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Breaking policy, breaking children (part one)

24 Feb , 2017  

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The government has backed out of the “Dubs” amendment, a policy which promised to take in 3000 out of the 95000 unaccompanied migrant children. Instead we will accept a maximum of 350.

It is now essential that the public take responsibility into their own hands to speak up on behalf of these children whose voices are being smothered, whose lives are being threatened and whose human rights are being violated by a government accountable to and representing – us.

This disgusting and shameful move on the part of the British government is indicative of the landslide ideological victory of the extreme right, nationalism, xenophobia and a self-deluded resistance to globalisation. Following Trump’s Muslim ban, it is shocking to see the UK government rapidly mimicking such sentiments with political action.

Currently 200 children (under 15s) have been accepted under the Dubs amendment, and in a sly low-key announcement on Wednesday 8th February it was revealed that the scheme is set to close once another 150 children have been brought to Britain, leaving the total amount of children allowed refuge here at just ten per cent of what was originally promised.

This is a deeply worrying decision, not only because of the wider political attitude it speaks of, but because of the real life impact it will have on thousands of destitute children around Europe. Those who are unthinkably traumatised, hugely vulnerable to abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking, disease, suicide, homelessness and to whom we promised refuge, are now to be left abandoned to fend for themselves.

Around 95,000 unaccompanied migrant children in Europe are in dire need of help. Over 10,000 are missing. Of the migrants arriving in Europe by sea in 2015, 31% were children, and children make up about 30% of asylum seekers in the EU. Last year almost 150 children are known to have drowned whilst seeking refuge crossing the Mediterranean sea.

The number of unaccompanied child refugees to be accepted into the UK will now be determined by individual local authorities. With neither example nor policy being set by central government and with limited funding available (especially after recent cuts) it is likely that very few councils will step up to welcome these children. If each constituency offers refuge to just five unaccompanied minors then 3,000 children will be brought to Britain. If each constituency takes 30, then 19,500 children would be welcomes, making an enormously significant impact in the near 100,000 seeking help.

Despite the UK’s ability and responsibility to contribute towards this situation’s resolution, the the country’s political climate is clearly encouraging a retractive distancing from the issue, and there is little sign of a strong or united grassroots movement on its behalf to pressure MPs and Whitehall into action.

It seems increasingly, however, that grassroots campaigning is one of the few and most effective choices being left to UK citizens who disagree with their country’s shutting of eyes and doors to one of the most disastrous humanitarian crises of our time. Indeed, public pressure on MPs who in turn put pressure on parliament was the principle factor which caused the Dubs amendment to be passed in May 2016. Similar pressure can be applied to similar success in the wake of this callous and frightening act.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwell saw his announcement as a “proud” moment for the nation:

The UK can be proud of its record helping refugee children and I can today announce, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act, that the government will transfer the specified number of 350 children pursuant to that section, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision.

Human Rights Watch identified the Dubs criteria for acceptance as “restrictive” and deemed its execution as inconsistent with its purpose:

the process for children to seek transfer to the UK has been non-transparent and arbitrary, and […] children’s mental health has suffered. Children said they did not have information about how and when they would learn the outcome in their cases, the selection criteria, what resource, if any, they have if they are not accepted, and how they could follow up with the UK Home Office […] The UK Home Office should broaden their criteria for application of the Dub’s amendment to ensure that older children are not precluded from consideration.

On the 24th Febuary the government met with a Select Committee of humanitarians to consult on the Dub’s amendment. Representatives from Unicef, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Project Lead argued in unison for the reinstatement and improvement of the Dub’s scheme. They argued the scheme must be kept open, clarified, made more flexible and given an appeals process. They insisted that more Home Office staff must be deployed to aid children with their applications, as in many European countries only one person was charged with the managing of the process, and many applications were rejected over things such as spelling mistakes.

In Italy those who received help had an 89% success rate, compared with the 9% success rate of those who didn’t. A case was highlighted in which an eleven month old breast feeding baby trying to reunite with its mother in England was initially turned away by the Dub’s scheme.

Children who wait for months on end or whose applications are turned down with minimal explanation (of often just four words) are giving up on following a safe and legal process. They are increasingly taking their situation into their own hands, leading to more involvement with smugglers and human traffickers. Whether the government follows the vehemently clear and urgent advice from this board of humanitarian experts is yet to be seen.

The May 2016 consensus of 3000 children – a number identified by the International Development Committee – as being the UK’s fair share in the Europe-wide effort towards humanitarian relief for unaccompanied children, was already meagre and unambitious considering the scale of need, the UK’s position as the sixth richest country in the world and the enormous wealth which is held by banks and financial institutions which the taxpayer bailed out with tens of billions of pounds.

The backtracking on the Dubs’ amendment was justified by saying that the local authorities responsible for the children’s care have limited capacity. However, after a Conservative MP pointed out that the new cap represents fewer than two children per local authority, Home Secretary Amber Rudd offered an alternative reason, claiming that the provision is encouraging human trafficking. Regardless, Rudd’s remarks in the House of Commons suggest that the real reason for this decision is to reduce refugee numbers: “We do not want to incentivise journeys to Europe,” she said. This echoes the government’s statement that it wants to avoid creating a “pull factor” that might encourage more parents to send their children across Europe.

Yet Vincent de Coninck, who manages an emergency day centre on the edge of Calais, said it was ridiculous to think that any of these minors or their parents had any knowledge of UK asylum law: “They don’t know anything about the system. I try to tell them they will be better off staying in France, but the smugglers give them false information. The only way to fight against this mafia is to offer a legal way to get to the UK, and yet the British government has just done the exact opposite,” he said. “I can’t decide who I feel more angry with – the French or the British.”

The second article of this two part piece on the UK government’s decision to pull out of the “Dubs” amendment will be published tomorrow (25/02/17).


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