Callous Tories abandon refugee children

23 Nov 2017
Winter will compound the misery of refugee children stranded in makeshift camps, many of whom have relatives in Britain writes Diane Abbott.

Government policies on unaccompanied refugee children will go down in history as a source of shame. The Dubs amendment was passed in 2016 with the intention of bringing around 3,000 such children to Britain.
However, it has resulted in only 480 places being allocated and only around 200 children taken in. Lord Dubs has rightly made comparisons between unaccompanied refugee children today and the plight of such children brought to Britain as part of the Kindertransport shortly before the start of WWII, which gave safe passage to 10,000 mainly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
We face the largest global refugee crisis since WWII with the UNHCR calling on the government in June to resettle at least 10,000 refugees per year in order to tackle the crisis. I have repeatedly asked the government to take in Britain’s fair share of refugees, yet its approach is nothing short of sticking its head in the sand in the hope that the crisis will go away.
It won’t. UNHCR/Unicef figures show that, in the first half of this year, 16,524 children arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria of whom 72 per cent were unaccompanied or separated from their families.
Over 2,700 people have died or gone missing so far this year trying to reach Europe. The horror of the policies of Fortress Europe were laid bare this week as a German newspaper published the names of over 33,000 refugees and migrants who have died trying to enter Europe since 1993.
It beggars belief that, with such a pressing case for humanitarian intervention, the government has had to be dragged to the negotiating table only to offer crumbs to the most vulnerable.
Around 60 unaccompanied refugee children in Greece were identified as eligible for the Dubs scheme over a year ago. Why subject them to agonising delays? Some of those children who were eligible under the government’s own restrictive deadline of March 20 2016 will now be over 18 and deemed ineligible — “aged out” of the process.
The situation they face in Greece is desperate — for lack of safe shelters children are housed in police custody — as thousands of refugees are living in flimsy summer tents which will offer little protection as winter approaches. The temperature dropped to -18°C last winter leaving refugees at serious risk of freezing to death.
It is simply unacceptable for this government to look the other way, when some have been waiting for over a year in limbo in these horrific conditions.
The situation across Europe is no better. The Refuge of Family: How the UK can Help Refugee Children report by Unicef UK shows that 78 per cent of adolescents reported experiences indicating exploitation on the central Mediterranean route (Libya to Italy) alone. Its research also found that a child is trafficked or exploited every 30 minutes on that journey to Europe.
If the influence of traffickers were not enough, the brutal treatment by some of the authorities paints an even bleaker picture.
A report commissioned by French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb recognised that the police targeted refugees, including minors, in Calais and the Dunkirk region using violence, chemical sprays and the destruction of personal belongings.
The report was in response to Human Rights Watch’s findings, which proved that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, confiscating sleeping bags, blankets and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.
It is no surprise therefore that some unaccompanied children, left stranded by our government in these conditions, risk their lives trying to get to Britain and die trying in some cases.
Their heartbroken families in Britain could have been spared this tragedy if we extended them the welcome Parliament has called for instead of building walls and installing barbed wire.
Rather than addressing these issues seriously, ministers have associated giving refuge to unaccompanied children with being a “pull factor” for others, ignoring the plight that motivates these desperate people.
The poet Warsan Shire sums it up in her poem Home. “No-one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
Europe’s moral compass will be judged for generations to come by the way it treats refugees.
This government’s role in exporting arms to conflict zones cannot be overlooked in this equation. Conflict, together with economic destabilisation and intolerable poverty all create displaced people.
The demands are clear — respect the Dubs amendment, let in unaccompanied refugee children and take our fair share of refugees in the midst of this crisis.
Winter will be unforgiving on refugees left out in camps vulnerable to freezing conditions, abusive traffickers and attacks by the far right.
History will be as unforgiving when judging this government for abandoning them.

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