Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
The list of issues that the government does not care about seems to be growing longer by the day. Its senior advisors and party MPs are breaching national lockdown laws and care workers are still not being supplied with adequate PPE. To add to the list: child refugees. Amid the chaos of COVID-19, the government have managed to surreptitiously extract the UK from legislation which accorded it with responsibility for some of Europe’s displaced children.
It is never a gallant move for a powerful, national government to shirk its responsibilities towards vulnerable child refugees. Yet it reeks particularly sourly at a time when the number of displaced children in Europe is extraordinarily high. 5000 unoccupied children are currently in critical limbo in Greece, 1,600 of these residing in the drastically over-crowded and under-resourced island camps. There is little prospect of improvement. Indeed, the reduction in education services across the settlements which is set to happen in June means that provision and protection for these children will soon be more scant than ever.
It should be recognised that the UK government has paid its lip service to the issue. Following tireless campaigning by Greek politicians, House of Lords peers and the charity Safe Passage, it agreed to fly in 52 refugees from Greece at the beginning of May under an EU commitment to family reunification. But now, boxes ticked, it has swiftly returned to pursuing a path of behind-the-scenes strategising that looks to ensure it will never have to go through such a rigmarole again.
The government’s decision to end the Dubs scheme came into force a matter of weeks ago. The scheme, named after Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, launched in 2016 and committed the government to relocating lone child refugees from elsewhere in Europe. It was anticipated that the scheme might enable the relocation of up to 3000 children before the government announced the number would be capped at 480, arguing that local authorities were unwilling or unable to accommodate more than this. In fact, local authorities had offered up 1400 places. The fact that the government could not even commit to seeing the scheme through before ducking out, indicates how little it cares for these children. The decision was not a passive one emerging from the scheme having run its course, but an active assertion that these young and vulnerable refugees are undeserving of the UK’s assistance.
In case we were still unconvinced of the government’s wilful negligence, mere days after the end of the Dubs scheme a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement was circulated which outlined plans for the UK to abandon its commitment to mandatory family reunion. It suggested that whilst the EU can still recommend that the UK provides sanctuary for unaccompanied children there will be no obligation for the UK to respond. Brexit, among many things, means unapologetic disregard for the powerless people who fall outside of the nation’s narrow gaze.
Faith, flag and family…so goes the traditional Conservative edict. But it seems these values are only important when they work in unison. The Conservative government’s resolute repudiation of family reunion laws that have previously steered it reluctantly towards compassionate action suggests that family only really matters when you’ve got the flag too.