MPs have expressed dismay at the decision to “tear up” a pledge to negotiate a deal allowing refugee children in Europe with UK family to come to Britain after Brexit.
In another U-turn abandoning previous promises, Boris Johnson has revised wording of the Brexit Bill, due to be put before MPs on Friday.
He has removed a Government commitment to strike a deal with the European Union so child refugees can be reunited with their family in the UK, even after free movement ends.
The abandonment of the commitment to the ‘Dubs children’ – named after Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a boy – and pushed hard for Theresa May to commit to allowing many unaccompanied minors to join family in the UK has caused moral outrage.
Children are disappearing
Earlier in the year, pleading for the Tory Government to match the help that the levels of help of the Kindertransport that helped him and other Jewish children escape the holocaust, Lord Dubs spoke to The London Economic.
“They are vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and prostitution. In the refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos, we were told there was not enough security and boys were getting raped in the camp at night,” the Labour peer warned after a fact-finding trip to Europe. He said refugee children in Northern France were homeless in appalling conditions and going missing.
Beth Gardiner-Smith of Safe Passage, a charity offering child refugees legal help, said: “For the Government to take the first opportunity it has to water down vital protections for unaccompanied child refugees is truly shocking.
“For the Government to seek to remove these protections now risks causing panic amongst refugee families currently separated in Europe with potentially tragic consequences.”
‘No reason at all’ for Government to abandon refugee children
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs committee before the general election, said there was “no reason at all” for the Government to alter its original commitment.
“Utterly shameful decision by Government to ditch their responsibility to let lone refugee children re-join their families,” she tweeted.
“Hits the most vulnerable and desperate children. No reason at all for Govt to do this. They chose to. Shows what kind of PM this really is.”
Boris Johnson has turned his back on the UK commitment to the Dubs children, instead simply requiring a minister to “make a statement” to Parliament.
The change has been made in Clause 37 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, stating that a minister will “make a single statement to Parliament within two months” of it passing to explain progress on the arrangements for child refugees seeking their families in the UK.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said: “During the last Parliament, Labour’s Alf Dubs led the campaign to protect child refugees post-Brexit. The Tories now want to tear up those protections.
“As we leave the European Union we cannot abandon our values of human rights and internationalism.”
Abandoning the vulnerable children would be breaking legislation passed by the Tory Government.
Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (known as the ‘Dubs amendment’) required the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”. The government committed to transferring 480 of the most vulnerable children from France, Greece and Italy under section 67.
But in the three years that followed less than half that number have been helped to escape to the UK from dangerous situations where they are vulnerable to be trafficked or disappear.
The PM’s spokesman told journalists after the Queen’s Speech on Thursday that the Government was still “committed to reaching that agreement” with the EU, despite removing the wording from the Brexit Bill.
Earlier in the year, Lord Alf Dubs told The London Economic that councils all over the UK, including Conservative ones had offered to help vulnerable refugee children.
“I saw people in desperate situations,” he added. “With the Kindertransport, in just one year pre-war Britain took 10,00 children. Surely, we can mark the eightieth anniversary with a pledge to take the same amount in ten years.”
Describing the bleak conditions for the children Lord Dubs visited in Northern France, Clare Moseley from Care4Calais told The London Economic: “People are sleeping rough with no access to sanitation or shelter and under continual harassment from the police. Every day they say that they want to be safe, but the harshness of life in Calais leaves them with little hope for the future.“
A petition to ask the Government not to scrap the scheme and abandon children who could be united with families in the UK has already had over 100,000 signatures. To add your name, the petition by volunteers who have worked with refugees in Calais and Greece can be found here.