PROTESTERS gathered in Whitehall on Friday night, 10th February and the next day Lord Alf Dubs – accompanied by a group of children and other campaigners – presented a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May after she stunned the country by reneging on Britain’s promise made last May to take in 3,000 child refugees from the informal Calais camp.
There are estimated to be around 14 million refugees from the various wars in Africa and the Middle East – mostly the result of interventions, invasions and bombings by Britain, the United States and France.
Most of these desperate people are stuck in refugee camps in the countries close to their homes. But hundreds of thousands have been arriving in Europe seeking safety, peace and stability for themselves and their children.
And most European countries have accommodated thousands of them – none more than Greece and Italy, where the refugees first arrived in Europe.
But the British government has refused to take more than a relatively tiny handful – just 3,000 of the unaccompanied children. And even that pledge had to be wrung out of the Government by an amendment formulated by Lord Dubs to a parliamentary Bill on immigration. Dubs is a veteran campaigner who first came to Britain in the 1930s as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis.
Last week Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that the agreement to take even this small number of child refugees would “encourage migration” – as though people fleeing wars were making an optional lifestyle choice – and that local authorities did not have the resources to accommodate them.
Hundreds of religious leaders and celebrities have joined the swelling protest at May’s cruel betrayal of very vulnerable children.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warned that halting the initiative would see more children being trafficked, exploited and killed. He said he was "saddened and shocked" at the decision and has insisted it is "deeply unjust" to leave the burden of caring for them on Italy and Greece, where thousands of refugees and migrants arrive from the conflict-ridden Middle East and north Africa.
He said he understood Rudd's argument that British and French authorities feared the scheme was acting as a "pull factor" for children to head to the Britain, and that it provides opportunities for people-traffickers. But speaking to BBC Radio 4's World At One, he said: "Parents do not casually wake up one day and say, well the easiest thing to do is to send our children off by themselves. This is the symptom of a situation more extreme than anything that any of us can ever imagine.”
About 50,000 people signed the petition that Alf Dubs presented to Number 10 Downing Street on Saturday.
When addressing the crowd of campaigners who had gathered outside Downing Street, he repeated the words of Nicholas Winton, who organised the evacuation of hundreds of Jewish children including Dubs from Prague in 1939, saying: “If it’s not impossible, there must be a way.”
Dubs said. “It doesn’t need a whole new consultation. We are going to keep the pressure up about this. I believe that the Government decision to limit the number of children allowed in to 350 flies in the face of both parliamentary opinion and public opinion.
“I was shocked and in disbelief, I couldn’t believe the Government could back off in quite that way. We want the Government to change their minds. The Government have said they don’t want to take more than 350 in total under the amendment.
“I think that’s a very shabby cop-out. I believe that there are thousands of unaccompanied child refugees suffering greatly in Greece, Italy and some in France.
“The Government has said no more and I think that is an abdication of their responsibilities, it goes against public opinion and it goes against parliamentary opinion.”
A number of Tory MPs have also promised to fight the decision to close the Dubs scheme. On Saturday, a Conservative peer who was granted asylum in Britain after fleeing the Bosnian war urged the Prime Minister to live up to Britain’s history as a haven for refugees.
A High Court challenge to the decision to close the Dubs scheme has been pencilled in for 2–4 May. The challenge, which is being brought by the charity Help Refugees, claims that the consultation process with local authorities that led to the cap on the scheme was “fundamentally flawed”.