Government backtracks on child refugees as Kindertransport survivors call for compassion

Threatened with a backbench rebellion, the government will accept the new Dubs amendment

Source: Harry Pope

David Cameron has announced that his government will backtrack on its refusal to admit refugee children already in Europe by accepting the new Dubs amendment. The concession protects against a likely Tory rebellion on the issue.

‘It won’t be necessary to send the Dubs amendment back, it doesn’t mention a number of people,’ the prime minister told the Commons. ‘We are going to speak to local authorities to see what we can do.’

Five Tories rebelled last week when the government rejected the initial amendment to the Immigration Bill, which calls for the government to allow 3,000 unaccompanied children into the UK, was rejected. The new amendment calls for an unspecified number to be admitted, and more Tories had threatened rebellion, endangering the government’s majority.

Lord Dubs welcomed the u-turn, saying the move would ‘help ease the plight of some of the unaccompanied child refugees in Europe’ and called on Cameron to ‘be true to his word and move swiftly to ensure the Home Office works closely with local authorities to find foster families to give these young people a stable and secure home.’

Cameron’s comments were vague and details are still somewhat thin. While more children will be admitted on humanitarian protection residence permits, an exact number has not been provided. Additionally, only children who registered in Greece Italy or France before before 20 March, when the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, will benefit from the new plans.

Survivors of the Kindertransport — the organised rescue of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe — have been among the strongest advocates of admitting more refugee children, including Lord Dubs himself, who was rescued from Czechoslovakia at the age of six.

Eric Reich, chair of the Association of Jewish Refugees Kindertransport group, yesterday wrote in a letter to the prime minister:

 ‘The echoes of the past haunt many of my fellow Kinder and I, whose fate similarly rested with members of the British parliament and I feel it is incumbent on us to once again demonstrate our compassion and human kindness to provide sanctuary to those in need’.

The government has defended its record on child refugees, claiming that it is doing its part to welcome child refugees from Syria’s surrounding regions. However, it has been criticised for failing to welcome comparable numbers to other European countries.

child refugees

                                                                           Source: Eurostat via BBC

Despite being forced into a climbdown, Cameron stands by his government’s approach, insisting that the Conservatives do not want to encourage more people to attempt dangerous journeys to Europe.

He also rejects comparisons with the Kindertransport, arguing that European countries are safe. However, with over 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children missing in Europe and vulnerable to violence and trafficking, that claim looks increasingly tenuous.

Last week Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s refugee taskforce, was applauded for her question to the PM on the issue:

“There are children’s homes full in Italy and Greece and over a thousand children will sleep rough in Greece alone tonight. How are they safe? 10,000 children have disappeared in Europe. How are they safe?”

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