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UK - How can this government turn its back on thousands of child refugees ?

Publié le 14-02-2017

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Auteur  : Julian Huppert

« A key test for any society must surely be how it looks after those most in need. Surely no one decent can fail to be moved by that heart wrenching photo of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy washed up, dead, on a Turkish beach. How then, can this government turn its back on thousands of child refugees, breaking its own promises as well as any moral decency ?

I’ve been concerned about refugee issues for decades – it’s one of the reasons I went into politics in the first place. As the MP for Cambridge, I served as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. It was a hard task, and many of the stories I heard were shocking.

People frequently waiting up to 16 years for a decision to be made on whether they could stay, leaving them stranded in limbo. Women who had been raped by uniformed officials in their home country, treated awfully when they got here, somewhere they should have been safe, because they hadn’t told the full personal details to the first uniformed official they saw. One man who had been tortured and condemned to death for converting to Christianity, who had his application rejected because there was not enough proof he was at risk if he went back ; apparently the fact that he had a copy of the death sentence wasn’t enough.

We made some progress on the system in those years – I was delighted that we were able to end the routine detention of children for immigration purposes, something that shamed this country. But conditions were far from decent, far from fair, and expensive to boot.

The conflict in Syria has generated millions of refugees and displaced people. Most of them are in the neighbouring countries to Syria – hardly any make it out to Europe. Those that do suffer immensely to get here. The death rate is unimaginably high. No one would set out on a trip like that lightly or voluntarily – they do so because there is little alternative.

The best solution, of course, is to prevent the things that turn people into refugees. The wars, droughts, persecution, and famines that strike parts of the world. Refugees would much rather live in their own homes, in their own countries, free from the risk of danger and death. But where we have not been able to do that, we must surely do our part in helping the victims.

I worked when I was an MP to establish a Syrian Resettlement Program, to help refugees from Syria. I was delighted when my friend and colleague, the Labour Peer Alf Dubs, with whom I worked on many occasions, secured his famous ‘Dubs Amendment’, ensuring that this country would take child refugees who needed our help. It was suggested that 3,000 children would be taken into this country – a tiny fraction of those at risk, but a huge benefit for those individuals.

So I was devastated when I saw that our Prime Minister is now ending the scheme early, after taking only a few hundred children, abandoning thousands more to their fate. She has been rightly condemned by all parties for this heartless and uncharitable act. My own Lib Dem colleagues have attacked her, as have Labour, Green, SNP, and even some principled Conservatives. Religious and moral leaders from all backgrounds, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the head of the British Humanist Association, have united to beg her to change her mind.

This should not be a party political issue. It’s a simple moral question, to help those in a desperate plight. If history were different, it could be us or our families in need. We have an obligation to help.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15 »

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