No end in sight for refugee plight

Living on and around our beautiful, serene campus here at the University of York, it is perhaps forgivable to forget that Europe is in the midst of a refugee crisis. In the news, however, countless reports recount the plight of refugees. Whilst their struggles may seem distant, their stories appeal to our common humanity

In 2015 alone, more than 1.1 million people sought refuge in Europe. Consequently, tensions between and within countries are perceived to be consistently rising. Governments can’t agree on how to cope with the influx of migrants and heads of states clash over their own respective contributions to the crisis. There is a notable growth of right-wing, nationalist movements within Europe and, in the UK, migrants dominate a significant portion of the arguments around Brexit.

The UK government has pledged to admit up to 20,000 refugees over the next five years but they have nonetheless opted out of any plans for a quota system within Europe. In 2015, Britain resettled 1,000 refugees under the Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme; a pitiful number contrasted with the 1 million rehomed in Germany. In comparison to other European nations, the British Government may appear to be failing in their moral and ethical commitments.

an amendment to the Immigration Bill proposed rehoming in Britain 3,000 unaccompanied, vulnerable minors from the EU

They have, nevertheless, contributed £65 million to the humanitarian crisis surrounding Syria, making Britain the second largest donor in the world to this cause. The government case is that they are helping refugees as close to the conflict as possible, trying to avoid any increase in numbers fleeing to Europe. This figure shouldn’t be taken uncritically, however, as the Department for International Development source this aid, incurring no extra cost nor commitment from the government and perhaps betraying the superficiality of their assurances.

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. Hungary, Central Europe, 6 September 2015. Image: Wikimedia

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. Hungary, Central Europe, 6 September 2015. Image: Wikimedia

Regardless, the refugee crisis is ongoing, requiring a fluid and adaptive response to help accommodate the vulnerable migrants fleeing conflict and persecution. Reflecting this, Lord Alf Dubs tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill which proposed rehoming in Britain 3,000 unaccompanied, vulnerable minors from the EU. Supporters, including a cross-party coalition in the House of Commons and civil society groups such as ‘Save the Children’, stressed the dangers faced by these child refugees once they reach Europe. Disturbingly, of the 95,000 who applied for asylum in 2015, an estimated 10,000 children have subsequently disappeared. Europol warned that many may have been adopted by criminal gangs.

Lord Alf Dubs benefited from the ‘Kindertransport’ programme which helped children refugees fleeing the Holocaust

Ultimately, however, the Bill was defeated in the House of Commons on 25/04/16 by 294 votes to 276. Five Conservative MPs appeared to defy the Home Office in speaking, and voting, for the amendment. Many more abstained rather than directly challenge their Government. Arguments levelled against the amendment included concerns that it could unintentionally set a dangerous precedent in which parents would be incentivised to send their children on ahead to Europe unaccompanied, increasing their risk of falling foul to traffickers.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, argued Britain already does enough monetarily to contribute to the refugee crisis. Accordingly, they affirmed their previous commitment to rehome 3,000 child refugees from camps around Syria where there was deemed a greater risk and urgency for action. These latter arguments perhaps assuaged the moral concerns of potential Conservative dissenters.

Despite attempts to have the amendment dropped permanently by invoking “financial privilege”, the Bill was reframed, reworded and has been reintroduced into the House of Commons; providing this story a second chance to conclude positively. 3,000 extra children is a modest, achievable target which would result in only five extra children per constituency in the UK. Cheeringly, the government has signalled that it is likely to back the passage of the measure this time. Undoubtedly, Lord Alf Dubs, who benefited from the ‘Kindertransport’ programme which helped children refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Germany in the 1930s, will continue to pursue the cause.

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