In 1951, inspired by a mix of guilt and hope, governments around the world got together to write a Refugee Convention. It was sort of a blue print for how not to be a douche during a humanitarian catastrophe. At the beginning there's a summary of moral responsibilities. These include the responsibility to protect the family life of refugees and the responsibility to protect refugee children particularly those that are without their parents. Since last year I've traveled from the Greek Islands to Athens to Macedonia and Calais volunteering with a small charity I helped found called Help Refugees and it feels as if almost every European government that is a signatory to that convention (including our own) has contravened the spirit in which it was written.
- A refugee's right to the unity of the family.
Last week the French authorities decided to bulldoze the southern end of the Calais refugee camp, destroying the homes that volunteer organisations like ours built while they were busy pretending the 6000 odd people that live there didn't exist. After we conducted a census showing that 3,455 people including 445 kids lived in that part of the camp (more than 3 times the number the French authorities thought) the demolition was postponed... only to be unpostponed yesterday by a local court.
Down the road in the Dunkirk refugee camp men with British passports are living in tents in the mud with their wives and small children because their families are not welcome in the UK. These men are Kurdish Peshmerga, you know the ones Cameron described as 'one of the best and most willing allies of the West' in their fight against ISIS in Syria on our behalf.
In Athens I visited squats in abandoned office blocks run by kids in their 20s where hundreds of refugee families and minors live because there is nowhere else other than the street.
- The protection of refugee children
During the 1938-40 'Kindertransport' the UK rescued 10,000 children from Nazi Germany. Today, 10,000 unaccompanied kids in Europe have simply been lost according to the EU's criminal intelligence agency. In the Greek Islands you might hand food to a young girl and her 'uncle' who later sells her off into sexual slavery in Eastern Europe to pay for his trip. There is a shocking lack of oversight to determine the vulnerability of these children.
In Calais alone there are some 305 unaccompanied children many of whom are suffering from PTSD such as one boy I met who lost his entire family in a rocket attack in Allepo. Many of them are eligible to come to the UK to apply for asylum because they have family here. But despite a case recently which forced the government to bring them over, the Home Office seems to have done everything in it's power to frustrate attempts to make this happen, appealing the verdict and even requesting DNA proof of the familial connection. In the meantime these kids in their desperation continue to try to make it to the UK by any means necessary, risking the fate that befell a 15 Afghan boy last month who suffocated on a lorry trying to reach his sister over here.
I could go on, but the list of responsibilities of convention signatories reads more like a list of failures in the current crisis and I'm conscious this article might be getting you down. I'm not a lawyer and to pre-empt the criticisms of those who are, I'm aware there are plenty of clauses and sub-clauses in the UK Immigration Bill, or Dublin Regulation and others which absolve the UK and other European governments from any legal liability and with regards to what they have or haven't done for refugees. But it is precisely those clauses that are drowning families in the Aegean and suffocating children in lorries under the Channel. And it is precisely those clauses that have undermined the spirit in which European leaders wrote that convention - as a warning to future generations to not make the same mistakes they made when they turned back refugees from Germany before the war because of fears they would be a burden and take our jobs. How we love to build memorials and how quickly we forget.
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