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The children left behind

The plight of unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy was debated on Thursday in the House of Commons.

The MPs who brought the debate pleaded for more children to be given refuge, after what is known as the ‘Dubs Amendment’ was brought to an end by the government. A decision has been deferred until Wednesday 1st March 2017.

The debate came on the same day that the Office for National Statistics reported a fall in net migration in the UK.

Conservative MP Pauline Latham caused anger, when she said people should “stop being so sentimental” about Syrian refugees. She later told social media: “Fear I have been misconstrued in speech. Claimed we must think logically not sentimentally in order to do best for the children.”

Lisa Matthews, coordinator at human rights organisation Right to Remain said that the UK turning its back on children in need of protection is unacceptable. She said those children would be forced into dangerous journeys to seek safety, and will be at risk of exploitation and abuse.

She said: "At the same time as stating that the UK has a ‘proud history of welcoming refugees’ and celebrating Britain's role in the Kindertransport that saved 10,000 child refugees in the 1930s, Theresa May has now abandoned vulnerable children despite the capacity and public will to do the right thing.”

The night before the debate, campaigners gathered outside 10 Downing Street, London, to lend their voices, with one placard reading: ‘Voices for child refugees.’ They slept on the street to show solidarity with those affected.

The demonstrators were joined by Green Party Co-leader Jon Bartley, who told the New Statesman: “We didn’t have to end the Dubs scheme, and it is nothing short of a scandal that less than 50 miles from the coast of our country there are children sleeping rough on the streets because we are not doing the right thing.”

Although the scheme never put an exact figure on how many children would be given refuge in the UK, it was hoped by many that around 3,000 children would be helped. Only 350 were welcomed in before the scheme was ended.

The government claimed that this was due to a lack of capacity in local authorities, and that the scheme was acting as an incentive for refugee children to travel to Europe.

Help Refugees, an organisation that provides aid, said: “The consultation process was opaque and hugely flawed. Local authorities have not been given the opportunity to continue to offer spaces.”

The Dubs Scheme, an amendment to the Immigration Act, was originally proposed by Alfred Dubs, who was himself was a child refugee from Nazi Germany.

Yesterday’s debate was secured by a cross-party group of MPs: Heidi Allen (Conservative), Alison McGovern (Labour), Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) and Anne McLaughlin (SNP).

In another move that affects children, the rights of families being together has been reduced to the economic impact. In line with government measures, British citizens who want foreign spouses to join them in the UK must have an income of at least £18,600, or £22,400 if they also have a non-British child, regardless of what the spouse earns.

The Supreme Court has decided this week that this is not in breach of human rights legislation. Children may now be faced with separation from their families.

Sonel Mehta from campaign group BritCits said on the Right to Remain website: “It is about blocking the Brit from claiming benefits for daring to fall in love with a foreigner – that not all Brits earning less than £18,600 claim benefits, is too hard to factor in.”

In Europe, children are facing separation from their families, displacement from the now demolished Calais refugee camp, and hostility from a country claiming it is full.

24th February 2017

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