The Refugee Crisis: It’s Time To Act Now
17 Dec 2016We need to build the pressure on the government to fulfil its international obligations and assist the refugees at our borders, writes Diane Abbott MP
It was recently revealed that Home Office transfers of unaccompanied minors who were registered in the Calais refugee camp have stopped, meaning up to 1,000 children are less likely to be given sanctuary in Britain.
Robert Goodwill, the Immigration Minister, said more than 750 refugee children from Calais had currently arrived.
Labour is concerned that if the Home Office closes the door to further legal transfers, more unofficial camps could again spring up near the port as children desperate to join relatives try to make their way illegally via people traffickers and lorries.
Citizens UK believe hundreds of refugee children who remain in France have a right to reach Britain either under EU law or the Dubs amendment, as does the charity Safe Passage, which does vital work in offering legal support to refugee children applying to join relatives here.
Many unaccompanied minors currently dispersed around France complain that they have been left in the dark about their future by French and British authorities, including the case covered in much of the media of a Sudanese radiographer living here after fleeing Darfur pleading to the government to be reunited with his teenage brother, who remains in France.
The Refugee Youth Service (RYS) warned last month that a third of the children it was tracking in October had already gone missing, prompting grave concerns for their wellbeing.
As Alf Dubs, the Labour peer whose amendment to the Immigration Act commits the government to giving homes to vulnerable refugee children travelling alone, said: “I’m dismayed to learn that transfers are about to cease having only just begun.
“Had the bridge been pulled up so soon after the start of the Kindertransport, through which my life was saved, many of us would never have made it to Britain.”
The recent demolition of the Calais camp and the desperate scenes of people fleeing atrocities and conflict in Syria, have highlighted the refugee crisis again but often its scale is understated or underreported.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) says we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.Globally, nearly 34,000 people a day are being displaced from their homes. There are more than 65 million refugees in total.
We also need to keep drawing attention to the tragedy that has unfolded across the Mediterranean Sea in recent years, with thousands drowning as they attempt to reach Europe.
More than 4,700 refugees have died attempting treacherous sea journeys to Europe this year — the deadliest on record.
Earlier this year, following myself and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visiting Calais, I also travelled to Lesbos to see this waterway, as people set their stall for Europe despite the cold weather — the first time that such large numbers of refugees are attempting the journey at this time of year, and many of them are reportedly not doing so by choice.
While far-right politicians across Europe have tried to link these refugees to the ghastly terrorist actions of Isis in recent years in order to say less should be done to help them, the reality is that many of these refugees are fleeing war and repression, including at the hands of Isis.
This is one area where more can — and must — be done in terms of a holistic approach from both Britain and Europe, recognising the severity of the situation as a whole this winter.
In 2015, 442,288 people signed a petition — leading to a debate in Parliament — arguing that “the UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts,” and that “we can’t allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe.”
But, again and again the government have failed in this regard.
In Calais there were hundreds of unaccompanied children who had a legal right to residence in Britain. But the British government persistently failed to act, despite its legal obligations.
Now we need to build up the pressure again. The government must be made to understand that unless they stop passing off refugees as somebody else’s problem, this government will go down as the one that watched while thousands suffered.
We must now demand that the government also stop playing into a toxic narrative that claims showing compassion for people who are the victims of poverty and war is wrong because they are really here to take our welfare and do us harm.
Whether it was the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Ugandans in the 1980s, the Kosovars in the 1990s, Britain has a proud history of giving sanctuary to those escaping war and persecution.
We demean this legacy by turning our backs or neglecting desperate refugees who wish to escape and build lives and careers here.
Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war — it’s a test of our humanity, it’s a test of our principles and it’s a test of genuine international co-operation.