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26 April 2016

The child refugee vote brought shame on the government

It’s pretty hard to look away from the simple truth that the Government simply doesn’t care about these children.

By Alistair Carmichael

Yesterday was a day of judgement for 3,000 desperate children. 3,000 children who are currently scared, away from their parents, in a foreign land and distressingly likely to be caught up with the wrong people and scarred by the terror and violence from their homelands and the desperate struggle of their journey to reach Europe.

It was a day which campaigners, NGOs, the public and politicians had been waiting for. After strong support in the Lords, the amendment to accept 3,000 child orphan refugees was being debated and voted on within the Commons. 3,000 is not a large number and this is a very modest target, resulting in only five extra children per constituency in the UK. It would take some funding from the Government to support local authorities who found it difficult to cope with this financial burden and there are many compassionate people who would be more than happy to help these children.

3,000 is the number which was drawn up by Save the Children and is one which for nearly half a year the Liberal Democrats have vociferously and passionately called on the Government to accept. True to form however the Government have been pathetic.

In the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has faced since World War 2 and within a cacophony of public outcry and emotion at the most heartbreaking images and stories, our Government has buried its head in the sand, whilst ignoring a crisis fast moving to its doorstep and crippling our European neighbours.

Yes the aid which the Department for International Development has given is admirable and it is important that support is given to refugees within the camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the Middle East, but on every other front the Government has done the absolute minimum to help alleviate this crisis and care for the desperate people caught up in the chaos.

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Just last week, we saw the Government feign compassion to draw away attention from the calls for accepting 3,000 children, through their own announcement which completely sidestepped the issue of child refugees in danger within Europe, where Europol has estimated that as many as 10,000 unaccompanied children on the continent have disappeared, and will be spread out over four years to water down an already disappointing figure. They then went one step further by implanting a clause meaning that this will be the last time the amendment to accept 3,000 child refugees can be debated. It’s pretty hard to look away from the simple truth that the Government simply doesn’t care about these children.

We can get disappointed by the many wrong decisions the Conservatives are making, be they selfish, misguided or unproductive, but it’s the decisions like the one taken yesterday which really show the Government at its worst and really make me and so many others across our country downright angry. Like cuts to tax credits or employment support allowance, failing to help these refugees is directly putting lives in grave danger.

Some Conservatives realised this and rebelled against the Government. This is a strong stance to take and should be commended. Many of those who rebelled have seen for themselves the chaos which is engulfing aid workers, refugees and migrants in Greece and in Calais. They realise that children need an olive branch of safety and charity which will not be given by their party and their Government. Not enough have had a backbone however and sadly it appears that some simply don’t care.

However it’s imperative that, as politicians, we do care and when this year alone approximately   171,000 refugees decided water was safer than land and made the treacherous crossing across the Mediterranean, it’s our duty to provide a sustainable solution to deliver help for the most vulnerable. The amendment which was voted on last night would have allowed a small number of child refugees into the UK, a number which our country could have easily handled. The Liberal Democrats carried out a consultation with experts and charities to provide a blueprint for resettling Europe’s child refugees and the clear evidence showed that it was possible. Members from across the House united to try to save these children, having been profoundly moved by their terrifying ordeal.

The Government had an opportunity to show British values at their finest through showing compassion, and upholding the fundamental human rights which all people, young and old and across the world deserve. Instead it ignored its neighbours, the calls from charities but most importantly ignored these children.