child refugees

UK Government Reject Amendment That Would Reunite Refugee Children with Families

Yesterday, the House of Commons voted against enshrining Family Reunification legislation in the Brexit Withdrawal Bill in a move that critics are calling a fatal blow to vulnerable and lone asylum-seeking children.

family reunification
In a bitter blow to extremely young and vulnerable children, the Government has turned its back on Family Reunification protections which would grant such children the right to join UK family members. [AFP/BBC]

Despite honourable campaigning by groups pleading with the Government to show mercy and grant vulnerable children the right to be reunited with existing family members in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s majority shot down these hopes by voting against the initiative.

The decision has been branded “inhumane” as the protection would have safeguarded extremely vulnerable children overseas who face war, severe poverty in violent makeshift refugee camps, sexual and physical violence and abhorrent human rights abuses across the pond and beyond. The clause would have allowed such children to be safely accommodated with existing family members in the UK.

“It is a betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands.”

Lord Alf Dubs

Many oppositions MPs have criticised the defeat including Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer, who calls on the general public to speak out in protest of the “disgraceful” outcome of the vote.

Starmer added: “We [Labour] may not win many votes in parliament now, but we can win the moral argument.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, addressed the result on twitter, critiquing the Government for the shameful vote. Khan asked: “Is this the kind of Britain we want to be post-Brexit? A country which denies refugees sanctuary and pushes vulnerable children into the hands of people smugglers?”

A silver lining is that Johnson may be defeated once the amendment arrives in the House of Lords for a final say. Opposition and Conservative peers are likely to support the “Dubs amendment” which was previously accepted by Theresa May’s Government.

Alf Dubs, not only a former child refugee who fled Nazi persecution in WWII but a Labour peer who has proved instrumental in securing rights of child refugees in the UK from 2016 onwards, has expressed his dismay at the result.

Lord Alf Dubs fled his home country from Nazi persecution at age six on the UK’s Kindertransport system. [BBC/GETTY IMAGES].

Reflecting on the vote, Dubs said: “It is a betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands.”

MPs voted 348 to 252 against keeping the amendment in the Bill, expected to be implemented upon Britain’s exit of the European Union.

The vote is clear: to this Conservative majority Government, reuniting these traumatised, isolated children fleeing war and persecution with their beloved family members is not a priority.

The Government’s Brexit Minister Robin Walker has stated the Government is “fully committed” to the reunification of families and supporting at-risk children yet Walker’s words read as empty, almost illogical, considering the way the Government voted on the matter.

The vote is clear: to this Conservative majority Government, reuniting these traumatised, isolated children fleeing war and persecution with their beloved family members is not a priority. Theorising on why could suggest any number of factors, but whatever the Government’s justification for voting to strip these children of their rights in such a brutal manner, it will have repercussions.

child refugees
Refugee children trapped in the crisis of war receive UNICEF aid. [UNICEF].

Denying people their safety, their families, in such a cruel way can lead to isolation, poor health, exacerbate poverty and homelessness and make such individuals vulnerable to exploitation. Such treatment only serves to breed anger towards the country that inflicted such hardship and heartlessness upon them.

The UK is so dogmatically focused on Brexit regardless of the way it will blitz people’s lives that human compassion falls to the wayside.

In a revealing statement, Maria Caulfield MP of the Conservatives continued to insist that rights of migrants and refugees will be “secured in the Immigration Bill”, arguing that the rejection of the commitment in the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to reunite asylum-seeking children with their families in the UK post-Brexit was because the Bill is “solely about Brexit.”

Caulfield’s words sum up the crisis perfectly: the UK is so dogmatically focused on Brexit regardless of the way it will blitz people’s lives that human compassion falls to the wayside.

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