How churches can support unaccompanied minors in Europe
The famous quote from Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up the mood of many this week: “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Whilst “its children” could be interpreted as UK children; the parable of The Good Samaritan expands “its children” to anyone in need, the outsider, the one from other countries. This seems even more true today as we recognise the Global Village and Global City we call home.
It’s through this lens that I reflect on the defeat to the immigration bill amendment that would have allowed 3,000 unaccompanied minors to find home in the UK.
So what happened on Monday 25th April in the Palace of Westminster? In summary the Government defeated a cross-party amendment to the Immigration Bill by 294 votes to 276. The amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs - a peer who was rescued from the Nazis thanks to the Kindertransport scheme which undoubtedly is one of the proud moments in our history. The Dubs Amendment as it has became known, would require the UK to welcome in 3,000 unaccompanied children currently in refugee camps in EU states. Children outside of the UNHCR Camps in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Children who have already arrived in Europe.
The Government’s argument for not supporting amendment In summary here are the main arguments put forward against the amendment:
By resettling refugees already in Europe, a Pull Factor would be created, causing more children to make the dangerous journey. The argument being that the draw to Europe if we offered sanctuary, could encourage more children to make the journey and suffer en route.
The Children in Europe are now in safe countries. The argument being that the children are now in countries where they are safe and so why move them again to the UK. They are after all out of Syria, for example.
The Government will continue to focus its actions on Children remaining in areas bordering Syria. The Government in saying “Yes” to this amendment, would be going against or compromising its policy of only taking refugees (the 20,000 quota that’s been on the news) from the areas bordering Syria. This policy is to remove the Pull Factor.
- The Government will support member states in coping with the refugee influx instead of bringing refugees already in Europe to the UK. Meaning that as a country we would provide aid to our European Partners as they take the children in.
Argument for supporting amendment Again in summary here are the counter arguments in favour of the amendment:
The Push Factors to leave a country are far greater than any Pull Factor Europe can offer. Home is where people largely choose to be – with family, in their culture, their country. Only when that becomes intolerable and life is in danger do people risk their lives to get to a safe place where they’ll have to build their lives from scratch, away from family, in a different culture.
Equally the Pull Factor argument is no help to vulnerable children already in Europe who are at risk of exploitation.
Greece and other European border countries do not have the capacity to cope with the volume of refugees and migrants in their borders. The argument being that whilst our EU partners are seeking to support the refugees, the numbers are simply too great. Rebecca Boardman of Us Refugee Response Facilitator working with the Anglican Chaplaincy in Greece emailed me to say: ‘This issue has been discussed a lot in Greece recently. As soon as a new shelter opens it is full and there is a really long list of children who don’t have access. NGOs and other organisations are having to step up to finance and accommodate the unaccompanied minors here in Greece, including some of our church partners.’
Europol, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, estimated in January 2016 that 10,000 children had gone missing after arriving in Europe, warning that many had been taken by criminal gangs. There are well-founded fears that unaccompanied children and young people are being subject to violence and exploitation on a daily basis; sex work, slavery, vulnerable to trafficking and other illegal activity. Local services are overwhelmed so thousands of children sleep rough in Europe every night. The argument simply being that we must intervene and protect these children who have already been through too much.
- The UK needs to accept responsibility along with the member states for providing safe refuge for those seeking safety in Europe. It’s a call to solidarity with our European partners that we to carry our fair share.
Is this game over?
In short, no. A new amendment has been submitted and in time this new amendment will be voted on. This new Amendment does not prescribe the 3,000 figure but would require Ministers to consult with local authorities before arriving at a number for relocation.
So what can you do?
See how your MP voted CLICK HERE If they voted Yes - thank them encourage them to vote Yes again.
Be aware for when the new vote will happen. WE ARE HEARING THAT THERE COULD BE A VOTE ON 9TH MAY - Keep connected in with me and i’ll keep you informed. @afzalangela
If your MP voted “No” then get in contact, asking that they reconsider their response in light of this new amendment. It’s only our lobbying and their voting “Yes” which will see the amendment pass. Write, phone, tweet to you MP now and when you hear that the vote is coming. Urge them to think again about their position. Be polite, positive invite them to make a difference; righteous ranting will only bring walls up.
- In the meantime there are currently two petitions to sign on this matter.
• Petition Parliament • Change Petition
Whilst within a rich and diverse Diocese such as London opinions will vary. My prayer is that history will remember favorably how we responded just as it does when we remember the Kindertransport.