A Conservative MP has revolted against the Government to launch an impassioned plea to improve the “miserable and brutish” lives of thousands of refugee children trapped in squalid conditions across Europe.
Stephen Phillips asked fellow parents in Parliament to imagine what they would want for their children if they became separated and destitute in a foreign country.
“Would I be content for them to be at risk of violence and exploitation, often sexual in nature, or would I want them to be offered safe haven with the desire that they be looked after and reunited with family members in due course?” he said.
“Those questions are, to my mind, rhetorical. They admit of sure and certain answers.”
Mr Phillips was speaking in the House of Commons to support an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have seen 3,000 minors who have already risked their lives to reach the continent resettled in the UK.
The proposal was defeated by just 18 votes on Monday but its creator Lord Dubs is now considering another amendment after the Government’s plan to take in the same number of children from refugee camps in the Middle East and North Africa was criticised by humanitarian organisations.
Mr Phillips, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, said there was a “grave inconsistency” between arguing that the UK had a role in Europe – with or without a Brexit – and refusing to take a fair share of the 10,000 unaccompanied young asylum seekers Europol estimates to be missing.
He urged politicians to reflect on Britain’s history providing refuge to children in the Kindertransport and other programmes during conflicts in Uganda, Vietnam and Iran.
“(These children) are alone, and far from their families,” Mr Phillips added.
“They are cold, frightened, hungry and frequently without help or access to those who might help or protect them.
“Their lives are miserable and brutish, and at least half of them have experienced or seen violence that we can only dream of in our nightmares - or, rather, hope that we do not.”
He said the Government’s plans to take up to 3,000 children directly from refugee camps outside Europe is “no comfort” to those trapped in Calais, on the Greek-Macedonian border and sleeping rough across the continent.
Mr Phillips was one of several Tory backbenchers revolting in support of the amendment on Monday, which was narrowly defeated by 294 votes to 276.
Lord Dubs will make another attempt when the Immigration Bill returns to the Lords on Tuesday, proposing a revised amendment asking the Government to resettle a “specified number” of lone child refugees to be determined in consultation with local authorities.
James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, argued that resettling children who had already reached Europe would encourage others to make potentially deadly sea crossings with people smugglers.
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