Thursday 14 July 2016

Alf Dubs: Let the refugee children in for the new term

Children on a refugee protest in Calais (Photo: Geoff Dexter)

Children on a refugee protest in Calais (Photo: Geoff Dexter)

Labour peer Alf Dubs, who came to Britain as a child refugee from Czechoslovakia on the pre-war Kindertransport, told the Refugees Welcome—Racism out of the Referendum rally how he amended the immigration bill to help child refugees

From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies

I put down an amendment to the government’s Immigration Bill saying we should take 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe.

Alf Dubs speaking at the Racism Out of the Referendum rally

Alf Dubs speaking at the Racism Out of the Referendum rally

The government were not keen on this. They said, “We’ll take some more from the Middle East, but we’re not taking anyone who is already in Europe”.

Save the Children produced a report that said there were 26,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. That turned out to be an underestimate—actually there are 95,000.

And 10,000 of them have disappeared. Isn’t that shocking, that 10,000 children could disappear in Europe?

We felt their need was enormous. But the government said if you take children who have reached Europe that will just encourage more to come.

I said there is no evidence of that, and anyway, given the dire circumstances in which some of these people find themselves, the possibility that a few more might arrive is neither here nor there. We must do something for them now. If we’d gone with what the government wanted then nothing would have been done at all..

Now what amazed me and helped to get this thing through—apart from the effort from NGOs—was public support. Normally when you open your mouth about refugees you expect a lot of abuse. This time I hardly got any at all.

Then came the day when the anti-refugee Daily Mail came out in support of the child refugees. I was so astonished that I bought a copy for the first time in my life. I wanted a souvenir.

Anyway the amendment got through the Lords. So it got to the Commons and the government were desperate to stop it. Some Conservative MPs who had said they would back it now dithered a bit.

I sat in the gallery looking at the Tory benches and give them the eye. But there was a small majority against. It got a bit complicated because the original amendment said we should take 3,000. Now I don’t want to bore you with the British Constitution but there is something called “Financial Privilege”. God, it’s awful. It means if the government sends something back to the Lords the clerks can stop it because it will have cost implications. So we removed the specific figure which meant they couldn’t put a cost to it.

We took more soundings and even some of those Tories who had dithered said they were coming round. So the government backed off. I had the pleasure of seeing the government order paper with Home Secretary Theresa May’s name on the amendment which chuffed me a bit.

I went to Calais with an NGO.. It is shocking that people have to live in such conditions, but it is exhilarating because it shows the triumph of the human spirit.

I met nine Afghan kids who all had full documentation. Some didn’t know if their parents were alive. They were basically on their own. I took their documentation with me and when I got back I sent a copy to the Home Office. I said if the amendments mean anything it must be that these people are on your list.

I’ve since found out that four of them had got to Britain anyway on the back of a truck. Now that’s a dangerous thing and in the past children have been killed, so I would have preferred them to travel properly.

What else can we do? If there is a local group helping refugees, join it. Secondly bring pressure to bear on local authorities to give help finding foster parents.

What we’re seeking to do is get as many of the kids as possible over for the new school year in September. This is about helping refugees like these and stopping the word refugee being stigmatised. It’s a matter of fundamental human rights.

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