No to No Child Left Behind

In which Caitlin Webb considers why our three Medway MPs voted to stop unaccompanied child refugees being reunited with their families..

gray concrete wall beside grass

Any reasonable citizen would hope their representative on an almost £80k salary would vouch for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Yet this was put into question for those in Medway in January as their MPs voted against continuing to let unaccompanied child refugees be reunited with their families in the UK.

Rehman Chisti, Tracy Crouch and Kelly Tolhurst all swallowed the Conservative party line voting against an amendment of the Brexit Bill, which would have kept the EU protections so children can continue to come to the UK for safety.

This amendment was written by a former child refugee that found safety in the UK fleeing from the Nazis, Lord Alf Dubs. This was successful in 2016 before the “Get Brexit Done” election, which gave the Conservative party a majority.

Their argument: we agree with reunifying families but want to write our own bill and come to our own agreement without putting it on the Brexit bill.

The Government sent a letter to Conservative MPs (which has been seen by journalists but is not publicly available) promising how there will still be protections for child refugees.

Ministers say more than 41,000 children have been given protection since 2010 and are “intent” on getting an agreement with the EU as a priority. 

However last month, this all went down the toilet when the latest draft text of the Brexit negotiations includes talks to end the system where unaccompanied asylum seeking children are granted sanctuary in the UK. 

Yet the coronavirus pandemic has shown it is more crucial now these children are moved to safety as health workers are struggling to get access and social distancing is impossible in their camps.

I get it. Immigration is a tough subject and sore spot for the Conservatives. They have lost votes in the past to UKIP when the party was considered “weak” on immigration. Now they just look like hypocrites as we are supposed to clap for low-skilled workers every week but then not want them to come and take these essential jobs we need them for.

And supporting refugees is politically sensitive as these people are criticised for risking their lives to get to Europe, accused of being economic migrants just looking for jobs which British people should be doing. Helping these vulnerable people who are fleeing the worst things imaginable is not an easy political win even when it should be.

I genuinely don’t think our MPs are really anti-refugee but it is hard not to be disappointed that their government is trying to stop all help to children who need it. Lord Dubs, M.I.A, Omid Djalili and Rita Ora wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t been welcomed to the UK in their time of need. 

Caitlin Webb is a Medway based media relations officer, and formerly the UK’s first Local Democracy Reporter for the BBC and Kent Online.

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