LibLink: Alistair Carmichael: The child refugee vote brought shame on the government

Alistair Carmichael has written a coldly furious article for the New Statesman about the vote last night when the Government defeated the Lords’ Amendment to the Immigration Bill which would have seen this country do its duty and take a relatively small number of child refugees.

Just last week, we saw the Government feign compassion to draw away attention from the calls for accepting 3,000 children, through their own announcement which completely sidestepped the issue of child refugees in danger within Europe, where Europol has estimated that as many as 10,000 unaccompanied children on the continent have disappeared, and will be spread out over four years to water down an already disappointing figure. They then went one step further by implanting a clause meaning that this will be the last time the amendment to accept 3,000 child refugees can be debated. It’s pretty hard to look away from the simple truth that the Government simply doesn’t care about these children.

We can get disappointed by the many wrong decisions the Conservatives are making, be they selfish, misguided or unproductive, but it’s the decisions like the one taken yesterday which really show the Government at its worst and really make me and so many others across our country downright angry. Like cuts to tax credits or employment support allowance, failing to help these refugees is directly putting lives in grave danger.

Providing a safe home for these children, separated from their families and in desperate circumstances, was easily achievable, he said:

However it’s imperative that, as politicians, we do care and when this year alone approximately 171,000 refugees decided water was safer than land and made the treacherous crossing across the Mediterranean, it’s our duty to provide a sustainable solution to deliver help for the most vulnerable. The amendment which was voted on last night would have allowed a small number of child refugees into the UK, a number which our country could have easily handled. The Liberal Democrats carried out a consultation with experts and charities to provide a blueprint for resettling Europe’s child refugees and the clear evidence showed that it was possible. Members from across the House united to try to save these children, having been profoundly moved by their terrifying ordeal.

The Government had an opportunity to show British values at their finest through showing compassion, and upholding the fundamental human rights which all people, young and old and across the world deserve. Instead it ignored its neighbours, the calls from charities but most importantly ignored these children.

You can read Alistair’s whole article here.

I still can’t get out of my mind that there are nearly 100,000 unaccompanied children already in Europe and our government couldn’t even take 3% of them. Each one of us, even if we don’t have children ourselves, has some in our lives as friends or family members. We would hope that, if they ever found themselves in that situation, alone, living in a refugee camp with no school, no support and at risk of all sorts of exploitation, the powerful would take action to look after them.

We can at least be proud of Tim Farron who has led the calls for us do more to help these 3000 children, who has visited the camps where they are several times. I was also very moved by speeches by Yvette Cooper and Dr Tania Matthias in the short bit of the debate I was able to watch last night.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Malcolm Todd 26th Apr '16 - 5:13pm

    Hear hear.

  • I’m all for helping the refugees and would be more than happy if the government decided – as a one off – to take in 10,000 or so of those homeless in Europe. However, I’m not convinced that taking in large numbers of unaccompanied children is the right thing to do. Scandinavian countries have tried this and it’s turning into a nightmare for them. Apparently very few of these children have any paperwork – which is understandable – and the majority have been found to be much older than they claim. Obviously if you have unaccompanied very young children they are your priority, but 16 and 17 year old young men – which seems to be the majority – are a different matter. It’s a very hard choice because nearly everyone deserves help, but I would much prefer that families with very young children were given priority.

  • nigel hunter 26th Apr '16 - 9:51pm

    16 and 17 year old’s would be chased by ISIS for cannon fodder. The parents will keep the younger children with them. Would you want your teenagers to die in a war they did not want? Yes, those with young children should be given priority. The teenagers could be kept in camps and educated for the future to be returned to their country later.

  • Catherine Royce 27th Apr '16 - 3:13pm

    I think it’s time for us to name and shame all MPs who voted against this amendment, ‘out ‘ them in local newspapers through letters to the Editor, and remind them of their vote every time they have a photo opportunity with a child, in a school, attending a nativity play or kissing babies at village fetes. I have been searching the internet to see how my MP voted, and cannot find the information, does anyone have a link for this?
    They can’t have it both ways; either the human rights of children are important or they aren’t.
    Quite apart from our humanitarian and moral duty to protect and safeguard children wherever and whoever they are, we are also in contravention of our international obligations, the United Nations is quite clear on this.

  • I agree with Cameron that it is better to concentrate our efforts on helping those in the refugee camps near Syria. Those children are likely to be in a much more perilous situation than those who are already in rich, relatively safe European countries. Moreover, prioritising those who make it to Europe will inevitably encourage more trafficking and more people making dangerous journeys.

    I find those arguments very persuasive. Can anyone explain to me why Cameron is wrong on this? Alistair Carmichael certainly doesn’t make any attempt to.

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