The UK response to child refugees has shown our nation at its best. Many have raised money, donated clothes and spent time in the camps trying to feed and protect lone kids- some as young as 8. Yet it has also exposed some of our challenges too – this Tuesday, as Parliament votes on reopening the Dubs Transfer scheme, will be no different.
From the opponents of the scheme come angry demands that we should house them all personally – as if a child refugee is like a puppy that just needs a bed and a bowl of food. Others argue looking after these children means you cannot also care for any others. More still dismiss the call to act in disbelief that France, Greece and Italy aren’t doing more instead. Yet by voting today we can cut through this noise to send a clear signal. We can send a message that despite the headlines, despite the behaviour of other nations, despite times being tough, Britain will do our bit when it comes to helping those not yet even old enough to be responsible for the conflicts that scar their home countries.
Ministers bluster about the “push factor” of Dubs to justify its abolition. Certainly refugee children are drawn here – drawn by the promise of somewhere safe from war, persecution and the threat of violence. They also don’t just come from the conflict in Syria. Afghans run from the Taliban, Oromos flee persecution in Ethiopia, Sudanese seek respite from the threat of rape and murder.
Ending Dubs is not only cruel, but short-sighted. Stopping this safe and legal route for child refugees to come here will not stop them trying – it will simply give the traffickers a captive market. Already it is estimated the cost of passage to the UK, often in lorries or via dinghies, is around £10,000. Not only are these children at extreme risk as they make these hazardous journey, but they are forced to hand money over to smuggler gangs with long networks of organised crime behind them. Feeding this industry feeds crime in the UK too.
In October, I asked the Prime Minister to tell us what had happened to 178 children her government had been notified of, who were eligible under Dubs to come to Britain, but had been stuck in camps in Calais and now gone missing. Six months on, I’m still waiting for a response. Those 178 were just a fraction of the 10,000 reported missing in 2015. With 120,000 unaccompanied refugee children arriving in Europe since then, the numbers falling into the hands of smugglers and traffickers must now be even higher. The 350 children we have taken equates to just 0.002 per cent of all the kids in Europe. To take the 3,000 originally and explicitly discussed when Dubs was debated in parliament would equate to just 0.025 per cent. Given Turkey is supporting 2.8m Syrian refugees alone, to quibble about just doing this little to help is shameful. To try to defend taking even fewer is mortifying.
The French authorities are clear that they want Dubs to continue, and that Britain has a responsibility towards the children now returning again to the bushes and mud in Calais as well as in Dunkirk. Dubs also covered the children left in Italy and Greece – where there are thousands more at clear risk of trafficking as well as reporting abuse by the authorities. We cannot demand other countries treat children with more care, and not contribute outselves to helping out. And help out we can.
Today, all MPs can vote for New Clause 14 of the Children and Social Work Bill. It will require the government to work with local authorities as part of a safeguarding panel to oversee the capacity and the need for places for these kids. It will address another argument Ministers used for ending Dubs – that local authorities don’t have the spaces. With councils across the UK saying they can and would take more children – 350 represents less than two per locality – NC14 would expose how and why this argument also does not stack up. Amendment 2 of the same Bill would also require our government to treat these children via the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Currently children in the UK are given this protection, but those in the camps being considered for transfer here are not – creating a two-tier system which hurts some of the most vulnerable young people in our world.
Refugee children who were being trafficked are safe today in Britain because of the Dubs transfer scheme. Not my words, but those of the UK Trafficking Commissioner. The 350 kids that have come to date under its auspices are without a nation or a family to protect them from harm. Their futures now rest with us as their guardians. These votes today mean Parliamentarians hold in their hands the fate of many more. Ignore the noise – send the signal.
Read more: In Calais with Stella Creasy