It is one thing to refuse to confront a President for an appalling policy – but it’s another to follow his lead. This year we have watched in horror as Trump’s America, with its Mexican wall and Muslim ban, turns in on itself – yet under our noses Britain risks marching down a similar path.
Rather than providing more resources in Calais to process refugee claims, Theresa May announced instead that our flagship response to the crisis on our doorstep would be to build our own £2m wall of shame. Then we saw the handful of child refugees we did bring to the UK splashed across our front pages a threatened to have them examined by dentists as age checks were demanded and their legitimacy questioned. The Government did little to challenge the false stereotyping of children fleeing conflict and suffering from post-traumatic stress, and instead seeming more intent on turning our school gates and A&E departments into border checkpoints.
Yesterday the Government’s record sank even lower as it was revealed that Britain will turn its back on some of the most vulnerable people in the world – lone child refugees. Despite saying we could take in up to 3,000 children in Europe fleeing persecution and war, we couldn’t even find room in our communities for less than two in every upper tier and unitary local authority in the country. By the time the extra children have been brought to the UK we will have given refuge to just 350 under the Dubs scheme.
Compare this to the scale of the tragedy. Last year 5000 people died while trying to reach Europe. In Syria alone seven million people have been displaced while one million are applying for asylum in Europe. Last year, 30,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Greece and Italy. As the fifth richest country in the world, can we really only find room for 350 of their children? The Government should have been doing everything possible to help local authorities to house these children, but instead they’ve cancelled the scheme altogether.
The abandoning of these children is not an isolated incident. In fact it fits with a hard line narrative that Theresa May has been pursuing since becoming PM. We have a Prime Minister so intent on pulling up the drawbridge that she is willing to sacrifice our environmental protections and economic security on the altar of ending freedom of movement. After a divisive EU referendum campaign we've seen toxic rhetoric from our own Government blaming a whole host of problems on EU nationals – from the crisis facing the NHS to the shortage of affordable housing. This despite the fact that with 100,000 people from other EU countries employed by the NHS, they are more likely to be dressing our wounds or building our houses than standing in front of us in the queue.
The Government’s aim couldn't be clearer: by refusing to give an early guarantee to EU citizens of their right to stay here, by blaming migrants for Britain's problems and, now, ending the refugee children’s scheme, they are colluding with those who say that people from abroad simply are not welcome here.
Britain is a bigger country than this. We should be stepping up as a world leader in welcoming refugees, not stepping away at their time of need.
Indeed, people here have already taken things into their own hands, opening their homes to refugees and going to Calais to help in any way they can. We have both seen first-hand the compassion of volunteers moved to act where the Government has failed. On visits to Calais last year we saw how simple ticketing systems can be used to distribute donations which UK citizens, unable to make it to the camps themselves, have been quick to give.
But on these visits, while the presence of British volunteers was striking, so was the absence of British officials. Sadly it seems to be becoming clearer now why – our Government has no intention of offering any meaningful help in the way its citizens have.
As Lord Dubs himself pointed out, during the Kindertransport Sir Nicky Winton rescued 669 children from Nazi persecution. If one man can save almost double the numbers of youngsters we have already, surely we cannot stop here. Britain has stepped up in the past and it can do so again.
Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley are co-leaders of the Green Party
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