Alf Dubs on amending the Immigration Bill to help unaccompanied child refugees
Once in a while there are major challenges which test our humanitarianism. Europe’s refugee crisis is one such challenge but within that there is the need to do something about unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.
They are believed to be mainly Syrian and it has been estimated that there are some 24,000 in Europe at the present time. UNHCR and Save the Children have been particularly involved in this and have suggested that the UK share should be 3,000.
These children are in a vulnerable state. Some apparently have already disappeared and there are fears that they may have become the victims of child traffickers and perhaps forced into prostitution. In any case the winter is becoming severe in many parts of Europe and the children may be sleeping rough without adequate food or warmth.
There are clear signs that the British people want to respond and many have offered to be foster parents.
Of course it would be essential for local authorities to approve all offers of help and have monitoring safeguards to give these children all possible protection in their new homes. The government would have to make extra funding available for this purpose.
It is important that the government should make its position clear. It recently made a statement which is vague both as regards which children would be accepted and how many.
I have an amendment to the Immigration Bill which will be debated in the Lords tonight (Wednesday 3rd February). It says that the Secretary of State must make arrangements to relocate to the UK 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children who are in European countries. Furthermore, these children should be additional to the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
My amendment is intended firstly to seek support for the principle at stake; and secondly to get the government to explain how it intends to respond and what it meant by its vague statement of a week ago.
The figure of 3,000 is small but would make an important contribution to helping a vulnerable group. And it is surely right that we in this country take a fair share of the responsibility.
There are some children in European countries who have family members in this country. The amendment is not intended to cover these children who already have the right to come here under existing agreements.
In 1938/39 there was a crisis in Europe as many Jewish children in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were helped to escape to safety on Kindertransports. At that time, most countries refused to help and it was really only the UK that allowed them entry. We said it could be done and as a result thousands of children could thank Britain for this humanitarian gesture.
It is only a few months ago that Sir Nicky Winton died aged 106. He was the person who saved many children from Czechoslovakia. I was one of them. I would like other children to be given the same welcome and opportunities that I had.
Lord Alf Dubs is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @AlfDubs
Published 3rd February 2016