The government U-turn on the Dubs immigration amendment is wrongby Caroline Lucas / February 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
It wasn’t so long ago that the plight of child refugees was splashed across the front pages of every major newspaper in Britain. The experience of refugees coming to Europe, and then travelling from south to north and east to west, couldn’t be ignored. When the tiny body of Alan Kurdi was washed up on a Greek beach even the Sun called on the government to step up and deal with Europe’s “biggest crisis since World War Two.”
The government did respond—though not as quickly or strongly as many of us would have wanted. First it said it would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years– and redouble efforts in the Middle East to help those in need. A few months later, Alfred Dubs’s amendment to the Immigration Act was passed into law—aiming specifically to help lone child refugees who had made it to Europe. The universal expectation at the time—voiced by charities and politicians alike—was that Britain would take 3,000 of these extremely vulnerable children.
To date, almost a year after the Dubs Amendment was passed, there have been just 200 beneficiaries of the scheme—and the government has just announced that it is scrapping it with only 150 more children set to arrive.
A number of excuses have been rolled out by ministers as to why they’re ditching their commitment to those most in need. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said that the government should avoid “incentivising” migration just after the prime minister said that Europe should be mindful of “pull factors” encouraging people to come to Europe. Such arguments don’t stack up. These children have made their way to Europe because they are fleeing terror, with 30,000 unaccompanied children arriving in Greece and Italy last year. If they weren’t faced with such extreme danger they wouldn’t be in Europe in the first place—and last year 5000 people died in the attempt. As the poet Warsan Shire puts it:
“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”
The truth is that there is no good reason for stopping this scheme. For it to continue, the government would have had to give local authorities more resources to welcome refugee children. There’s no doubt that budgets are stretched—and welcoming people into our communities does have a financial cost, but it’s one that the government can afford if the political will is there.
The stark reality we’re facing is that we have a government led by a prime minister who has built her reputation on keeping foreign people out of Britain. Her interests lie in courting the editors of right-wing tabloids—who very quickly reverted back to bashing migration after their short pro-refugee hiatus. With her increasingly clumsy handling of the Brexit process, and her mismanaging of an economy that continues to fail so many people, it’s little wonder that she’s desperate to distract attention. From sacrificing our economy at the altar of ending free movement, to locking out these child refugees, it’s clear that May wants to be known as a prime minister who build walls, rather than bridges.
When the government tried to sneak out the Dubs U-turn late on the day before parliamentary recess it clearly hoped to avoid too much publicity, but the backlash has been huge. From the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to Gary Lineker, to the many of my constituents who have written to their MPs and signed petitions—the government clearly misjudged the public mood.
Britain is a better country than it must seem right now to the rest of the world. In addition to pulling up the drawbridge to refugee children stranded in Europe, Britain is cosying up to a US president who makes racially charged comments and appears to hold a misogynistic view towards women. Any hope we have of becoming a world leader on human rights in this time of uncertainty is fast fading.
When Theresa May says “if you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere” she doesn’t represent the majority. Of course we all have a sense of place—whether we’re Brightonians, English, British or whatever else—but most of us also recognise that ties of humanity bind us to people in need wherever they live.
The fight for a compassionate refugee policy continues. The children’s commissioners from the four British nations have written to the government arguing against the Dubs U-turn, and thousands of people have signed petitions calling for a reversal. In parliament I will press the prime minister on the issue as soon as possible—and will continue to work with NGOs and others to support those in need. Those of us who believe in a welcoming society must not be silent at this most critical of times.