Tim Farron MP writes…The Government must deliver for refugee children 

In October 2015 I used my first PMQ as leader to urge David Cameron to give a home to 3,000 vulnerable unaccompanied children who had fled war and persecution and were now in Europe. Save the Children, who launched the campaign, had calculated that 3,000 was the UK’s ‘fair share’ of the 26,000 unaccompanied children estimated to have arrived in Europe since the start of the refugee crisis. Six months on and with the numbers of unaccompanied children in Europe having skyrocketed to 90,000 the Government has finally capitulated in principle to take some children from Europe.What started as a Liberal Democrat led campaign in Parliament has drawn cross party support – including from the Government’s own backbenches and today we should rightly congratulate all of those who have worked tirelessly on this campaign.

But I am clear that whilst this is a victory it certainly isn’t the end of the story.

The Government has a long history of announcing things and then failing to deliver. For example, in January of this year it announced that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner would visit the hotspots in Greece and Italy to assess the conditions there; today we discover that he hasn’t yet made that trip.

So you will understand when I say that, given the very broad brushstrokes of the Government’s announcement today, I won’t be holding my breath.

If the Government ultimately only offers tens or hundreds of places rather than the thousands we have all campaigned for it will be a betrayal of the public and Parliament. They will argue that they are taking the lead from local authorities, but I am clear that it is the Government that should offer leadership.

David Cameron must make it clear that he will fully fund local authorities who step up to the plate and offer sanctuary to these vulnerable kids. When I hosted the roundtable with experts, including those from local government, it was clear to me that councils didn’t feel confident stepping forward when there was no clear outline from central government about funding arrangements.

David Cameron must also clarify what status he will offer these children.

It would not be right to take them and then leave them in limbo with a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads that they might be deported when they reach 18.

They have been through enough already. Of course, many will want to return to their country of origin when the situation allows, but we must offer them a home for as long as they need it. In the Blueprint I launched last month I was clear that indefinite leave to remain was the gold standard but at the very minimum these kids must be offered humanitarian protection.

Finally, it is yet to be determined how the Government will select these children. I have always been clear that those children who are unaccompanied in Europe but have family relations in the UK should be offered sanctuary quickly. However, there are plenty of children who are unaccompanied, vulnerable and at risk and the Government should set out how they will support them.

The saying ‘better late than never’ comes to mind today, but in this case it is a bittersweet victory. In the six months it has taken the Government to act many vulnerable unaccompanied children will have fallen into the hands of traffickers, sold into sex work or forced labour.

Some of the children I met on my visits to Calais, Lesbos and Northern Greece may have already vanished.

The Government must now act quickly to make up for lost time.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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10 Comments

  • Catherine Royce 5th May '16 - 2:26pm

    Congratulations Tim, you led on this campaign, we debated it in the emergency session at Spring conference and now the government has caved in and at last shown some humanity.
    You are right that the victory is bitter sweet, who knows how many children have been sexually abused or raped in the camps, or disappeared into the hands of traffickers in the meantime. It isn’t the first time in this parliament that the government had to be taken to the wire to do the decent thing, and it won’t be the last, there will be many red faced Tories today who voted against the Dubs amendment only a week ago, including my own MP Caroline Nokes.
    I had sent a letter to my local paper to ‘out’ her this week for her appalling decision, how wonderful to know that letter will not be published tomorrow, not because the editor doesn’t want to ruffle her feathers, or because he doesn’t like me, but because we won the argument, and 3,000 children will benefit, how glorious is that.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th May '16 - 4:20pm

    Well done Tim . The leadership you showed was and is much appreciated , the nonsense from the Tories on this is breathtaking if it were not absurd.Bring in the younger children, and vulnerable as they are to fears for their safety at worst , lonely and in inappropriate conditions in camps , at best , they can be welcomed into families .

    All this talk of sudden concern for local authorities by the Tories is hilarious !Put the money into then! And recognise individual, caring people , not “authorities ” are what can make a difference even more !

    Keep up the good work Tim, always pursue the sensible , and moderate , on this , it sits very well with the emotional and compassionate, they need not be exclusive !

  • While Tim Farron and others congratulate themselves on rescuing children from places like France and Italy, refugees still stuck in Syria itself are being bombed and killed :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36214290

    I still maintain this campaign was a case of terrible priorities and poor judgment. Other children in a much worse situation wil now have less chance of being helped as a direct result. Not good.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th May '16 - 7:01pm

    @Stuart – a good point. I’ve recently written an article calling for protection of civilians inside Syria so that they don’t need to become refugees in the first place.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/as-war-accelerates-again-in-syria-its-time-for-us-to-act-50322.html

    But I don’t agree with your criticism of making helping these refugee children a priority. It’s been hard enough to ‘win’ this battle (let’s see if the government delivers). It’s about drawing attention to the problems, building public support for action, and building upon successes.

    You might also want to support the demonstration on Saturday calling for an immediate end to the targetting of medics in warzones: https://www.libdemvoice.org/march-with-medics-under-fire-newbie-saleyha-ahsan-leads-the-way-50384.html

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th May '16 - 7:55pm

    I concur with Jonathan above and not Stuart .

    For goodness sake , whether by defeat of terrorist evil, or support for humanitarian relief , we choose the victim , the underdog , the innocent, who needs our help by whatever means appropriate .

    There is no choice between, us and them , especially not in such difficult times !

    These children are us , they are us as we would be in their situation .It requires no bleeding heart Liberalism to have the decent human concern for others in need .

    Whether from Syria or street down the road ! It is a Liberalism that says you cannot be free in a camp!

    1

  • Jonathan Brown 5th May '16 - 8:15pm

    @Lorenzo – I think Stuart’s point is not that we shouldn’t be helping children, but that in helping these particular children we are neglecting those in even direr need.

    I think we can and should do both, and that prioritising these children in Europe we can build public support for helping others, so I don’t agree with Stuart on that point, but I think his heart is in the right place!

  • Catherine Royce 5th May '16 - 9:58pm

    Dear Stuart,
    Of course it is not either or, we must do both, and far more, this is about getting the govt to fulfil it’s international obligations as specified by the United Nations to safeguard children wherever and whoever they are. We are already making a significant financial contribution for those in camps in the region, no-one is criticising that endeavour, although I’m sure there is more we could and should be doing.
    As the 5th richest nation we can and must set an example by taking our fair share of refugees, and that will certainly be more than the measly 20,000 Cameron proposes. Of those we can expect that half will be children accompanied or not, this is about getting started not finishing, and about putting in place processes so that refugees can be swiftly and successfully integrated into society here for however long is needed, refuge is what it says on the tin. Some will return and some will not, just as has happened with every refugee influx in the past, those who stay settle, get jobs and make a contribution here, what is the problem?

  • @Jonathan Brown
    I have asked a variant of the following question several times here on LDV: Given we can’t help everybody, and choices have to be made, why should we prioritise even one refugee already in Europe over those still stuck in or near Syria?

    You are the first and only person to give me a reasoned answer to that question. It wasn’t an answer that had occurred to me before so I need to think it over, which I promise I will do. My first instinct is that you have a very good point.

    @Catherine
    “Of course it is not either or, we must do both”

    I was pointing out only that however many refugees we take, if this is less than the total number of potential refugees – which it obviously would be – then actually this IS an either/or, in the sense that each individual refugee can only come from one placce, and we have to think carefully about which refugees are the most – for want of a better word – deserving. (Clearly all refugees are deserving of help.)

    “what is the problem?”

    There isn’t a problem of the kind you suggest. I want Cameron to take many, many more refugees than he has offered to so far. But it is not at all clear to me – though Jonathan has suggested a reason why it might be the case – that we should prioritise children already in Europe over children stuck in the sort of horrific situation I’ve just seen on on the BBC 10 o’clock News.

    We have to use our heads as well as our hearts, is all I am saying.

    I hope you are right about this being the start of something rather than an end. We need to press on bringing more refugees here, making sure they are “dispersed” (as the government calls it) sensibly when they get here and well looked after, do more to help the people in camps in or near Syria, and most importantly of all try to bring about a situation where people aren’t forced to become refugees in the first place.

  • Jonathan Brown 6th May '16 - 2:25am

    A couple of other reasons Stuart:

    1) the refugee children Europe are already here. Even if their need is less than of some of those in Syria or the camps – especially Lebanon – they are already here and are our ‘problem’. I feel a humanitarian need to try to help Syrians in the region, but I feel that at the same time that I feel the practical need to help those who have made it this far.

    2) policy should be driven by evidence but (and hopefully this won’t contradict the need for evidence) it should also be driven by the people it affects. I’m not saying we should do something we know is stupid or bound to fail because certain people who expect to benefit from something are calling for it. But we shouldn’t be dismissing what Syrian community leaders are saying, nor those who work for refugee agencies, and as far as I’m aware, they are calling for the UK to help child refugees in Europe. In part I suspect for the reason I mentioned previously; in part out of desperation and the belief that Britain has proved miserly so far and so helping a few thousand kids who’ve made it to Europe is the best we’re likely to do.

  • Well done Tim.
    Doing what libdems have always done; showing leadership and pointing out problems when the main parties are absent.
    The pressure needs to be kept on, repeating the same things until something is done.

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