21 January 2020
The House of Lords have today voted to restore legislation requiring the UK government to seek an agreement with the EU that will ensure child refugees can join family in the UK following Brexit.
The vote comes a day after STAR staff and students from LSESU and KCL STAR groups joined hundreds of people gathered outside Parliament to show their support for family reunion, at a #RighttoReunite demo organised by the legal charity Safe Passage International. Demonstrators presented Lord Dubs with a petition in support of family reunion, which has gathered over 213,000 signatures and counting. Speakers at the demo included Lord Alf Dubs, Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Rt Hon Dianne Abbot MP, Baroness Jenny Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.
17 year old Ridwan, a former child refugee who lost his mother when the boat she was travelling on sank in the Mediterranean, also spoke about his experiences and the need for family reunion to continue. Ridwan survived alone in Italy for 9 months until Safe Passage were able to secure his transfer to the UK to live with his aunt.
The crowd was also addressed by Amina Nagawa from the All African Women’s Group, who spoke about being forced to leave five of her six children behind in Uganda, and the heartbreak and struggle she is facing in trying to reunite with them.
Prime Minister urged to take personal responsibility for protecting refugee children
Following the vote more than 10 charities who work with refugees and unaccompanied children – including STAR – have urged the Prime Minister to take personal responsibility for protecting refugee children and retain the law that protects their right to reunite with family after Brexit.
In December the government presented a new EU Withdrawal Bill which watered down its legal obligations to find a replacement for family reunion. The government’s move shocked Lord Dubs, who had spearheaded the original cross-party legislation agreed to by the government in 2018, only to find it under threat following the election.
Today’s vote, on an amendment tabled by Lord Dubs and a cross-party group of Peers, means the Government must now decide whether to accept its original obligations or keep pushing to water them down when the issue returns to the Commons tomorrow.
On the result, Lord Dubs said “This is fantastic news. I am enormously grateful to the Lords and of course to the public who have been so supportive of my amendment and of the moral argument for providing safe routes for children to be reunited with their families here. It’s now be the turn of the Commons to show what they’re made of. For the sake of the children stranded in Calais and Greece who simply want to reach the safety of their families, I hope they will also honour our humanitarian traditions and get behind the amendment.”
Safe Passage CEO Beth Gardiner Smith said: “Parliament has sent a clear signal to Boris Johnson that he needs to re-think this unnecessary and reckless move. It’s simply not good enough for the Government to claim they still back family reunion, whilst taking away the legal protections that support it. All this does is create fear and panic amongst some of the most vulnerable children.
“The Prime Minister should now show compassion and agree to the Lords amendment. Many of the children we support have lost their parents but they have grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles living in the UK and ready to care for them. It is illogical that these children be denied safe passage to the UK, left with no other choice but to consider smuggling just to reach their loved ones, or to grow up alone without the care of their family many surviving in camps and car parks across Europe.”
Urgent action – act today to ask MPs to support the bill
Ahead of this going back to the Commons tomorrow, we are trying to ramp up maximum pressure so please write to your MP today.