crisis. The UN are calling for more aid, support and safe routes to sanctuary. All countries should act -- and Britain should do its bit.

There are some in Government that are doubtless hoping public anger has ebbed since last year, that as families continue to flee their homes, and thousands more remain stuck in squalid conditions across Europe, people will feel that it is too hard to make a difference.

But as long as so many families are suffering, as long as so many are fleeing and struggling along the way, as long as so many children's lives are at risk we will keep up the campaign. The lesson of the last year must be that with enough pressure, we can change Government plans. We must do so again.

Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of Labour's Refugee Taskforce

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