The Government's cowardice over the plight of child refugees is putting Britain to shame

Up to 95,000 child refugees are alone in Europe with nobody to care for them. All countries should help give sanctuary and protection to these children – but ours has refused point blank, refusing to help even 3,000 of those affected

Yvette Cooper
Wednesday 27 April 2016 10:43
UNHCR urged European governments to do more to protect child refugees in October
UNHCR urged European governments to do more to protect child refugees in October

The Government should be ashamed. Yesterday they voted to deny sanctuary to child refugees who are alone and at grave risk. Our country is better than this. The Government’s cowardice is letting vulnerable children down, and letting Britain down too.

These children have already fled conflict and violence back home. They have lost family or been separated from loved ones. Yet children's homes in Italy and Greece are full, services can't cope, and as a result many face even greater risks of abuse, sexual violence and exploitation.

Children sleeping rough in Northern Greece because the children's homes there are full; 11-year-olds sleeping alone in tents in Calais, suffering scabies and bronchitis; teenagers getting caught up in prostitution rings in Naples, because the hostels are full and there is nowhere safe for them to go; 13-year-olds with sexually transmitted diseases; teenage boys who have been raped.

Just a few weeks ago seven-year-old Ahmed nearly suffocated in a lorry in Leicester. The only reason he survived was because an aid worker in Calais had given him a mobile phone and he was able to send a text message saying that he did not have any oxygen. The aid worker was able to alert the police, and they traced the lorry he was in. The system is not working – and children are taking crazy risks every day to find someone, somewhere to keep them safe.

According to Europol, a shocking 10,000 child refugees have just disappeared, many into the arms of trafficking gangs. These children are a similar age to mine. They should be in school, not on the streets. They should be cared for not abused.

As many as 95,000 child refugees are alone in Europe with no one to care for them. All countries should help give sanctuary and protection to these child refugees. Yet ours has refused point blank. They are putting our country to shame.

Ministers claim we can't even help 3,000 of those children because that will just encourage more to come. But those children are already here in Europe anyway and most of them are not trying to come to Britain. Tackling smuggler gangs, working with Turkey, a plan for Libya and legal routes to sanctuary might help prevent people making a perilous journey.

More than 10,000 child refugees disappear in Europe

But what Britain does as a small part of helping so many children already here, won't change whether or not more people come. And anyway it would be immoral to say we should abandon thousands of children to a life of prostitution and abuse in order to deter others from coming.

We cannot give up. In the House of Lords today Alf Dubs is tabling a revised amendment to keep pressing the Government to help. If the Lords supports him again, it will come back to Parliament next week. But we need everyone's support to get this through. We need people to contact their MP, sign the petition on the Government website, speak out for action.

Government ministers are happy to celebrate the Kindertransport which brought child refugees to Britain before the Second World War. But why won't they listen to those whose lives were saved by the Kindertransport - like Lord Alf Dubs, Rabbi Harry Jacobi and Sir Eric Reich - who are all calling on Britain to do its bit again today. It's no good being proud of our history if when the choice faces our generation we turn our backs.

Yvette Cooper is Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce

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