After months of refusing to even provide an answer to the many questions presented to them by the Liberal Democrats, charities, campaigners, other opposition parties and many members of the public, the government have finally outlined plans to address the harrowing plight of thousands of refugee children who are orphaned and in great danger.
Time for celebrations then? The answer is depressingly a resounding “no”.
The announcement that the Department for International Development will create a new £10m fund to support vulnerable refugee and migrant children in Europe, and the announcement that in “exceptional” cases, our government will welcome unaccompanied children into our country should provide campaigners with a small glimmer of warmth that their work has paid off. But once again, the government are trying to do the absolute minimum to alleviate the biggest humanitarian crisis facing our world in the last half a century.
The government prefers to let other nations bear the burden of the refugee crisis and refuses to sign up to the EU Relocation Scheme while fellow European states such as Greece and Italy are simply overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees arriving on their shores. Instead, our government have chosen to throw a bit of money at the crisis in Europe to help other nations care for the thousands of child orphan refugees, whilst simultaneously pulling up the drawbridge and refusing to accept any refugees from Europe.
What makes this worse is that the government is not refusing to help ‘fit young men with smartphones’ which some tabloids like to paint refugees as, but they are refusing to help children, children who desperately need our help.
It is impossible for me, or for that matter any politician, to understand what it must be like for a child to find themselves lost and alone in a foreign country, after fleeing their homeland and the murderous tyranny of Assad or Daesh, without their parents to protect them and instead being at the will of traffickers and sexual exploitation. If you are not convinced of the risk these children face, one clinic in Italy, responsible for carrying out medical checks on child orphan refugees found many had sexually transmitted infections.
Taking in 3,000 child orphan refugees, which is the number Save The Children proposed and is what the Liberal Democrats have been calling for in the last few months is only a small percentage of the children who have fled terror and the destruction in their own homelands. Taking in this number will also only have a small effect on our country, as it is equivalent to only 5 children per constituency, something which our Government could easily provide for. This is a number which people from across our House support and I know this as members of Parliament from all the major parties, including the Conservatives, co-signed a letter I recently sent to the Prime Minister asking him to meet us to discuss the 3,000.
Our government should have acted strongly and morally on this heart-breaking issue, and put our country in a position where we could proudly lead. This announcement has come in the week where we recognised the 71st Anniversary of the Holocaust; we look back at the most abhorrent humanitarian crisis in recent times with great sadness and a belief that it cannot be repeated, but we also remember with pride how our country accepted children who needed our help desperately to escape such a great terror as part of the Kindertransport scheme.
It is clear though that our government has ignored this moment in history. They could have accepted 3,000 vulnerable child orphan refugees who need our help urgently. Instead they have washed their hands and provided another pitiful response to the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.