Croydon Tory MP Chris Philp chose the eve of the annual Holocaust Memorial to announce that the government is slamming the nation’s doors shut in the face of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The Dubs Amendment was passed in May 2016 in the wake of an increase in refugees arriving in Europe from the war in Syria. Named after former Tooting MP Alf Dubs – himself a beneficiary of asylum in Britain after fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s on a Kindertransport train – the Labour peer’s amendment required government ministers to relocate and support asylum-seeking children from the continent.
But Philp, the immigration minister, said that although the Home Office took the “responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously”, there would no longer be a legal route to Britain for these minors.
The only children still able to seek help will be those who already have relatives in Britain. Philp said they would be able to come to Britain through the existing immigration rules.
“We’re fixing the asylum system to make it firm and fair, providing compassion to those who are fleeing oppression or tyranny,” Philp claimed.
“That’s why we’re honouring our commitment to those refugees who’ve been invited to the UK, and why we will roll out a new global resettlement scheme which will welcome people through safe and legal routes.”
Under the rules as set down now by Philp and his boss, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Jewish children fleeing the Holocaust 80 years ago would have been refused refuge in this country.
Lord Dubs described the decision by Philp as “bitterly disappointing, but I’m afraid not totally surprising”.
Dubs told The Independent, “They kept the door slightly open by saying they couldn’t find any more local authority places. Now to hear them saying it’s shut altogether.
“I am surprised at the bluntness with which they’ve said it. It’s all part of a chain of events that’s making things harder for refugees.
“The ones who have got to Calais will get in touch with traffickers and try and get to the UK in the most dangerous way possible, risking their lives. Whether we’re in the EU not, we should play our part in sharing responsibility for these kids.”
Philp’s move comes despite more than 70 MPs, including seven Conservatives, calling on the government to provide “life-saving” sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.
In answer to a parliamentary question, Philp said, “Responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees in EU member states lies with the authorities of the safe EU country in which they are present in accordance with their international obligations.”
The Croydon South MP said it is “important that we focus on ensuring that we can care for those who are already here before we agree to taking more children”. He claimed that resettling refugees from safe European countries created a “pull factor” for refugees to travel to Europe.
“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.”
Campaigners and human rights groups contradict Philp, saying that the decision means hundreds of vulnerable children will instead be forced to use smuggling gangs to help them travel to Britain, placing them at greater risk of trafficking.
The Dubs scheme was initially supposed to offer settlement to 3,000 child refugees. The Tory government later capped this at 480 places. In May 2020, it emerged that this quota had been filled.
Croydon is often at the forefront of dealing with UASCs – unaccompanied asylum-seeking children – many of whom have their entry to Britain processed at the Home Office’s Lunar House office on Wellesley Road. The local council has been unable to persuade the government to meet the full cost of care and resettling for many UASCs, a factor cited by auditors examining the authority’s finance crisis.
The charity Safe Passage says that another 25 local authorities have offered to take some of the burden of child refugees arriving from Europe, offering more than 1,400 places provided Philp and the government provides support and a safe and legal route.
The Home Office is at present refusing to confirm when it will start a new humanitarian resettlement programme, which transfers refugees directly from conflict zones to Britain. A new programme was supposed to begin in May 2020.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage International, said: “Children alone in Europe are sleeping rough in the snow, in derelict buildings and tents in overcrowded camps. Leaving the EU doesn’t mean we must turn our back on these children.
“We urge the government to continue to provide sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, demonstrating solidarity with our closest neighbours, and providing global leadership rather than retreating from our international commitments.”
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