Emma Thompson: 'We can and must take in many more than 350 refugee children'

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Dear Members of Parliament,

I’m writing to you because of the Government’s recent announcement that the Dubs amendment will take only 350 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe before closing.

This strikes me as a shockingly low number. 

The United Kingdom has taken in many refugee children from outside Europe and we can and should be proud of that. In fact, fourteen years ago I met one of those children at the Refugee Council.  He was a traumatised sixteen-year old Rwandan refugee who had seen untold suffering as a child soldier and who only needed help and support from a loving group of people to flourish into the extraordinary, empathic and talented member of our family he is today. I am certain there are many like him out there that we can help to become part of other family or community groups where they could grow into active and fulfilled citizens with much to offer.

The Alf Dubs amendment was designed to assist an especially desperate aspect of the refugee crisis: the plight of unaccompanied refugee children alone in Europe. Some 30,000 arrived into Greece and Italy last year and many now currently reside in tents and ramshackle accommodation.  Hundreds of teenagers, some as young as 13, are now attempting to survive outdoors in the freezing snows of Northern France. Since the eviction of the Calais camp, they are still trying to reach the UK, putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers, climbing into refrigerated lorries – because without safe and legal routes, they feel that this is their only option. This makes them vulnerable to the worst kind of predation. It’s difficult to sleep at night when one considers what we are resolutely refusing to do to help them.

Amber Rudd has stated that the Dubs amendment acted as a “pull” to Calais for more unaccompanied refugee children, and that this played into the hands of people smugglers.  

There is no reliable evidence for the claim that the Dubs scheme encourages other children to make unsafe journeys – in fact the opposite is true. No parent would part with their teenage child and no child would fling themselves into the dangerous unknown for anything but the most severe reasons of survival. They deserve our help and above all, our compassion. How can we turn our backs on them simply because of the largely unsubstantiated fear that others might come?

On Tuesday 7 March, an amendment to the Children’s Bill will be put forward for your consideration in Parliament. This amendment will ask that local authorities identify their capacity to resettle unaccompanied refugee children and to report this to the Secretary of State annually. I ask that you please consider this amendment to be in the best interests of the potentially hundreds if not thousands of unaccompanied refugee children in France, Greece and Italy who could still be provided with safeguarding and welfare in the UK, and to vote for it. Members of Parliament, you are in the position to save many more than 350 of these children and to put them on a road to a brighter future.

If I may end on a personal note – they are very likely to lead their helpers into an equally bright future, for our family have experienced nothing but joy and reaped the deepest possible rewards from witnessing the development and happiness of the refugee who became our brave and kind son.  Those we choose to help often end up helping us in ways we cannot imagine.

Yours sincerely

Emma Thompson

Protecting our fellow Europeans is paramount during Brexit

The House of Lords has made the important acknowledgement that we must protect our fellow Europeans who have made London their home. Large numbers of nationals of other EU countries live and work within the city’s boundaries, contributing to our economy, working in critical services, and making our city one of the most cosmopolitan in the world. The amendment to the Article 50 legislation that the House passed seeks to guarantee their rights.

As Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokespeople who collectively represent all London regions, we urge sitting MPs and the Government to back this amendment. This would send an important signal to our European neighbours that the Government intends to negotiate in good faith once Article 50 is triggered.

Brexit is causing a huge amount of concern for London-based citizens, who are worried about their work and family lives being uprooted. With permanent residency applications being rejected at a rate of 28 per cent, we must put an end to this uncertainty once and for all by giving these individuals the right to stay indefinitely. 

These are neighbours, colleagues and family members. They must be given assurances they can go on with their lives, instead of living in fear and being treated as political pawns.

Let’s not undermine London’s unique character. It is one of the most prosperous and creative cities in the world – thanks to the diverse range of people who live here.

Once again, we urge Members of the House of Commons and the Government to support this amendment.

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidates:

Sir Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark)

Annabel Mullin (Kensington)

Louise Rowntree (Chelsea and Fulham)

Joyce Onstad (Hammersmith)

Bridget Fox (The Cities of Westminster and London)

Alexander Harding (Westminster North)

Amna Ahmed (Sutton and Cheam)

Elaine Bagshaw (Poplar and Limehouse)

Dave Raval (Hackney South and Shoreditch)

George Turner (Vauxhall)

Ukonu Obasi (Walthamstow)

Claire Mathys (Mitcham and Morden)

Richard Davis (Battersea)

Ryan Mercer (Putney)

John Pindar (Croydon North)

Keith Angus (Islington North)

Sam Webber (Orpington)

Julie Ireland (Beckenham)

Michael Bukola (Camberwell and Peckham)

Bobby Dean (Lewisham Deptford)

Dawn Barnes (Hornsey & Wood Green)

Gail Kent (Dulwich & West Norwood)

Roger Crouch (Feltham & Heston)

Alex Feakes (Bromley & Chislehurst)

Stephen Crosher (Holborn and St Pancras)

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat  Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and Party Chief Whip and MP for Carshalton and Wallington

Marianne Magnin, Mouvement Démocrate Parliamentary Candidate for Northern Europe in the French legislative elections and member of the Executive Committee of Westminster and City of London Liberal Democrats  

 

We will always be dependent on immigrants to fill healthcare jobs

My very first vote when I was 18 years of age was for the UK to join the Common Market. I agreed then and I firmly agree now that we should remain a member of the EU.

Since my first vote I have always held the firm belief that if one is privileged to live in a democracy then one has a duty to exercise the right to vote. There have been times when I did not wish to vote for my usual party as at the time I did not agree with their current policies and I would not have voted for either of the other two main parties because they are broadly all the same when in power. Hence in order to exercise my right to vote I chose to put my cross against the candidate fielded by the Monster Raving Looney Party. 

How I wish that those who voted to leave the EU in order to give the main political parties a kicking had followed my tack, gone along to vote on 23 June and wrote on their forms “not a clue what we are letting ourselves in for”. This is the long and short of the whole saga which to me has become a nightmare. 

I am just about to go through the onerous task of admitting my 98 year old mother into a care home and I am wondering what on earth will happen if there are no staff left to care for her in the home if the majority are asked to leave the UK. I myself started work in the NHS 48 years ago and the issue of staffing was the same then as now. More than half of my cohort in the nursing school came from Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Guyana. The junior doctors then were mainly from India and the Middle East. When I became a nurse teacher in 1990 the students in the nursing school where I taught were 90 per cent from Southern Ireland. Nothing has changed today. We are and will always be dependent on immigrants to fill health care jobs, agricultural work and hospitality work. 

Will both Houses of Parliament please have the sense to do what is right for the UK and not what they think will win them votes to form the next Government? Parties come and go in power but this is far more serious than that.

C K Younis
London

Brexit immigration fears

I am an immigrant – a British immigrant to Northern Spain. My wife is Spanish and is from northern Spain. We met in England, fell in love and married. We have two children. I have two other children from my previous marriage. My first wife died young of cancer leaving my two very young children whom my present wife looked after and nurtured. We lived in England for twelve years and then fifteen years ago we moved to Spain. The idea was that the two youngest children could become truly bilingual which would, we hoped, serve them in good stead for the future. I worked in here and contributed to the healthcare system. Unfortunately I now have to take advantage of the health system because I was diagnosed with cancer of the colon. 

There has been much in the press and much talk in the House of Lords of the plight of EU nationals in UK. The clear impression we get as British nationals abroad is that we have been forgotten. The reason I suspect is that we are of no economic value to the UK whereas the EU nationals are good loyal workers doing many jobs that the British do not want to or unequipped to do. Reading some of the speeches in the House of Lords leads to this impression. 

We too are anxious about our position and our future. In my case more than most as I will require monitoring by the doctors here for a number of years if I can stay. People glibly say that we can return to the UK or get a Spanish citizenship. Neither is that easy or perhaps possible; first because my wife is Spanish and therefore under the new UK immigration laws will not have a right of residence in the UK despite being my wife, secondly to obtain Spanish nationality I have to relinquish my British nationality as Spain does not recognise dual nationality. I do not want lose my British nationality as I will need to return to UK at the very least to see my two children and two grandchildren. Despite everything I still feel British although dismayed as to what has happened and the xenophobia that has been showed to EU nationals. Fortunately my Spanish neighbours have shown me nothing but kindness.

It would be heartening at the very least to have some political voices speaking up for us in both the UK and European parliament or at the very least for the UK Government to say if the worst comes to the worst and there is no agreement then we can return as families to the UK . I try to live in hope but at times it is very difficult.

Alan Brown

Listening to Theresa May criticising Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP caused me to immediately put pen to paper in protest. 

Her words “a tunnel vision nationalism, which focuses only on independence at any cost, sell Scotland short”, can easily be rewritten as “a tunnel vision withdrawal from the EU, which focuses only on Brexit, at any cost, sells the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland short”.

Theresa May’s constant rebuttal of any debate on Brexit, saying that it will be impossible for us to change our minds if we do not like the agreement she brokers, and that the only option will then be a hard Brexit into world trade rules, sells us all short. 

Well done the House of Lords in introducing an amendment to the necessary legislation protecting the rights of all EU nationals resident in the UK. Perhaps we can expect a similar amendment requiring an opportunity for us to reject Brexit should the cost to the country be an unacceptable burden. I for one would ask Ms May to soften her dogma and be more flexible. The signs and comment from all sides suggest continued debate is necessary, and to permit it is a sign of mature behaviour. After all, any government has a duty of care to the whole of the country for the good of all, not just the 37 per cent who voted for Brexit!

Jennifer Rorrison 
Hampshire

It’s up to Scotland to decide

I was struck by the recent comments of the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, that a different immigration policy for Scotland than England would require border controls between our two nations.  

This seems curious, as Mr Mundell’s colleague, Michael Gove, when he was Justice Secretary said it would be “for Scotland to decide” on immigration numbers to the country after Brexit.

Other parts of the world, such as Canada and Australia, also seem to manage to successfully operate differentiated immigration systems. 

These allow provinces in Canada and territories and states in Australia to identify and address their own specific population challenges by flexing the requirements of the national immigration system. The systems do not create borders or barriers between provinces or states. For Scotland one such option may be a system of “regional visas” for non-UK nationals, as is currently being explored by the City of London Corporation.

Indeed, in January the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration called on the UK Government to hand greater powers over immigration Scotland and to establish a commission to examine how a devolved immigration system might work. 

With the Tory pledge to devolve immigration powers to Scotland biting the dust, it is no wonder that when Mr Mundell pledges “guaranteed” new powers to the Scottish Parliament post-Brexit, there are few believers. 

Alex Orr
Edinburgh

Every child should have the right to education

I was struck by the unfortunate case of Daniel Gourlay, who has been diagnosed with pathological demand avoidance (PDA), an extreme form of avoidant behaviour (Thursday March 2). This means that the staff are unable to cope with him in a mainstream environment. However, because he is not classed as having learning difficulties, he does not meet the “criteria” to attend a dedicated special needs school.

The basic right to education has been denied to Daniel on the grounds that staff are simply not equipped with an appropriate training in autism or PDA to address his needs. Inclusion is simply not an option, as he can't access a school setting or the school sports day. 

PDA is very real condition, mostly mentioned alongside of autism, and what is required is better training of staff and for a behaviour analyst to put a treatment plan in place. Training for parents is also crucial to understand behaviour strategies.

Daniel is now 9, he is capable of learning and accessing education. It is just down to the appropriate strategies being put in place so both he and his family can lead a fulfilled life.

Suzie Repova MSEd
Bilston

Need for objective reporting

Dear James Moore,

Your article on Brexit and the House of Lords (Thursday March 2) was yet another of your articles that resonated so strongly with me. 

The separation of powers and our unwritten constitution are being sorely tested by extremists (Farage, Ukip etc) and right-wing political chancers ( Duncan Smith, etc, and, yes, May herself).

Please keep up with your high standards of reporting and don’t let the so and sos get you down; our democracy needs your objective reporting.

PS. Give my thanks to Tom Peck. His article on Wednesday daytime TV was savage, funny, scabrous and brilliant.

David Silcock
Mansfield

Since when have we had a “socialist government”?

In his letter (Brexit will decrease government spending, Thursday March 2) Gavin Turner's comment “...money cannot be thrown around carelessly as socialist governments in the past have had a tendency to do”, shows how well the Tories and the Tory-supporting media have sown the myth that the last Labour government caused the financial crisis by spending too much on public goods and services. Nothing whatsoever to do with the inventors of those marvellous credit derivatives then.

One might also query Mr Turner's use of the phrase “socialist governments”. Since when did we have one of those?

Carol Wilcox
Christchurch

Pensions are not “benefits”

Having just received my annual notification from the Pensions Service, I am once again infuriated at being told about changes to my “benefit”. It is not a benefit, it is my pension I have worked hard for and paid into all my working life.  I hope someone from the Pension Service will read this and change the description accordingly. I know an enormous amount of people will agree that benefit is an incorrect description.  

Jude Biscoe
Lyme Regis

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