Children in EU refugee camps who do not already have relatives in the UK will no longer be given sanctuary by Britain.
The decision is part of the government’s Brexit Bill in which the government rejected the House of Lords’ recommendations to restore the Bill’s previous promises for lone refugee children.
Tragically, mainstream news has been almost silent about the disgraceful decision.
According to The Independent, immigration minister, Chris Philp claimed that ‘The government is prioritising resettling vulnerable refugees direct from dangerous conflict zones rather than those who have often paid people smugglers to reach other safe European countries.’
Philp’s use of ‘safe’ to describe refugee camps in other European countries is extremely misleading: the conditions of refugee camps are widely reported as being horrific. In Calais, migrants face police abuse, discrimination, daily evacuations, as well as lack of access to water and hygiene, marking one of many articles that describe the atrocious conditions for refugees and migrants. In Greece, there are 4,253 children without family. In northern France, there are at least 288. From these statistics alone, it is clear that these children are not ‘safe.’ The UK must do more to protect these children.
Calling these ‘safe’ countries also echoes the principles of the Dublin Regulation as Philp suggests that asylum seekers should be grateful to arrive in any EU country. The Dublin Regulation intends to prevent ‘asylum shopping’, meaning that asylum seekers must remain in the first country that they arrive in. It is majorly ineffective, as it puts disproportionate economic pressure on border countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy. The Dublin Regulation also treats asylum seekers as objects of the state, rather than rights holders. Although these children are in an EU country, they are unsafe. They are also humans, and humans are allowed to choose where they live. By spouting this rhetoric, the government disregard the UK’s moral responsibility to look after children and discards their human rights.
Philp also groups some of the most vulnerable children in the world with smugglers when he refers to lone children as refugees who have ‘often paid people smugglers.’ Most obviously, the government has forgotten that these are children – they are not adults with an abundance of choice who have actively chosen to support and pay for people smugglers. These children have no choice. By grouping vulnerable children with criminals, Chris Philp, as representative of the Conservative’s stance on immigration, forces an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality. The government have forgotten their basic humanity – children who have escaped horrific conditions in their origin country are not criminals. Yet the UK’s rejection of unaccompanied children makes them sound like criminals. Most children have not paid people smugglers by choice. Children have been exploited by them. And depriving children of a safe passage is more likely to make them even more exposed to traffickers – the UK is simply pushing children further into exploitation.
Responding to the criticisms, Philp rebukes that Britain had been the top resettlement country in Europe over the past five years. Philp’s claim is inaccurate. Sweden is the only country in Europe in the top ten countries that have received the most refugees between 2010 to 2019. The government’s excuses are not only poor, but they are also far from transparent.
Likewise, he says that the government is ‘prioritising resettlement in dangerous conflict zones.’ Yet again, there is little evidence to prove this. We only have to look at the Napier barracks, which have awful conditions for asylum seekers who have escaped some of the most dangerous countries in the world. The government, therefore, does not seem to be ‘prioritising resettlement’ fairly nor humanely.
The cause to protect refugee children is championed by Lord Alf Dubs who was rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton, one of the organisers of the Kindertransport from then-Czechoslovakia to the UK. The UK has been rightly praised for its acceptance of child refugees in 1938, and it has the opportunity to receive the same praise now by providing sanctuary for children.
Brexit could be taken as an opportunity for the UK to be a beacon of humanity for children who have lost their family and escaped horrors that no one should have to face. So far, the UK has bitterly failed in this potential.
Chris Philp claims that the Home Office takes the ‘responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously.’ Yet there’s a deep chasm between his words and the reality.
Denying children a safe passage to the UK is a deep stain on the country’s claims to humanity.
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