For many years Lord Roberts and his team have been campaigning in Parliament to get the Government to fulfil their moral obligation to welcome more refugees to the United Kingdom, and last week we had a major break through.
Since the Conservative Party Conference in September we have been battered by anti-immigration rhetoric, as Tory ministers in both houses consistently rebuff any suggestion of bringing more refugees to the UK.
However, last week there was a glimmer of hope. During Report Stage of the Immigration Bill the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly for an amendment which would bring 3,000 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK. This campaign – led by Save the Children – has received widespread public support, because it would help some of the estimated 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.
The amendment – tabled by Lord Alf Dubs, who himself fled Nazi rule as a refugee under the Kindertransport programme – stipulates that “the secretary of state must, as soon as possible, make arrangements to relocate 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children who are in European countries to the United Kingdom”.
It passed by 306 votes to 204, thereby defeating the Government and forcing the Commons to recognise public support for helping asylum seekers.
In recent months the Prime Minister has consistently opposed this specific amendment. He says he does not want to bring refugees to the UK who already in Europe because this would “encourage” more asylum seekers to the make the dangerous journey to the continent.
However, in response to a question by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, David Cameron said:“We think it is right to take additional children over and above the 20,000 but to take them from the region and to do it with the UNHCR.”
The Prime Minister’s response that “it is right” to accept more refugee children is a significant change in tone – even if he will not receive them from within Europe. His response leaves the door open for the possibility of welcoming more refugees in the future.
The bill’s third reading in the Lords will take place today, and it will then be passed back to the Commons for consideration by MPs. Our fingers are crossed that the amendment is accepted by the Commons. However, if it is rejected, the Lords have made it clear that further solutions must be explored.
Whatever happens, Lord Roberts’ office will continue to campaign for the best interests of vulnerable men, women and children who deserve safety, security and freedom from oppression.