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Campaigners voice dismay as government rejects plan to help child refugees

  • Jo Siedlecka

Child in Calais Jungle 2017 image ICN/JS

Child in Calais Jungle 2017 image ICN/JS

News that the government has reneged on a pledge to guarantee the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with family members living in the UK after Brexit, has been met with dismay by children's rights campaigners.

On Wednesday, 8 January, MPs voted 348 to 252 against the amendment which had previously been accepted by Theresa May's government.

Lord Alf Dubs, the Labour peer (who escaped the Holocaust himself as a child on the Kindertransport) and successfully campaigned for this protection for refugee children in 2016, said it was a "very depressing" development.

"It is very disappointing that the first real act of the new Boris Johnson government is to kick these children in the teeth. It is a betrayal of Britain's humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands," he said.

In a letter to MPs before the vote, co-signed by Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, Lord Dubs said: "Boris Johnson may have won a majority in parliament, but he did not win the moral argument to absolve himself of responsibility to some of the most vulnerable people in the world."

In a joint statement, the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, Seeking Sanctuary, and People Not Walls, said they: "condemn the Government's decision to scrap the commitment to negotiate with the EU for an agreement to allow child migrants in Europe to be united with their families. This clause in the EU Withdrawal Bill had been agreed by the previous government in 2018, but the present government, with a majority of 96, has voted to remove this promise.

"Over the last few years all three of our organisations have worked with families and children, who have lived in appalling conditions in Northern France, many feeling forced into illegal methods of reaching safety in the UK. Working with French partner organisations we have campaigned for the ending of inhumane treatment of migrants on our borders, and the respect for their human rights, especially the right to seek asylum.

"This decision will simply further encourage more young migrants to look for illegal ways to enter the UK, and to condemn many more to a life of homelessness and futility. We call on Government to reinstate their promise to negotiate with the EU the plight of young asylum seekers across Europe. Welcoming the stranger remains our central commitment, and especially the young and most vulnerable."

Barbara Kentish, interim coordinator of People not Walls said: "This decision condemns innocent and vulnerable children to living in desperate conditions on various European borders when all they want is to be reunited with their families."

"We call on all Churches, Faith Communities and people of goodwill to stand up for the rights of these children and young people who have already experienced enough trauma in their young lives."

Lord Dubs said he would continue to fight for the rights of refugee children in the House of Lords next week.


Seeking Sanctuary -

Lord Dubs speaking yesterday:


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