We are currently facing the biggest child refugee crisis in Europe since WWII, and the government’s recent decision to close the door on unaccompanied child refugees has, quite rightly, sparked outrage amongst many. As children continue to flee war zones in search of safety, boarders across Europe are closing.
But what does this really mean?
It is an attempt to stop vulnerable children making the dangerous and potentially fatal journey with the help of smugglers, and to allow the UK to focus on resettling refugees legally and fairly, directly from conflict zones. Unaccompanied minors will only be allowed legal settlement in the UK if they have family members currently residing here.
It is no secret that the illegal border crossing routes that refugees take on a daily basis are incredibly dangerous and risky. While the number of illegal crossings and tragic fatalities have certainly declined in the last 5 years, people are still drowning regularly in the Mediterranean – an estimated 979 in 2019 alone. They drown in an attempt to reach Europe, a place they see as a beacon of hope, opportunity and as an escape from conflict and danger.
Chris Philip, immigration minister, claims that “protecting vulnerable children is a key priority for the government” but this change in policy leaves vulnerable children currently residing refugee camos alone and without the safe entry route into the UK. In 2019, the UK received more asylum applications from unaccompanied children than any other country in Europe, and this should surely highlight the need for the UK to be more empathetic and welcoming, rather than prompt us the shut out doors on the vulnerable.
It seems that this should motivate us to show compassion, and drive us to help, but for many it incites the opposite and photographs of refugees in peril or deceased continue to plague our media.
Did the death of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy found washed up on a Turkish beach after drowning in the Mediterranean, not teach us anything? (picture inserted here)
Instead of our government ‘protecting’ such children, it recently became apparent that they instead illegally detained 80 of them between April and September last year. As well as this, many public figures have offered up outrageous solutions and sparked hateful debate, such as India Willoughby, in a Trump-like manner, suggesting that we should erect barbed wire fences to stop migrants from crossing our boarders.
Over half of the world’s refugees are children In the last decade more than 10,000 child refugees have attempted to reach the UK illegally. Britain has been the top resettlement country in Europe for the last half of this decadeand after Brexit, the government are insisting they are working hard to implement a system that will focus on the resettlement of refugees that is fair and safe.
In principle, the law regarding unaccompanied minors seems logical. It will hopefully decrease the flow of these children taking such risks and will allow the UK to focus on legal resettlement directly from conflict zones.
However it is also incredibly neglectful and dangerous.
Philp told the Independent “we’re honouring our commitment to refugees who’ve been invited to the UK. But what about those children who are already waiting in European camps? What about the future children who will cross regardless? Unaccompanied children must be protected.
A child who embarks on a life-threatening journey does not do so because of slight discomfort or a mere hope of a better life, they do it because they have to. They do it because the idea of that treacherous journey and their potential injury or death outweighs the incredibly traumatic existence, they have in their residing homeland. It is an affliction that many of us here in the UK cannot even begin to imagine, and therefore little of us attempt to understand.
And while this reversal may decrease the flow of these children illegally entering the UK, and may even save lives in the process, many of these children will attempt this regardless. The only difference? They are now forced to take on dangerous routes to enter the country, rather than applying for settlement. This is putting them at risk of human trafficking and further unimaginable horrors because of the UK’s lack of empathy for them.
These are children. Young, unaccompanied children. And the government have passed the bill with no significant safety net or plan for them in place.
Josie Naughton, co-founder and CEO of Choose Love said “leaving the EU could have been an opportunity to turn the UK into a beacon of human rights. Instead, it appears as if our Government is using it as an opportunity to turn its back on the weakest in society”
Can the government not find a way to help resettle minors who have already arrived, rather than leave them at grave risk? Why can they not maintain the majority of these EU countries efforts to resettle these minors by providing them with legal routes? Brexit could have been the perfect opportunity for the UK government to show their commitment to unity and understanding. Turning our backs on lone children in EU camps does not seem like the right place to start.
By Bea Austin
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