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I dare MPs who voted down the Dubs Amendment to look a child refugee in the eye

Police in Calais are burning the sleeping bags of child refugees. The UK's response is to build more walls. 

On Monday, I visited Calais and Dunkirk to meet refugees and the volunteers who work day and night to help them.

Less than 24 hours later, the UK government crushed an attempt to restart the Dubs scheme, the one chance these refugee children had of a secure family life, safe from war and persecution.

The UK has a proud history of helping refugees – the Kindertransport programme under which the UK took in 10,000 refugee children before World War II is just one example. The closest we have come to any kind of similar action is the now defunct Dubs scheme. Despite aspirations to take in at least 3,000 children under the scheme, we have given refuge to just 350. But this is a tiny fraction of the 30,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Greece and Italy last year alone. It is the equivalent of every big local authority in the country taking in just two of these youngsters.

While the 287 MPs who voted down the proposal went home to sleep in their beds, volunteers in Calais were handing out 100 sleeping bags – and will do so every night – to ensure that refugees have more than just the clothes on their backs to protect them from the cold. Even having a sleeping bag is no assurance of a warm, restful night. During my visit, volunteers told us stories of police waking up children in the middle of the night, taking away their sleeping bags and burning them. I later met two boys who had their bedding forcefully taken and, as a result, spent the rest of the night running to keep warm.

The government keeps bleating on about costs and a limited capacity to support refugees, but the reality is the UK is pouring money into building walls in Calais (the Calais jungle wall alone cost £2m). Making it harder to cross borders does not reduce numbers of refugees. This money could do so much good, feeding and clothing refugees, giving them somewhere safe and warm to sleep, and reuniting them with their family members in the UK.

We also could be spending the money on improving services on the ground. The Dunkirk refugee camp is home to two shipping containers that were intended to be used solely as community kitchens but also now have 40 people sleeping in each of them. The number of hot meals handed out by volunteers in Calais is growing every night, despite the mayor’s attempts to crack down on food distribution. She has declared herself “personally opposed” to humanitarian efforts. This is the kind of person the UK government is colluding with.

The Dunkirk camp also has a children’s centre, which an average of 40 to 50 children visit each day. From the inside, it could be any classroom or nursery in the UK. Adorned with children’s artwork and abuzz with noise, it is a small haven from its bleak surroundings. One of the regular users of the centre is a five-year-old boy – when I met him, he was quietly doing a Fireman Sam jigsaw puzzle. Volunteers at the centre believe he is on the autistic spectrum but do not have the resources to get an accurate diagnosis. In the UK, his life could be so different.  

It is clear the UK’s response in Calais has been ineffective, inhumane and counterproductive. For example, many of the young people who were taken to other centres around France following the demolition of the jungle camp have simply made their way back to Calais. Their applications for transfer to the UK were rejected by the Home Office and they have nowhere else to go. 

Amber Rudd has claimed “fake news” is being spread about child refugee numbers. Yet, as I have seen for myself, it is anything but. That she needs to borrow rhetoric from Donald Trump highlights a desperation to spin the story and steer attention away from the government’s utter failure to help these children. 

This government is on the wrong side of history and now is the time for action. Reinstating the Dubs scheme is the bare minimum. In addition, the Green Party is calling on the Home Secretary to widen the family reunification rules, so that family members fleeing war, torture and persecution can stay together.

I will never forget the two young girls I met just outside the children’s centre in Dunkirk, one of them wearing a grubby pink sheep onesie. These are the faces of the refugee crisis. My words will never be enough to convey their stories. I challenge Amber Rudd and any of the Conservative politicians who voted against the Dubs amendment to meet these children - smiling and hopeful despite their terrible circumstance – and bear witness to the devastating effects of UK policies. I do not believe any MP would be able to look them in the eye and still cast a vote to condemn them to a life of danger and uncertainty.

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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