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UK Politicians Reject Move to Accept 3,000 Unaccompanied Refugee Children

The proposal was originally tabled by Alf Dubs, an 83-year-old member of the UK's House of Lords. He came to England as a Jewish refugee on the Kindertransport rescue effort before World War II.
Photo showing Idomeni camp in Greece. Photo by Harriet Salem/VICE News

UK politicians have rejected a proposal to bring 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to Britain from other parts of Europe.

The result was unpredictable up until the end of proceedings, with MPs voting 294 to 276 against the amendment to the Immigration Bill on Monday night — meaning the Conservative government avoided a suspected revolt by rebel backbench politicians. In the end only five Conservative MPs voted against their party's stance, and for allowing the refugee children to enter Britain.


The amendment had been supported by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn along with the rest of the opposition Labour Party, and, as the result was read out, Labour politicians cried "shame."

The amendment was originally tabled by Alf Dubs, an 83-year-old lord in the UK's upper parliamentary house who originally came to England aged 6 as a Jewish refugee on the Kindertransport rescue effort, just before the outbreak of World War II.

Related: 'I Am Alone With No Family': The Fight to Let Child Refugees Into Britain

Reacting to the result in a statement sent to VICE News, Kirsty McNeill, director of advocacy and campaigns at Save the Children — one of the NGOs who had been backing the amendment — said: "Today's narrow vote by MPs not to offer sanctuary to 3,000 lone refugee children who are already in Europe is deeply disappointing. Tonight, across Europe, thousands of these children are alone and frightened as they go to sleep on roadsides, in police cells, and in informal camps. Some are as young as 10 and many of them have fled war and persecution to seek refuge in Europe — they need our help."

"This problem isn't going away, it is getting worse," she continued. "The government has not yet responded to the groundswell of public support and MPs of all parties who have called for the UK to offer safety to lone children in Europe."

Very disappointed Dubs amendment was defeated 294-276. Gov wrong to refuse to — Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP)April 25, 2016


Harry Leslie Smith, a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter in World War II, also responded to the decision, tweeting: "At least we now know that had David Cameron been [UK prime minister] in 1938 the Kindertransport would been voted down like the Dubs amendment was today."

The government had previously said that accepting minors from within Europe would act as a "pull factor" and a "magnet," encouraging parents to send their children ahead of them on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and through Europe. Instead, Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated pledges to take 3,000 vulnerable minors from the countries around Syria, where many of the refugees come from.

However, critics point out that tens of thousands of children are already in Europe, where they are already unprotected and are targets for abuse and exploitation. Some have even died in bids to make it to the UK and be reunited with family members.

Related: Meet the Former WWII Refugee Leading the Call for Britain to Take In Unaccompanied Minors

One of places the minors were expected to be drawn from was the around the French port town of Calais, where a few thousand of the refugees and migrants who have reached Europe gather in hopes of climbing aboard a truck or train bound for the UK.

A non-profit group called the Refugee Rights Data Project conducted interviews with 870 people living inside the Calais "Jungle" migrant camp in February, finding that nearly 60 percent of children there were unaccompanied, while only 6.7 percent were traveling with a parent. Some 44.5 percent were hoping to be reunited with family members living in Britain.


Just under 90 percent said they had experienced police violence in Calais, where authorities are known for using tear gas and other aggressive methods to stop migrants breaking into trucks and trains. Just under 74 percent of respondents said they didn't have enough food to eat, while 61 percent said they didn't feel safe.

In January, the European police agency Europol said that 10,000 unaccompanied children had gone missing after registering in countries throughout the continent, sparking fears that they may have become victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation.

Speaking to VICE News last week, Dubs referenced this, saying: "[The children] may be technically in safe countries but young children at risk are not actually safe. I think we have a responsibility to them. If we don't do anything some of them will be diverted into prostitution, some may be forced into slavery, and it's a very sad thing that young people are adrift in Europe and nothing's being done for them."

Related: An Unaccompanied 15-Year-Old Dies in Attempts to Reach His Sister in the UK

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd