SUELLA FERNANDES: We have to beat the people smugglers
Britain has a proud record of supporting the most vulnerable children fleeing conflict and danger.
We are one of the few countries in Europe currently meeting the commitment of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid. In Syria, the government has pledged over £2.3bn in aid, the UK’s largest ever humanitarian response for a single crisis.
In 2016, within Europe, we transferred more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK, including more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the clearance of the Calais jungle.
Our response to the crisis has been to resettle people in the direst need of our help, those children, families and individuals from the war-torn regions of the Middle-East and North Africa.
The most vulnerable children are those who are closest to the danger, which is why the government has pledged to accept 3,000 children and their families directly from the region and in the last year, we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 8,000 children.
About half of the 4,400 individuals who have been resettled through the Syrian vulnerable person’s resettlement scheme have been children and over the course of this Parliament we will resettle 20,000 Syrians.
Last week in parliament MPs debated the Dubs amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act, which made it law that the UK should ‘make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe’.
It has been widely misreported that the Dubs Agreement has been closed; it has not.
The government has committed to take in 350 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, but the idea that we should only prioritise child refugees who have made it to Europe is a flawed one.
We need to be smart in our approach to this crisis.
There is a risk that the good intentions of the Dubs amendment could cause camps like the Calais ‘jungle’ to return, with all the horrors and abuses that have been associated with it.
Taking children from places like Calais to Britain would only support the creation of new migrant ‘jungles’ and play into the hands of the people traffickers who exploit the desperation of refugees.
So we need to deter people from making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in rickety boats, but we also need to hold out our hand to help.
The only way we can do this is to stop people from reaching the European mainland in the first place, by taking people directly from region. This is why the government’s decision to resettle people from war-torn countries is absolutely right, because only through this way will we defeat the people smugglers and stop the terrible exploitation of refugees, child and adult alike.