Europe’s child refugees? Stop being so sentimental about them, UK Conservative MP says
Critics of the government’s decision to close the door on refugee children from Calais have been urged to “stop being sentimental” by a Conservative lawmaker.
Pauline Latham, the Conservative MP for mid-Derbyshire, said other governments across Europe should be looking after the children in their jurisdictions, not Britain.
“They are not Nazi Germany,” she said in reference to the conditions in France. Czech-born Labour peer Alf Dubs, the champion of the child refugees, fled Germany as a child in 1939 and was given sanctuary in Britain.
“These children are not under threat of murder, they are in safe countries, [and] the governments [of those countries] should be dealing with [them],” Latham told the House of Commons during an emergency backbenchers’ debate on the government’s decision to stop the transfer of unaccompanied children from France.
“We should stop being so sentimental and be looking at what [is] the best thing to do for these families and children and that is keep them in the region,” she said.
In a speech described by Scottish National party MP Chris Law as shocking, she went on to say that if children were living in “rat-infested” shelters with no mattresses in Greece, that was not Britain’s concern.
“Whose fault is that? That’s Greece’s fault,” she said.
She made her comments shortly after Labour MP Yvette Cooper urged the government to reopen the scheme on the grounds that it had offered a legal and safe route to children who were otherwise at risk of rape and trafficking.
Cooper visited a refugee camp in Dunkirk on Monday and said there was a growing number of child refugees returning to northern France to sleep rough because of the closure of the so-called Dubs scheme, which gave lone children a legal chance of asylum in the UK.
She added: “They had family in Britain but they had been turned down, been given no reason, no piece of paper saying why they had been turned down. [You] could see more and more children going back to Calais and Dunkirk, pushed [there] because the legal safe route had been taken out.”
Widespread anger and dismay greeted an announcement by the government earlier this month that it was to end its commitment to provide a safe haven for thousands of vulnerable lone child refugees in Europe after only 350 had been brought to Britain.
Latham’s comments got some cheers in the Commons, but her views were the polar opposite of those espoused by fellow Conservatives Nicky Morgan, Peter Bone and Geoffrey Cox.
Bone, MP for Wellingborough, described traffickers as “the most evil people in the world” who have worked out that there is more money to be made from refugees than gun-running and drugs.
Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, savaged the government for turning its back on children in Europe.
Making an impassioned plea to Theresa May to reopen the Dubs scheme, he said Britain’s reputation was at stake.
“Thirty thousand unaccompanied children entered Greece [and Italy] last year, are we simply to leave them there … while this great country, stands back and watches?
“We are taking a modest few and all the Dubs amendment meant is that we should take a modest few … and I do not believe that we believed it would be 350 only.”
Cox also condemned the government for arguing that the scheme was a magnet for children, saying the “plight of a child transcends this kind of complexities of push factors and pull factors”.
Robert Goodwill, the immigration minister, said MPs were wrong to say the government had indicated it would take 3,000 children under the Dubs agreement.
He also said the government would fulfil its 2016 promise to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable children from Syria, revealing 80 had arrived in Belfast on Thursday.
Dubs championed the amendment to the Immigration Act last year because he felt Britain was doing so little for Europe’s migrants, compared with countries like Sweden and Germany.