Government shuts door on child refugees

Amid the coronavirus chaos, the UK government continues to wage its racist war on migrants. Yet more children will die, or fall prey to exploitation, following the scrapping of the ‘Dubs Scheme’, writes Mitch Mitchell.

Photo: Steve Eason

As the coronavirus pandemic continued to dominate public attention, Boris Johnson’s government has quietly confirmed the end of the ‘Dubs Scheme’, under which small numbers of unaccompanied refugee children have been able to come to Britain over the last few years.

In 2015, Lord Alf Dubs began campaigning to set up a scheme to help the unaccompanied minors in the squalor of refugee camps across Europe and to allow them into Britain. The idea was inspired by the Kindertransport, which brought Jewish refugee children, including Dubs himself, out of Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe and resettled them in Britain from 1938 to 1939.

Dubs’s campaign hit several buffers: then-Prime Minister David Cameron opposed the scheme and the Conservative Party voted it down in Parliament. However, the House of Lords continued to push the issue, under pressure from groups like Help Refugees and Safe Passage, and in the aftermath of the sensational outcry over the death of Syrian child refugee Aylan Kurdi, the House of Commons eventually accepted the amendment, which entered law as Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.

The original plan envisaged that some 3,000 children would be brought to the UK, and local authorities and other agencies offered placements. To qualify, a refugee had to be under 18 years of age. Right-wing tabloids worked to slander many of those admitted by suggesting that they were over 18, and fraudulently impersonating children.

The implementation of the scheme was undermined from the get-go by Conservative policy-makers. In October 2016 – around the time that French authorities razed the refugee camp in Calais – Safe Passage, Help Refugees and others, including Lord Dubs, successfully brought a legal case against the government because of its determined inaction. The Tories threw up a variety of excuses, claiming there was ‘no room’ to accommodate refugees although many local authorities had made it clear that they did have the space and resources.

Even after appealing the court’s judgement, and losing the appeal, the Tories continued to obstruct. Eventually, the only children let in under the scheme were those who have close relatives and family already in Britain. A total of 480 children have been allowed to enter Britain under the scheme, meaning that the number has now met an arbitrary cap on admissions set by Theresa May’s government in 2017 – less than a sixth of the already modest number originally laid out in the legislation.

With legal routes into Britain choked off, and even more draconian immigration restrictions set to become law under Home Secretary Priti Patel’s forthcoming reforms, desperate people will likely turn more and more to parasitic people-smugglers. The number of people trying to reach Britain by sea from France, often in extremely dangerous and unsuitable craft, reportedly increased almost four-fold in 2019. Devoid of other options, people pay between £5,000 and £10,000 per person to run the risk of dying on the crossing, or else pay similar amounts to British lorry drivers who take similar risks with safety, with one heart-breaking example being the death of 39 people in the back of a lorry in October 2019.

There are an estimated 3,000 children unaccompanied at camps across Europe. That figure is a rough estimate: in unofficial reality, there are many more. Without action, they will be preyed on by people-smugglers or traffickers, pushed into child labour or sexual exploitation.

The sorry story of the Dubs Amendment shows how far the Conservative Party will go to wage its racist war on refugees. Against this brutality, we must continue to show practical and political solidarity with all those suffering the consequences.


Author’s note: Refugee Lifeboat is an organisation working to bring solidarity with the refugees who are caught up in this horror. We are pleased to accept cash donations, which help to purchase much-needed goods such as tents and sleeping bags, and we work with organisations who are based in Calais such as Collective Aid.

Obviously, at present, we are unable to travel to France, but as soon as restrictions are lifted, we will recommence our visits, which we usually make between once and twice per month. If you are in a position to be able to donate, please contact Refugee Lifeboat for details of how to do so. The link to our facebook page can be found here.


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