UK government called 'inhumane, selfish' for removing protections for child refugees

UK government called 'inhumane, selfish' for removing protections for child refugees
In one of Boris Johnson's first Brexit amendments, the British government voted down protections for unaccompanied child refugees as a post-EU Britain looms closer.
4 min read
09 January, 2020
Tories voted against the amendment [Getty]
British MPs are being criticised after they voted against proposals that would see child refugees could be reunited with their families after the UK leave the European Union, bringing to harsh light tensions ahead of Brexit.

The Commons rejected proposals to keep protections for child refugees in the redrafted EU withdrawal agreement bill.

Alf Dubs, the Labour peer who originally campaigned for the protection back in 2016, called it a "betrayal of Britain's humanitarian tradition".

"It is very disappointing that the first real act of the new Boris Johnson government is to kick these children in the teeth," he said.

"It is a betrayal of Britain's humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands."

MPs voted 348 to 252 against the amendment, which had previously been accepted by Theresa May’s government.

It guaranteed the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their families living in the UK after Brexit.

People online decried the vote, calling the decision "inhumane".

One Twitter user wrote: "Christ what a spiteful selfish little country we’ve become."

"Makes me feel ashamed to be British," another user added.

"Where is the care and compassion? Tories vote down plans to help unaccompanied child refugees. So very sad and heartless. The new, cruel Conservative Government. A bad day when the UK turns its back on child refugees. What has gone wrong?"

Labour leadership hopeful Sir Keir Starmer and Lord Dubs had written to Tory MPs calling on them to vote against the prime minister's "disgraceful" change.

"Johnson's decision to tear up the commitment to family reunion for unaccompanied refugee children after Brexit is a disgrace," Starmer wrote on Twitter.

"Tory MPs should take a moral stance and force the Government to rethink its approach on this vital issue."

In the Commons chamber, SNP home affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry urged the Government to accept the proposals.

"Right now, across Europe, there are thousands of unaccompanied children living in the most desperate circumstances, many of whom are separated from their families," she addressed MPs.

"And legal family reunion is a lifeline to these children who would otherwise risk their lives in dinghies or in the back of lorries in order to reach a place of safety with their family.

"For the government to seek to remove those protections now risks causing panic amongst refugee families currently separated in Europe with potentially tragic consequences," she added.

Brexit minister Robin Walker has said the Government is committed to supporting child refugees.  

"This Government is fully committed both to the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children. Our policy has not changed," Walker told MPs.

"We will also continue to reunite children with their families under the Dublin Regulation during the implementation period." 

Refugee crisis

The government's decision comes at a time where millions of refugee children are suffering across the world.

In Syria's Yarmouk camp, dozens of Palestinian children between the ages of 10 and 16 were arrested following accusations that they had torn down a picture of dictator Bashar al-Assad, as the community fears torture in detention.

Hundreds of Uighur children are both refugees and orphaned in Turkey after their parents travelled to China to visit family, never to be heard from again as Beijing forces over one million Muslims into internment camps.

Amnesty launched a campaign urging the home secretary to reunite refugee families, and call on the British government to allow child refugees in the UK the right to sponsor their close family. This is essential so that they can "rebuild their lives together and help them integrate in their new community".

"Expand who qualifies as family, so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can join their family in the UK," the group said.

"Reintroduce legal aid for refugee family reunion cases so people who have lost everything have the support they need to afford and navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families."


As Johnson continues to push through Brexit, fractures within the UK are becoming clearer.

In Scotland, the Holyrood parliament voted to reject the UK government's EU withdrawal bill, and the Scottish government urged MPs to withhold consent over legislation they described as "uniquely offensive to Scottish democracy".

The Scottish government's Brexit secretary, Michael Russell, told MSPs on Wednesday afternoon: "England and Wales voted to leave and are leaving. Northern Ireland will have its own arrangements for a closer alignment and the right to decide their own future.

"Scotland alone of the four nations voted to remain but is being forced to leave with no special arrangements or say over its future relationship with the European Union.”

Both Scotland and Wales voted against giving legislative consent to the withdrawal agreement, though it is seen as a symbolic, rather than practical move. 

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