As this Wimbledon Guardian article points out, on the same day we were hearing Gulwali Passarlay’s harrowing account of his journey as a lone 12-year-old boy from Afghanistan to Britain at the Wimbledon Odeon (see my earlier post here), MPs voted against a proposed amendment to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe to into the UK (see also here). Those who voted against the amendment include:- Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond
– Kingston and Surbiton MP James Barry
– Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell
– Kingston and Surbiton MP James Barry
– Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell
Putney, Roehampton and Southfields MP Justine Greening and Morden and Mitcham MP Siobhain McDonagh did not vote. The vote breakdown can be seen on this map.
The Government said it will take in 3,000 children at risk in the Middle East and North Africa, but this does not ease the plight of the thousands of unaccompanied child refugees already in Europe. According to the Wimbledon Guardian article (and these figures were referred to in the debate in the House of Lords in the fresh proposal), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that 95,000 such children applied for asylum in Europe last year, and Europol estimated in January that 10,000 such children went missing since arriving in Europe.
Lord Alfred Dubs, who proposed the amendment, tabled a fresh proposal which was supported by the House of Lords on Thursday. This means that it will go back to the House of Commons, expected next week on 9 May.
What does the fresh proposal say?
It requires the government to support a specified number of unaccompanied children refugees in Europe, and to determine this number of children in consultation with local authorities.
What are the arguments for/against?
Having a read of the debate in Hansard is really helpful – it outlines the government’s view about what we’re already doing in the UK, and the view of Lord Dubs and others who think we need to do more (search for ‘Amendment 87’ on this page). Some of the other articles linked on this page also outline this in more detail, and there is plenty of press coverage if you want to read further.
What can we do?
The vote margin against the amendment was narrow, 294 to 276, and there’s indication the new proposal will also be strongly contested.
The MPs in the areas where we share in our Everyday Church community (and where many of us live and work) have mostly voted against a specific amendment requiring the government to take in unaccompanied children refugees from Europe.
Do you agree with this?
If you don’t, you should let them know this week!As I learned while studying for my ‘Life in the UK test’ last week, one of the responsibilities of an MP is to represent everyone in their constituency. Does your MP speak for you on this issue?
My MP does not speak for me if he votes against the amendment. And as a Commonwealth citizen given the right and privilege to vote in elections in this country, I’ve let him know what I think.
I think that showing compassion in times of great crisis goes beyond policies and politics; that children need a home and refugee camps, detention centres or the streets of Europe where they are at risk of mental and physical harm, abuse, trafficking, prostitution are no home. For Mr Hammond in this context to talk about these countries as places we ‘would be happy to go on holiday in’ shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees all across Europe. I disagree that a commitment to taking in refugees should not be enshrined in law but left to government policy – if enough people think more needs to be done, shouldn’t the law reflect this? The British people have shown leadership in times of great crisis and can do so again. Comparing ourselves to what other countries are doing is a fallacy – it’s either right to act or it isn’t, irrespective of what our neighbours’ responses are. And I think we can make room for children who are alone, otherwise have little hope or prospect, and can languish for years not knowing if anyone will take them in.
I have been horrified and moved to tears reading stories of people who did nothing when lives were at stake on a mass scale, and been stirred powerfully by the stories of those who risked their lives for people they didn’t know and were not beholden to.This is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. I continue to grapple with what my response to this as a Christian, as a human being, looks like, but today, I can use my voice to say what I think I’d say if I were in their shoes. If these were my children, if I were one of them.
Gulwali Passarlay said on Monday that his mother sent him and his brother away because she feared for their safety, as they were targeted by the Taliban as recruits after their father was killed by US army troops. She didn’t want her sons to follow a path of revenge and murder. He said that when he arrived in Italy, people’s kindness was too much and he didn’t know how to respond after suffering mistreatment, imprisonment, hunger, and nearly drowning when crossing the Mediterranean. He found out his brother was in the UK and made it here, where he endured a gruelling process to be given refugee status and was ultimately fostered, attended school and is now at university studying politics, hoping to work somewhere like the UN and maybe, one day, go back to Afghanistan to help rebuild his birthplace.
Whatever his future holds, this country has played a critical part in empowering and equipping him. What a legacy for us as a generation, as a country, to be able to show compassion and give similar opportunities to other vulnerable children in need. The question is, will we do it?
I urge you to take the time to consider this issue and speak up urgently this week. Merton Welcomes Refugees has some suggestions on its Facebook page, or you can contact your MP directly (by email! So easy!). Here are the details for Stephen Hammond MP, James Barry MP, Justine Greening MP, Siobhain McDonagh MP and Gavin Barwell MP. If you’re not sure who your MP is, check here.
Merton Welcomes Refugees has also invited Citizens UK to hold training for anyone who wants to be part of starting a resettlement program in Merton. It will be on Tuesday 31 May from 7-9 pm. For more details and to RSVP, contact us! Even if you don’t live in Merton but want to know more about resettlement programs, you’re welcome to join. Please also pray for wisdom for our leaders, that in these times they will reflect the will and character of God in their decision-making, and that we will do our part in caring for those in need.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in,
or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did
for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’