Child refugees need protecting from Johnson’s nasty government

I arrived in the UK in 1971 as an adopted child, escaping a life of poverty in Pakistan. I will always be grateful for the welcome Britain gave me. This country gave me a home, an education and a job and now it has given me the opportunity to serve as a Member of Parliament. I have never forgotten my origins, and I will always have a special affinity and concern for child migrants. 

In camps across Europe, there are vulnerable refugee children fleeing war, persecution and poverty. My story may not be the same as theirs but all children, no matter their circumstances, deserve our compassion. That might seem self-evident, but when the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill was published late Thursday evening I was horrified to see that the hard-won protections given to unaccompanied child refugees had been torn up.

The children affected by this change will become the first victims of this nasty government and Boris Johnson’s dogged determination to leave the European Union as quickly as possible no matter the consequences.

Currently, the UK is part of the EU’s Dublin system, which allows for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe to be reunited with family members in the UK. Crucially, this provides a safe and legal route to the UK for vulnerable children. It prevents thousands being trafficked or making dangerous journeys across borders. The Dublin system, and the legal family reunion it facilitates, protects children who would otherwise risk their lives to reach safety on dinghies or in the back of refrigerated lorries.

Back in 2018, when parliament was debating Theresa May’s Brexit bill, my friend and Labour colleague Lord Dubs tabled an amendment to force the government to continue offering unaccompanied refugee children sanctuary in the UK after Brexit. Alf, who has spent his life campaigning tirelessly for the right to sanctuary for refugee children, said this amendment was necessary to ensure the fate of children seeking refuge from conflict was not determined by the “cold indifference” of Theresa May’s government.

Sadly, the cold and indifferent nature of Boris Johnson’s government is clear. The government has abandoned the Dubs amendment, and we are now facing a situation where children will be forced to undertake dangerous and potentially life-threatening journeys in order to reach sanctuary in the UK. Whilst they may have a mandate to ‘get Brexit done’, they do not have a mandate to abandon our values of compassion, internationalism, and our historic commitment to uphold human rights. 

Just one week into this new government’s tenure, and the Tories are already showing their true colours. This is not the ‘people’s government’, as they claim, but a government intent on punishing the most vulnerable children in Europe. If they are capable of this in just one week, what more harm will wreak over the next five years? Theresa May once warned that the Conservatives were often thought of the ‘nasty party’ – unfortunately, it has formed the nasty government.

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