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Unaccompanied Child Refugees

Volume 627: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2017

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the acceptance of unaccompanied asylum seeking children into the UK.

Baroness Williams revealed in a recent response to a question in the other place that under the Dubs scheme only 200 unaccompanied asylum seeking children had so far been transferred to the United Kingdom from mainland Europe. The Government stated before the general election that before closing the scheme they would take 480 children, which in itself was the cause of outrage to many of us who had championed the Save the Children campaign to give sanctuary to 3,000 children in the UK. The Government’s choice to take a figure as low as 480 was mean-spirited, blatantly politically motivated and not worthy of this House or this country—and yet the number of desperate children we have actually received is less than half that measly target.

The Government cannot use a lack of capacity or of resources as an excuse. Recent freedom of information requests have shown that local councils have voluntarily offered to accept 1,572 more children than they were supporting. Be it Syrian children, survivors of the Nazi death camps, Ugandan refugees or those fleeing genocide in the Balkans, this country’s values of openness and tolerance dictate that we have a moral duty and responsibility to be a land of sanctuary. Our history shows that we are stronger and more successful because of our willingness to take in desperate refugees, who go on to become proud Britons. So why do the Government seem committed to turning their back on the world?

Our actions in this House directly affect the lives of the many hundreds of children who have a legal right to come to the United Kingdom but who are currently scattered across Europe, scared and alone. I and many others feel strongly that this issue must be debated before the House rises for the summer recess. In the summer, migrants make more trips to Europe in unsuitable boats, and I fear that all over again we are likely to see more news of people drowning while trying desperately to reach safety. Put bluntly, by the time October comes around there will be many more children alone, orphaned and living a hand-to-mouth existence in continental Europe.

We must examine our consciences. The Government made an unambitious commitment that had to be dragged out of them. They then cancelled that agreement before managing to meet even half of its terms. I ask the House to take this opportunity to address this outrage and to help these desperate children.

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees into the UK. I have listened carefully to his application, and on this occasion I am not persuaded that the matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Ordinarily, I am exhorted to say nothing more than that, but I will say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not insensitive to the strong concern that he and others have on this matter. There is a limitation on time—we do not have unlimited time between now and the recess—but if he wants to seek other opportunities to air his concerns on this matter tomorrow, on Thursday or indeed both— who knows?—he may be successful in his quest.

In a moment, I will call the shadow Education Secretary, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The hon. Lady has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.