Families are split across Europe. The UK should be doing much more to help unaccompanied child refugees.
With the end of the Dublin Regulation in the UK and the closure of the Dubs scheme, I am deeply concerned about the lack of new proposals to provide safe and legal routes for unaccompanied child refugees.
The Government is legislating for significant changes to the UK’s asylum system through the Nationality and Borders Bill. I have opposed this Bill at every opportunity as I do not believe it deals with the fundamental issues in our asylum system. It proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer and it undermines international humanitarian conventions at a time when cooperation is needed more than ever.
We know that a lack of safe routes leads to more people, including many children, risking their lives by making dangerous journeys. Despite the Government noting the importance of safe and legal routes, the Dubs scheme was shamefully closed after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected.
The Labour opposition proposed several amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill during its consideration in the House of Commons on 7-8 December 2021, including amendments to reintroduce a safe route for unaccompanied children, expand family reunion for unaccompanied children, and mandate the negotiation of a new asylum agreement with the EU including safe, legal routes and safe returns. Sadly, the Government made its opposition to all these amendments clear, and they were not added to the Bill.
However, Lords Dubs subsequently tabled an amendment to the Bill to require the Government to allow unaccompanied children in European countries to come to the UK to join family members here. I am pleased that this amendment passed the House of Lords with Opposition support. I voted to keep this amendment when the Bill returned to the House of Commons on 22 March. Disappointingly, the Government again rejected it. However, on 4 April, the House of Lords voted for a reworded amendment, meaning MPs will have another opportunity to vote on it.
Families are split across Europe, and children who seek safety with family members are at very high risk of taking dangerous journeys across the Channel and elsewhere to be reunited with their loved ones. The Government should no longer turn its back on unaccompanied child refugees and young people in need of protection.
I will continue to press for more action to ensure vulnerable children are protected from exploitation and suffering.