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LORD DUBS accused the government of “exploiting the misery” of child refugees for “political purposes” today after the Tories scrapped legal protections for unaccompanied minors.
PM Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Deal, which includes a clause revoking the “Dubs amendment,” passed its second reading by 358 votes to 234 in the Commons.
The Bill paves the way for Britain to leave the EU by January 31, but omits a previous government commitment to negotiate a deal with the EU so child refugees can be reunited with family members in Britain.
The obligation, pushed for by Lord Alf Dubs, Labour MPs and refugee-rights groups, has been replaced by a weakened commitment to make a statement to Parliament.
The government insists that its policy remains unchanged and that the new Clause 37 of the Bill “will enhance rather than undermine our negotiating position” with the EU.
“We are restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and government when it comes to negotiations,” a government spokesperson said.
But Lord Dubs remained unconvinced by the government’s claims.
“I really don't buy the government's claim that this new position is just for the purpose of negotiation,” he said.
“Vulnerable children are not bargaining chips. We should not be exploiting their misery for political purposes, but defending them as our own.”
Lord Dubs, who fled nazi Germany as a child, said it was “appalling and deeply distressing that the government is threatening to scrap the right of refugee children to be reunited with their families here.”
Refugee rights groups also hit back at the apparent U-turn. Help Refugees warned that the change risks hundreds of children “remaining separated from their loved ones.”
“This legal commitment has been stripped from the government’s withdrawal bill — in effect reinstating borders for some of the most vulnerable children in the world,” a spokesperson from Help Refugees told the Morning Star.
Safe Passage also warned of the risks to child refugees if the protections are scrapped and urged the government to “rethink” the change.
Writing on social media they noted: “Legal family reunion is a lifeline to children who would otherwise risk their lives on dinghies and lorries to reach safety.
“To seek to remove these protections risks panic amongst refugee families with potentially tragic consequences.”
There are around 95,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, many of whom are subjected to abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of traffickers, according to Help Refugees.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged people on Twitter to sign a petition demanding the Home Office maintain safe passage for child refugees. By yesterday evening it had received more than 100,000 signatures.
The government’s claims that it remains committed to reuniting child refugees with their families in Britain have met increasing scepticism since the Dubs amendment committing Britain to taking in 3,000 children was passed as part of the 2016 Immigration Act.
Refugee rights groups have had to battle the government to respect the legislation, with Help Refugees challenging the Tories in 2017 over their decision to cap the number of child refugees to a total of 350.
The NGO took the government to court and managed to raise the total to 480, but the government refused to budge on this limit despite local councils saying they could take in more children.
Help Refugees, which supports asylum seekers stuck in camps across Europe, has vowed to continue fighting.
“We will work with allies to fight this change in the commons, in the lords and on the streets,” a spokesperson told the Star.
“We can not enter the next decade by closing our borders and hearts to the needs of refugees.”
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