Dave Smith
Child refugees not a priority for Government

By guest blogger Dave Smith, founder of the Boaz Trust and coordinator of NACCOM, the National No Accommodation network

The announcement a few days ago by the Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill that the UK is only going to take 350 child refugees from Europe by the end of the financial year is deeply saddening, but comes as no surprise.  Neither is it surprising that it was quietly announced on the day when news was dominated by the vote on Article 50.

When the Dubs Amendment was passed last year, the clear assumption was that the UK would take a significant number of the tens of thousands of child refugees languishing in camps around Europe. That was the intention of the amendment, and that was what MPs overwhelmingly voted for.

What has happened since is a clear indication that this government simply does not have the will to carry through humanitarian actions of this sort. Although 700 of the 1,600 unaccompanied minors in 'the Jungle' in Calais said they had relatives here in the UK, the government was so slow to process them that none at all had come in the first few weeks, and only 200 have arrived at all. The rest have been dispersed across France or gone missing, presumably now trafficked for sex or work, part of the estimated 1,000 plus children who have disappeared across Europe.

So the commitment is to take just 150 more, as the 200 count towards the total of 350 – a far cry from the expectations of the amendment. The fact that local authorities, already suffering from huge cuts in funding, were unable to offer more than that number of places is simply no excuse. If the government is able to find billions of pounds to renew Trident, fund HS2 and build a new nuclear power plant, why can it not find a few millions to carry out the will of Parliament? The only possible answer is that they do not see refugees, even child refugees, as a priority. They are rather an embarrassment that will hopefully go away if they are ignored long enough.

The refugee crisis will, however, not go away, no matter what we do. As long as there is war, corruption, persecution and exploitation, people are going to migrate, and they will migrate to places they think are safe, like the UK. They will risk death in rickety boats in the Mediterranean or in the wheel arches of lorries, not in order to claim £36.95 a week in UK asylum benefits, but because the hell they are going through to escape is better than the hell they are escaping from. There is simply no evidence in any research of the ‘pull factor’ often quoted by Theresa May, unless it is the pull of the normal life we take for granted.

Having researched Britain’s ‘proud tradition of welcoming refugees’, which is the first line of almost every ministerial statement on refugees, I have come to the conclusion that it was never more than half true. Events like this sadly confirm that today it is nothing more than ancient history.

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Photo by Freedom House.