Is the UK doing enough to help child refugees?

After a regressive Brexit vote last year, it seems that the United Kingdom is retreating into itself.

Show of solidarity. Children hold a box of signed petitions to urge the British government to consult with local authorities on their ability to accommodate vulnerable refugee children from Europe, last February. (AFP)


2017/07/30 Issue: 117 Page: 11


The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey



London- The United Kingdom has not accepted a single un­accompanied child refu­gee from Europe under the Dubs amendment this year. This shocking revelation that the British government is failing to fulfil even the bare minimum it promised for the most vulnerable child refugees raises major ques­tions about the country’s moral ob­ligations.

The Dubs amendment was passed in April 2016, part of a campaign to accept 3,000 unaccompanied refu­gee children in camps in Europe into Britain. British authorities initially said they would accept 350 unac­companied minors but increased the figure to 480. Yet, only 200 un­accompanied refugee children have been transferred to the United King­dom — none in 2017.

A parliamentary vote in Febru­ary effectively scrapped the Dubs scheme, although the remaining 150 places were to be filled, partic­ularly as many child refugees had been accepted. It looks increasingly likely that the government intends to renege on its meagre commit­ments.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s beleaguered government has tried to defend its record on refu­gees by saying that it has granted asylum or some form of leave to more than 8,000 children in 2016. That leaves tens of thousands of child refugees stranded in camps across Europe.

This shocking lack of action was revealed following an urgent par­liamentary question from outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Far­ron. Proof of the government’s re­cent inaction on child refugees was met with cross-party criticism, with MPs and activists calling on the gov­ernment to do more.

“I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere, something neither the home secretary nor the prime minister have done. I have met these children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives paused as ministers have chosen to ignore them,” Farron said.

Farron said some child refugees accepted under the scheme had been waiting for more than a year to be transferred. “The horrific truth is that the longer this goes on, the more likely these children will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers. Will the government step up or continue to ignore the plight of these desperate children?” he asked.

UNICEF — the world’s leading or­ganisation working for children in danger — also slammed the British government for its lack of action.

“It’s unacceptable that we have seen no children brought under the Dubs scheme this year. As a nation we showed our compassions, and our principles when we helped ref­ugee children stranded in Calais but we were told this was not the end of the story,” UNICEF UK Deputy Ex­ecutive Director Lily Caprani said in a release.

“We are seeing too many children still having to make dangerous jour­neys to reach safety. It’s time for a sustainable solution.”

There needs to be a sustainable and expanded solution to this crisis. The scant assistance that the British government has offered refugees from countries that have been di­rectly harmed by UK foreign policy — and occasionally British bombs — is not good enough. That is doubly the case for the most vulnerable un­accompanied child refugees.

The Dubs amendment, champi­oned by Labour peer Lord Alfred Dubs, who reached the United King­dom from Czechoslovakia as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis during the second world war, was a uniquely humanitarian piece of legislation. At a time when things seem to be go­ing from bad to worse in the United Kingdom, such legislation must be fulfilled and, indeed, resurrected.

After a regressive Brexit vote last year that was overshadowed by im­migration fears, it seems that the United Kingdom is retreating into itself. This is an impulse that must be fought against and one in which May’s ailing Conservative govern­ment must not indulge. Britain is a part of the world. When it fails to provide care to the most vulner­able of all refugees, this is a moral failure.

That is a sentiment that Lord Dubs himself echoed, writing for Britain’s Independent newspaper.

“When we look at any child and think of them as too much of a stranger to care for them, we lost the battle against the forces that forced them to leave their homes and families behind,” he said.

“The British public now have shown immense support for the protection of child refugees from Africa and the Middle East seeking protection on our soil, yet our gov­ernment has gone back on its prom­ises, its laws and its moral obliga­tions. It is now up to us to change their path.”


Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.


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