Lord Alf Dubs
Brexit and Child Refugees
by Kevin Murphy
My first visit with Lord Alf Dubs at the offices of the House of Lords at Westminster was in 2012 to discuss the history and changes in the community with the regeneration of the Battersea Power Station in the borough of Wandsworth. I would later begin to learn more about his early life as a child refugee from Czechoslovakia in World War II and his rise in British politics.
At the age of six years old Alf Dubs' mother put him on a train to escape the wrath of Nazi Germany as did many other parents to save their Jewish children from the death camps. The rescue mission known as Kindertransport with 669 children was to make its way to Holland for safety. In a Time interview Dubs stated:
“I knew something significant was going on but did not know what it was. All I know is 24 hours later, when we crossed into Holland, the older ones cheered because they knew they were out of reach from the Germans.”
Today Lord Dubs of the Labour Party is leading the movement to allow safe passage to the UK of refugee children that currently linger in over populated refugee camps in nations such as Greece in terrible conditions. Dubs had his first amendment to the Immigration Act in April 2016, known as the Dubs scheme, passed that would allow safe passage for 3000 refugees into the UK. To date only about 220 children have been allowed to migrate into country over a period of two years.
Research from the Commons Library in the UK Parliament reports:
'Asylum seekers made up around 5% of immigrants to the UK in 2018. A minority of applications are successful at first decision, some are successful upon appeal, and it can take years for a case to reach its conclusion. Sometimes, as is the case now, the UK also operates resettlement programmes to take refugees directly from abroad.'
Many of the children separated from their families are from Syria with others being from Afghanistan, Iran, Iran and parts of Africa as a result the research states:
'Syrian refugees are a special case within the statistics. Although many have applied for asylum through the UK’s in-country asylum process (919 in 2018), the majority of Syrian refugees in the UK have been resettled directly from abroad: specifically, from the countries surrounding Syria to which they had been displaced by the conflict.'
'From 2014 onwards, the UK began resettling Syrians under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), with the aim of resettling 20,000 by 2020. The current
number resettled in the UK is around 15,000.'
The Dubs Amendment
Until Brexit the EU legislation The Dublin III treaty allowed asylum-seekers to be transferred by one member state to another to join their family. This has allowed since 2015 for 3,079 people to be allowed into the UK to claim asylum in a report by The Guardian.
Named after Lord Dubs this amendment was made to keep the Government committed to allow unaccompanied and those separated from their families in Europe to be brought to the UK to be reunited with their loved ones once the Brexit transition is completed.
The Dublin regulations have been targeted by the UK government and described as being: “rigid, inflexible and abused by migrants and activist lawyers”.
In a vote on 5 October 2020 the amendment passed with 317 in favour votes to 223 against.
Lord Dubs commented:
“Families should be together. The government defeat today demonstrates the strength of feeling that we should not abandon our humanity and compassion by removing the right of children to be reunited with relatives here in the UK."
“I would now urge the government to put their own words into practice, by rethinking its policy and supporting this amendment when it comes before the Commons.”
I contacted Lord Dubs recently to know how many children have been processed for transfer to the UK to date:
'There are two legal paths to safety for a child refugees in Europe. One is my first amendment. and under that about 480 have come in and the government put a stop to it at 480.'
'The second amendment It got through and then he government rescinded it. That is for children in Europe who had come under European Treaty, the Dublin Treaty and they would have the right, any child who would like to join their family. Called the Dubs Treaty and they have the right, any child in the EU will have the right to join the family of another. Under that we have several hundred, I don’t know how many. It’s a bit difficult to say. But in total it’s not many all together. There are two other ways in which kids can get in. One is the scheme for taking families including children from the region from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. And then of course there is the coming across the channel illegally which covers probably more. So there are different ways and I hope the whole point of my two amendments both the family reunion and the other one is to give children a legal route so that they don’t have to go on the back of a lorry or come across on a dingy. Both of which are very dangerous. But we’re talking about…we’re only talking all together about 1000. It’s very small.'
'But there are more there are more children. We were trying to get an Amendment soon which the Government has rescinded. So that the family reunion provisions for the reasons of the Dubs Treaty, the EU Treaty, the government would negotiate to continue the effect of that treaty after we left the EU. That’s to say after last week when the transitional period is over and the government sort of said they were looking at this and they were reviewing it. So the answer to the future is I believe with my questions to the Prime Minister in a few weeks time on what they are doing about this. But there will be further legislation to which I hope we can attach a further amendment so that we can establish particularly the right to family reunion. Because if kids on the Greek Islands camps have family here then it is totally, totally inhumane to say they can’t come here.
The situation in Greece is known to be dismal and hazardous for the refugee children, you have previously been there.
'I was there. I was on them about three years ago. I was on Lesbos where the fire was and it was pretty shocking then. There were camps the size of two and a half thousand with over ten thousand people including many children. And that number went up and then they had the fire. And so it’s a very bad situation there.'
So at this point now with Brexit having been done. What’s the next step?
'Well the next step. I’ve only asked the government the questions. They’ve gave an undertaking to review how the family reunion provisions were working. And they’d have a look at it and then they’d come back to us. So I’ve have got questions of the Minister in about two weeks time asking what they’re doing about it but the key next step is to push the government and secondly there will be further legislation on something to do with British borders. Further legislation to which I hope I can attach an amendment to safeguard the position of children to get them to come here. Living with the pandemic is of course it’s harder to get people over on planes anyway because of all the restrictions at both ends, so it’s become more difficult than it was before and we’ve got to push our way through that. So the answer is push the Government so they see to their commitment that they have some power over these children but they’re limited. And secondly to try and strengthen their position with an Amendment for future legislation.'
Following up on post Brexit:
'Well we’re pushing. The answer is clearly pushing very hard because it’s unacceptable and mind you there are certainly so many other situations in Europe with refugees that are very difficult. In Bosnia there is a difficult situation and so on. There are young people and people on the move generally. But for the children specifically we will be pushing the government very hard, we want to stop the incentive to travel across the channel illegally by giving them a legal passage, a legal way to get here.'