Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the decision to allow Kindertransport children to come to the United Kingdom.
My Lords, many of you will be familiar with the plaque just off Central Lobby in the House of Commons, which was unveiled in 1999 and says:
“In deep gratitude to the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom for saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish and other children who fled to this country from Nazi persecution on the Kindertransport 1938-1939”.
It is a big thank you that we rededicated about a year and a half ago in the presence of the Chief Rabbi, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the Commons. I was one of the children who came under that scheme.
The House of Lords Library has produced an excellent briefing on this, for which we should say thank you. It helps to inform our debates and it is a pretty good way of getting the debate started.
The importance of 1938-39 is that, in under 12 months, Britain accepted 10,000 unaccompanied children. It goes without saying that we are all familiar with Nicky Winton’s contribution to those who came from Prague. He died about two years ago, but he made an enormous contribution: 669 children came from Czechoslovakia. Others came from Germany, Austria and I think some from Poland.
I understand that the British Government set a condition that children were to be aged 16 or under and were to come to Britain strictly on the condition that they would be emigrated when they reached 18. I say to the Government and the Home Office: I am still here.
A couple of weeks ago we held a commemoration, hosted jointly with Barbara Winton, daughter of Nicky Winton, and arranged by Safe Passage at Friends House. We had a very distinguished group of people there: the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, the emeritus Catholic Bishop of Southwark, a German Protestant bishop, Islamic scholar Sheikh Babikir, the Immigration Minister and Dame Esther Rantzen, as well as Kindertransport survivors and recently arrived child refugees. We had 1,000 people there. It was intended to set off a campaign for us to do better than we are doing at the moment. Last week there was another event in Speaker’s House. Many MPs and others read excerpts from Hansard of late 1938 leading up to the decision of the House of Commons to agree to accept child refugees.
We have set out all along that there should be all-party support as a basis of the campaign for unaccompanied child refugees. Many amendments were moved from the Back Benches. We deliberately sought to gain the support of Government Back-Benchers, as well as those of opposition parties. We called the campaign that started at Friends House Our Turn—our turn to do more. The best way to commemorate the 1938 decision is for the UK to agree to accept 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees over the next 10 years. That is 1,000 per annum, or three per local authority. It is a very modest request indeed, but with an additional difference that these would come from not just Europe but the region. We already have schemes in the region; I will refer to those in a moment. Recently, I visited a refugee camp in Jordan, and a little bit earlier I was on the Greek island of Lesbos, looking at the camps there.
In 2017, nearly 33,000 children arrived in Europe, mainly unaccompanied. In Greece there are estimated to be 2,800 children waiting for a place in a shelter, living in camps or on the streets—and conditions are pretty awful. On Lesbos, which I visited, conditions are very depressing. I appreciate that the Greek authorities are doing their best, but they are not able to cope very well and they really need a bit more international help than they are getting—although I will say that refugees in Athens are better placed than those on the islands. In Zaatari camp in Jordan, where I was two and a half to three weeks ago, physical conditions are better, but if there is one characteristic feature of refugee camps that is most alarming it is the lack of hope. Even if physical conditions are depressing, where there is hope, human beings can sustain themselves—children can. But where there is no hope, it is absolutely depressing, and what I saw in the camps on Lesbos was a lack of hope. Even in Zaatari in Jordan, where the physical conditions are better, because people are now in prefab huts rather than in tents, there is still a lack of hope.
To date, our record is not wonderful. Under Section 67—the amendment I moved—we have accepted 280 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe. The Government arbitrarily said that they would cap the number at 480. It was quite an arbitrary decision and I will refer to it in a moment. Then, under the Dublin treaty we have taken about 800. That is the treaty whereby a child in one EU country can join relatives in another: and 800 came from France and some from Greece to join relatives here. I am pleased to say that Parliament passed an amendment to an earlier piece of legislation to say that the Dublin III treaty should be maintained even after Brexit. In other words, we will go on acting as if we were members of that treaty, so we can still accept children from those countries—or, indeed, if they are here they can join relatives in other EU countries.
Then we had the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which the Government set up to take 20,000 refugees—not just children—over five years. To this were added 3,000 mainly children. I understand that of the 3,000 mainly children we have had only about 200 so far, although it was a government commitment. Maybe the figure is better than that and I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that. In the original Section 67 the Government set the cap at 480 because it was alleged that local authorities did not have enough foster places for the children. I have to say that my evidence is different. Recently we have had pledges from local authorities offering 800 places, and even before we asked for these pledges quite a number of local authorities said they were willing to come forward—so I am disappointed that the Government have put on an arbitrary cap. Not that we have reached that figure; we are only just over half way there.
The answer is simple: we should keep the scheme going and accept unaccompanied child refugees at the same speed that local authorities come forward with places. It seems very easy and straightforward. There is, however, a problem, which is funding for local authorities. Some are finding it quite difficult because they get some money for the first year, after which the going is much more difficult. So a little bit more funding would be extremely helpful.
I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I do not argue and have never argued that Britain should take all these unaccompanied child refugees—far from it. That would be unrealistic and not very helpful. I think we should share responsibility with other countries. Some other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have done a pretty good job. Some deny that refugees are anything to do with them, such as the Hungarians. They say that refugees are not their problem and they are interested only in white Christians—which is really not in keeping with the best humanitarian traditions of Europe. So we should share responsibility and in a sense my plea in this debate is not just to the Government but to all European countries, as well as to Northern Ireland and the Crown dependencies.
I will say a quick word about Northern Ireland. There are people in Northern Ireland who have said to me that they are quite willing to take child refugees. The issue has got stuck on whether there is a power for Northern Ireland to take unaccompanied child refugees under Section 67 in the absence of an Executive. Opinions vary on this, and I understand that the Government are looking into it to see whether it might be possible. I cannot see for the life of me why Northern Ireland should not be able to take refugees: I am not sure what the Executive would have to do with it. I deeply regret that there is no Executive there, but I do think we could make progress there and that the people of Northern Ireland would like to go ahead. The issue has also been raised with the Crown dependencies and they are thinking about it—although the Isle of Man defeated a proposal to take refugees by one vote last week. Northern Ireland is there waiting for the Government to respond and say, “Yes, something can be done”.
The crucial part of all this is public opinion. We must get public opinion onside. In 1938-39 public opinion was by and large supportive of child refugees. I believe that the same is true today. Whatever the arguments and concerns around immigration, I believe that if it is put to the British people that we can do more for unaccompanied child refugees than we have done until now, most British people will say, “Yes, we could. Yes, we should”. There is no public opinion to be frightened of. I urge the Government to make a positive contribution by responding to this debate in a positive way.
Does the noble Lord have any estimate of the number of unaccompanied children still wandering about somewhere on the continent, without any care or reception or anything? If he could give that, it would stimulate the generosity of potential fosterers and adopters in this country.
My Lords, these figures are rough estimates but I understand that in 2017, 33,000 children—many unaccompanied—arrived in Europe. In Greece nearly 3,000 children are currently waiting for a place in a shelter, living in camps or on the streets, in deplorable and dangerous conditions. There are also several hundred in France and an unknown number in Italy.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing the debate and for all the work that he has done and continues to do. If I may say so, we are all glad that he is still here.
In preparation for my short contribution, I made one visit and one phone call. The visit was to Dr Hilda Cohen, a close friend of my wife’s family, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. I visited her on Friday morning because as a 10 year-old girl she was sent on the Kindertransport to the UK. She brought Kristallnacht to life for me. She talked of the flames, the burning and the destruction of her own synagogue in Frankfurt on the night of Wednesday 9 November 1938. Just two days later, her father was taken away from the family Shabbat table. Incredibly, Hilda recalled that the discussion was more about whether or not her father should take a suitcase with him as it was forbidden to carry in the public domain on the Sabbath. He was held for a month but was then returned to the family—probably, she recalled, due to the fact that he had received an Iron Cross for his service in World War I. In July 1939 Hilda was taken by her parents to Frankfurt station. They were not a kissing and hugging family but Hilda recalled, some 80 years later, that there was kissing and hugging as she left with a small bag containing her prayer book, her Bible, some silver ladles and a few photos. That, of course, was the last day she saw her parents and brother. The story is all too familiar.
On 3 September 1939, Hilda, aged 11, found herself in Merthyr in south Wales, and she was looked after by a childless couple who showed her selfless kindness. Hilda went on to study medicine. She became a doctor and worked for many years in the blood transfusion unit. She became a Cardiff city councillor and a JP serving on the Bench in south Wales for more than 40 years. Serving the community and doing for others, Hilda has been an inspiration. She has three children and 16 grandchildren and is expecting her 10th great-grandchild imminently. Hilda’s story is about the selfless kindness of the host family and the generous decision of the Government of the day.
That sense of community led me to the phone call, which I made yesterday. I called the renowned playwright Diane Samuels, who was in my class in school in Liverpool. Diane wrote the play “Kindertransport”, which was first performed here in the UK in 1993. I recommend it to those noble Lords who may not have seen it. Diane cited three reasons for writing that play, which she published. The first was that she saw a friend, whose father had been on the Kindertransport, struggling with the concept of survival. The second was when she heard another friend being shocked to find out that his mother was in Auschwitz—he did not know this all his life. The third reason was the admission of another woman in her fifties, who had come on the Kindertransport, and had expressed a feeling of rage at her dead parents who had abandoned her, even though that abandonment had led to the saving of her life.
These are challenging issues but on the call yesterday, I reminded Diane that as young teenagers in Liverpool we and our friends were inspired by Stanley Morris of the Shifrin Foundation. This was an educational drama group that played a huge part in our upbringing and taught us a massive sense of community. Diane was a superstar then, as she is today.
For me, the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport is a reminder of acts of kindness and bravery, a commitment to one’s fellows and a striving for a better world. It is the inspiring story of Hilda and the educational creativity of Diane that give me hope for a better future.
My Lords, I must say that I am a personal friend of my noble friend Lord Dubs and if there is one person whom we should mention in our debate today, it is Lady Dubs. When my noble friend has been so frantically and tirelessly committed, she has given him stalwart support throughout the whole enterprise.
It is important that when we are confronted with issues such as this, we do not just agonise but do something. When something can be done, we should do it; my noble friend Lord Dubs has illustrated that this is true. But the best way in which we can honour those who were courageous enough to stand up and organise the transport for those who were able to come—the best tribute—is to remember those who were not able to come: the millions who died in the concentration camps and the Holocaust. We should also recommit ourselves to an overriding drive to ensure that such things cannot happen again. We must work effectively and internationally to deal with the causes of what we were confronted with in the 1930s.
I would be glad to have clarification from the Minister on one very practical point. Families are psychologically crucial to the developing and maturing child. Can we really not become more imaginative about the arrangements that can be made to enable some relatives—at least one—to come and join a child who has made it to the UK? This could have a tremendous impact on the future of the child and on their well-being and security. At the moment, the Government take the line that this would only encourage still more to come, but I have seen no evidence whatever for this. If the Government are going to take that hard line, they really must produce the evidence of why it is the case. I am much more concerned about the child and the child’s future. That demands action on that front.
It is great that my noble friend Lord Dubs has taken this action and has had so much support from across the House for doing so, but we live in the reality of the world as it is. We talk so much here about immigration, and we do not talk enough about the huge global issue of migration. With the help of the Library, I have dug out some statistics. At the moment, in the world there are 19,941,347 refugees, 3,090,898 asylum seekers and 39,118,516 internally displaced people. If we are struck by and compelled to respond to the situation in Europe that confronts us and the distressing scenes that we have all witnessed, we must remember that those distressing scenes are being repeated all over the world on an almost unimaginable scale. This is a tremendous humanitarian challenge, of course, but it is also a security challenge, because I do not see how we can have a peaceful, stable world if we have that number of people being stunted in their upbringing, frustrated and so on because many are extremely able, intelligent people who feel completely excluded, and that will not lead to a peaceful world.
We have heard a Statement this afternoon about the latest developments on the European Union. I am deeply disappointed that when we talk about the political declaration, we talk in theoretical, analytical terms about the things that we need to do structurally in this situation, but what are we doing to address the issues that confront us around the globe morally and security-wise? Please can we hear some specific language about how we can, by whatever arrangements we make, do something more effective, together with our partners in Europe, to meet those challenges?
My Lords, I too appreciate the opportunity to join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others in this debate. At the moment, we are particularly busy with Syrian refugees, youngsters and so on, and with the kids of the Yemen and so many others in the world, yet there is one place that really stirs my heart, and that is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It is the memorial to the 6 million Jewish people who were slaughtered in Hitler’s Germany. Of that number, 1.5 million were children. When you go into that memorial, you hear the voices of kids, you see the lights representing every child there. Their names are not John, Philip, David or Roger. They are the names of children who were still children even though they had different names.
Everywhere people ask me, “Who do you support?” I support anybody who works with children. It is children we need. Whatever the child’s nationality, it is not his fault. It is not his fault that he might be Welsh; he is just born. We have an opportunity and an obligation to help any child anywhere, of any religion or nationality. We should look to them and say, “We are your guardians, your brothers, your sisters, your uncles and aunts”.
When I was a lad—I was, once—I remember going to the Palace Cinema in Conwy in 1945. It was a good cinema, although it is closed now. There we saw the newsreels showing the release of the folk who had been detained in the camps. I will never forget those human scarecrows who could hardly move and the others who had long given up any hope of moving. I said, “This must not happen again”. That is why I became a Methodist minister and I think it is why I took part in politics: to try to build a world where every child could have an opportunity and we could treat them with great respect and regard.
However, it has happened again. Various numbers have been mentioned, such as 39 million people without homes in the world, and there are scores of thousands who are starving or casualties of war. It must not happen again. We tighten immigration controls but the people and the need are all still there. We can close the borders but the children in need are still there. When we tighten immigration controls, we are doing something that continues that desperate need. Children have been mentioned on Lesbos and among the 4 million people in camps in Turkey. We have an opportunity to change that. You do not change by building walls; you change by changing people’s hearts. We do not change by saying, “We’re going to pull up the drawbridge”; instead, we change people’s hearts and lives and the approach towards them.
My great day of despair in this House was when we were discussing the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to bring in 3,000 children from Syria. I will never forget seeing the troops going into the No Lobby. That hurt me very much and it did not help anyone. Now we have maybe between 200 and 400 of those children in this country instead of 3,000. We could have accommodated them—of course we could. I come originally from Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley, and I remember the day in 1940 when the buses came bringing evacuees from some of the English cities. People might think, “You can’t remember that! You were only a little nipper!”, but I will never forget the kids coming off those buses and being accepted with love by people in those communities. With that situation in mind, I wept at the sight of Peers walking through the No Lobby. We chose to build a wall.
We are going to face even greater problems in the future, such as Yemen or Bangladesh. Then there is global warming, which could have a terrible impact on the prosperous maize fields of Africa and destroy so much. It could leave many people looking for sustenance and hope, and they will be trying to find welcome in various places. Are we preparing for them? Do we have any strategy, or will we just say, “Come on, let’s build another wall”? We could do that, but that is simply saying, “Look after yourselves. We’re not going to stretch out to greet you”.
I suggest that if we want a memorial to the Kindertransport of 80 years ago, the best one would be a new attitude and for us to show renewed care. That is a memorial that would change people and it is what I would like to see us, as a Parliament and as a people, embracing. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing this debate and for all he does as the living embodiment in this House of the Kindertransport legacy. It was also my privilege to be present at the event at the Friends’ meeting house a couple of weeks ago, which was deeply inspiring.
In 1939, as a 10 year-old refugee, Paul Willer and his family were quietly sponsored to come to the UK by the then leader of the Opposition. The Attlees’ hospitality provokes us to consider both wider community responses to welcoming strangers and government plans. My first question is: what will each of us do in our communities to commemorate the hospitality of those who went before?
When we concern ourselves solely with what the Government should do about asylum and the resettlement of refugees, the focus becomes too narrow. Disproportionate attention is given to questions of affordability and enforcement. They are not where discussion should begin. Any action to welcome and integrate refugees must be a whole society effort, in which the Government play a crucial part, but only one part.
British Future and HOPE not hate’s recent national conversation on immigration gives us a rigorous evidence base for the singular importance of one’s local experience in shaping how we view wider policy questions about integration and immigration. Local consent is crucial. When it comes to doing more for unaccompanied minors, the will, even if sometimes fragile, is there.
This predominant view is well expressed by one participant at the Durham panel of those conversations, who said:
“We do need immigration, and we also need compassion as well, for people who need refuge. I think it should be controlled but it should be controlled with a heart, but not some open door policy”.
Since September 2015, the charity Home for Good has had 14,000 people register their interest in becoming a foster carer for an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child. Of course, not all will be suitable, but many would. The way that Home for Good works means that behind each name is a person embedded in a series of communities and institutions who would support them.
Meeting community sponsorship groups, I have seen the remarkable depth of skills and assets that groups can leverage to resettle and welcome refugee families. There is then the sheer ingenuity and commitment that foster carers and community sponsors who care for vulnerable children demonstrate daily. The salient question is how, not if, the Government harness and develop the compassion and capacity already there in communities across the UK.
Finding an answer will require courage, imagination and collaboration. This is exemplified in the success of the VPRS scheme and in community-based pilots such as that at Yarl’s Wood. In the context of this debate, all three virtues have been in evidence at the Home Office, particularly in the work of Paul Morrison and his directorate, to whom I pay respect. There remain many questions about the current approach to resettlement, asylum and migration, but there is much to cheer.
Working out how the UK can best offer welcome to more of the most vulnerable children in the world will be a complex conversation. As it was 80 years ago, it will be difficult and costly. However, in pushing forward, we will be doing the right thing.
The Church of England—as, I know, do other faith communities—stands ready to work with the Minister to design a scheme to facilitate the expanded welcome and flourishing of these children. Will the Minister commit to a further deepening of engagement with civil society and businesses to create a fully rounded way forward to ensure that we take an increased number of such children? Eighty years on from the Kindertransport, we stand in the legacy that was marked both by local acts and national leadership. It is clear that the only appropriate commemoration is to go and do likewise. It is now our turn.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing this debate. I should declare a personal interest in what we are commemorating today. I am an indirect beneficiary of the Kindertransport. Had Hanus Weisl, the teenager who would become my orthopaedic surgeon, not made it on to the last train out of Prague before the Nazis closed the border in June 1939, the chances are I would not have made it here to your Lordships’ House. It was due, in large part, to his expert care between birth and 13 that I had the best possible medical start to life.
So today I speak with gratitude and with a sense of debt, as someone who, like him, would have been regarded by the Nazis as Untermensch or subhuman. For both Hanus Weisl and I would have been destined for extermination—he for being Jewish, I for being disabled, as part of the Nazis’ Aktion T4 programme. I think of him and his parents who also miraculously escaped. But I speak, as many other noble Lords have done, with a sense of sadness as well, because I think of those who did not escape—those family members who probably waved Hanus off that summer’s day, none of whom would survive the Holocaust.
Thanks to the remarkable Wiener Library, which was founded by Dr Alfred Wiener, the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, I can not only put names to those family members. I know what journeys they themselves made. It is probable that Anna Weisl, Hanus’s maternal grandmother, was on the platform that day. Within four years, her journey would take her from her home, which still stands today at Klatovy, to Auschwitz via Theresienstadt. She arrived at her final destination on 15 December—which is in just over a fortnight’s time. She probably perished in the gas chambers in July 1944. Hanus’s aunt, Babette Pollak, was possibly also on the platform to say goodbye to her talented teenage nephew. She and Hanus’s uncle, Pavel, and their daughter, Zdenka, shared the same address as his maternal grandmother, Anna. Tragically, they also shared the same ultimate destination.
Although, of course, the family members who gathered at Prague station that June day would have been gripped by a deep sense of foreboding, could any one of them have foreseen the full extent of the Nazis’ murderous, racist intent? No. But 80 years on, we have no such excuse. For if the Holocaust teaches us anything, it is surely that we now know how far and how fast humanity is capable of falling and how important it is always to remember and learn from that very painful lesson.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that there could be no more fitting commemoration of both the Kindertransport and those who did not escape to safety than a renewed commitment, by all parties, to combat the racism that is anti-Semitism.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs, not just on securing this debate but on all the work he has done over the years helping refugees, refugee children and their families. My Aunt Alice, whom I never had the opportunity to know, faced an agonising dilemma after Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938: should she put her two young sons on the Kindertransport scheme and send them away from danger? She made that heart-breaking decision and, a year or two later, found herself, her husband and a new baby son trapped in an overcrowded ghetto in northern Germany, where they all soon died from typhus fever. Her sons, my cousins, were by then safe and settled in the United Kingdom. The real question is, surely, why Alice and her husband, along with many thousands of other Jews, could not leave with them. The Nazi Government were happy for them to leave, but they could not take money or possessions. They needed a visa to go to another country, a sponsor, a job offer or access to funds abroad. For many, this was impossible to organise.
My father found one solution to this. In 1936, hearing from a friend that the Gestapo was after him, he drew out all his savings, taped them to the underside of his car, and drove across the German-Dutch border, telling the guard that he was on a business trip. Fortunately, the border guard did not examine the car in any way and waved him across the border. Once safely in Holland, he applied for political asylum and was granted it. However, so many people found themselves trapped in Germany—a country whose venomous attacks against them grew ever more lethal. As noble Lords have heard, as the 1930s went on fewer and fewer countries offered them a way out.
Against this background, saving 10,000 Jewish children was undoubtedly a great achievement, but the British Government’s role was decidedly minimal. They issued the vital visas and facilitated entry for the children, but the people we should really celebrate are the religious groups—mainly Jewish and Quaker—which raised the funds and shouldered most of the administration of the scheme, the families who took in the children and the sponsors who liaised with them. My cousins were brought up by a family in Reading, but never lost touch with their sponsors, the Sainsbury family. My elder cousin, on leaving school, went to work in Sainsbury’s. When he later told Lord Sainsbury that he really wanted to become a journalist, he was helped with that too. The sponsors played a major role in the scheme.
The reason for that was the Government’s view that the children must not be a burden on the public purse. Thanks to the organisers, host families and sponsors, they were not. Reading the House of Commons debate from 1938 about the plight of Jewish refugees—which the Library briefing helpfully made available—was a depressing experience, because little has changed in the intervening 80 years. Governments are as unaccommodating as ever. People are sympathetic, but not to the point of doing anything concrete to help. Sir Samuel Hoare’s warning in that 1938 debate rings even truer now than it did then: that there is an,
“underlying current of suspicion … rightly or wrongly, about alien immigration on any big scale”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col. 1468.]
Are we challenging it? Quite the contrary; we are now asked to clamp down even on the freedom of movement that currently exists. Yet those refugees and immigrants who have made it into the UK since the 1930s are among the most patriotic of our people. It was the proudest day of my father’s life when he became a British citizen. These people are patriotic—they want to join and to be in Britain, and it is so difficult for people to get here.
Philip Noel-Baker was absolutely right to say in the 1938 debate that the refugee problem could not be solved by private charity. It could not then and it cannot now. Only concerted action by states or international bodies can tackle the issue with any success. In the next 30 to 50 years, the movement of individuals fleeing oppression, war and poverty will be one of the most pressing issues we will all have to face. We cannot keep ignoring it. We cannot just keep fishing desperate refugees out of the Channel and the Mediterranean and returning them to north Africa, or wherever. Can the Minister say what our plan is as a country, to learn from the heart-rending experiences of the past and to deal with this most pressing of human issues?
My Lords, there is no one better to have opened tonight’s debate than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
The 80th anniversary of Kindertransport prompts the question: what would Sir Nicholas Winton, Trevor Chadwick, Florence Nankivell, Doreen Warriner, Beatrice Wellington, and others involved in organising escape routes for children threatened by Nazism, make of our present-day response to refugees and their children and to new ideologies and new forms of violence?
While we are right to praise the singular individuals—heroes like Bonhoeffer, Kolbe, Schindler, Frank Foley and Raoul Wallenberg—who all refused to accommodate anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities, we must not become too self-congratulatory or slip into a sentimental nostalgia. Overwhelmingly, people actively collaborated or remained silent. Kindertransport saved the lives of an estimated 10,000 children, each and every one of them precious. But never forget that the Nazis and their collaborators killed as many as 1.5 million children—including over a million Jewish children—who are commemorated at the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, which I too have visited. They also murdered tens of thousands of Romany children, German children with physical and mental disabilities—a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Shinkwin—and children from Poland and occupied Soviet territory. Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and most Kindertransport children would never see their parents again.
In 1938, after visiting the harsh, freezing conditions refugee camps in Sudetenland, and following Kristallnacht, Nicholas Winton decided to do something about it. Weeks later, he saw the first 200 Kindertransport children arrive at Harwich. They included many who would become notable and illustrious citizens, including four Nobel laureates, and Members of your Lordships’ House.
When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, moved his amendment to receive some of today’s fleeing refugee children, I was honoured to be one of the other signatories. But to be clear, according to Safe Passage, only 220 of the 480 places to be provided under the scheme put forward by the noble Lord have been filled. Like the noble Lord, I would be grateful if, when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, comes to reply, he would clarify whether that still remains the case. Meanwhile, Safe Passage also says that the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme for unaccompanied children in conflict zones has given just 20 unaccompanied children resettlement, out of 3,000 places. As it also points out, UK-funded detention centres in Libya are places of torture and abuse of children. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply he can respond to what Safe Passage says about that.
Elsewhere, children of Christians and Ahmadis fleeing from Pakistan are kept like caged animals in detention centres. In 2015, I visited one of those detention centres, and in 2016, I wrote a report about it. Recently, many of your Lordships have raised the continuing systematic persecution of minorities in Pakistan—the reason why people are fleeing in the first place. Children were forced to watch as a mob of 1,300 burned their parents alive in a kiln in Kot Rada Kishan in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a mother of five, Asia Bibi, remains at risk of her life in Pakistan while we refuse to give her or her children asylum and repeatedly say that minorities in Pakistan do not face persecution, but simply discrimination. Only today I have received a letter from the Prime Minister, who says:
“You asked whether the UK would be willing to offer Asia Bibi and her family asylum in the UK. It is the long standing policy of the Government not to comment on individual immigration issues”.
This is not just an immigration case. This is a woman who was falsely held in prison for some nine years, and who has been acquitted by the Supreme Court. This is a woman on behalf of whom the former Governor of the Punjab, a Muslim, Salman Taseer, and his friend, a Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, both spoke out—and were murdered for doing so. It is not a run-of-the-mill immigration case; it is something about which the Government should speak. I was deeply concerned to read in the Sunday newspapers—whether this is accurate others must decide, but I would welcome the Minister’s response—that both the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary had been overruled by Downing Street in wanting to provide asylum for Asia Bibi. Just as our Government refuse to recognise that minorities in northern Iraq and Syria have been subjected to genocide, I fear that we have done precisely the same in this case concerning Pakistan. I hope that we will look seriously at our asylum policies so that we can make better judgments in the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to the 1938 debate. Like her, I have read what Sir Samuel Hoare, the then Home Secretary, had to say in that debate on 21 November. The remarkable Philip Noel-Baker, in his opening speech, called for a co-ordinated plan and said that,
“a co-ordinated plan means a strong international administration to carry it through”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col.1439]
In reply, the Home Secretary said:
“How can a question remain exclusively domestic when it involves scores of thousands of men, women and children, destitute and penniless, seeking admission into other countries? … however deep may be our sympathies, this problem is, and must remain, an international problem. No single country can hope to solve it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col.1464]
That remains the challenge today and I hope it is a challenge to which the Government will rise.
Reading the speeches of the day is deeply moving because this issues seem to have come back around. What Nicholas Winton said however, is perhaps what should inform us all:
“If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it”.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this debate. It is a chance to reflect on what the Kindertransport programme symbolises still today: Britain’s moral courage in the face of injustice; Britain’s compassion for people who suffer; and Britain’s belief in opportunity for all. These values are the very definition of what it means to be British and we would do well to remember and honour that.
I also pay tribute to the moral courage of those families who sent their most precious possessions—their children—to the UK in the hope and faith that they would find a better future. We heard Hilda’s story from my noble friend Lord Polak. I cannot begin to imagine the agony suffered by those parents who faced the cruellest of choices and made the greatest of sacrifices, never knowing when or if their families would be reunited. Most were not. What I do know is that those refugees, like many who came before and after them, grew up to be exemplary citizens. The Jewish community is the best of British; it has enriched this country and provided positive role-models for all immigrants, including the British Indian community, who look to the Jewish community for inspiration.
Like my Jewish friends, a large number of East African Indians were welcomed to this country when they were no longer welcome in their own home because they were cast as “different”. Like the Jews in 1930s Europe, British Indians in 1970s East Africa were singled out as scapegoats for society’s ills, and, as in the Jewish experience, many of my own people who were refused safe passage to other countries faced a terrible fate. However, the Jews were victims of the darkest chapter in humanity’s history: the Holocaust. We learned from the Jewish community in the UK that no matter how great the obstacles, how challenging the circumstances or how painful the past, the future is yours, and yours alone, to shape. The three greatest lessons that I learned from that community in my early days in the UK were these: be grateful for the opportunities you have been given; do not bear grudges or grievances; and never, ever take your freedom for granted.
Those precepts are important because they forge a path to integration. We should recognise that Jewish people did not integrate after they succeeded; they were successful precisely because they integrated. They did not see themselves as Jews who happened to live in Britain but as British Jews whose first loyalty was to the country that granted them protection. With loyalty comes responsibility. Jewish people embraced British values and worked hard because they knew that no amount of charity and sympathy would substitute the rewards of self-reliance—and by that I do not mean individual riches but the rewards to be had from benefiting the whole of society.
The number of Kindertransport children who went on to have distinguished careers is staggering. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin mentioned the refugee who came as a Kindertransport child and became an orthopaedic surgeon, in many ways saving his life. These refugees became not only scientists but pioneers of science; not only lawyers but campaigners for justice; and not only teachers but education leaders. If this is the contribution of 10,000 lives, imagine what the world lost from the 6 million souls who perished in the Holocaust. It brings to mind a passage from a Jewish prayer recited on Yom Kippur, which includes the words,
“our hearts grow cold as we think of the splendour that might have been”.
To this day, the former refugees maintain a deep sense of gratitude and determination to give back to the country that gave them a chance at a new life, and I know that many British Indians cast themselves in the same light. Yes, we are proud of our heritage and bonded to our customs and traditions, but first and foremost we are British. We are lucky to be British and we want to do the best for our country.
It pains me that we are commemorating this milestone at a time when Jewish people feel under threat, when we are seeing a backlash against immigrants in a climate of rising intolerance, and when millions of people around the world continue to suffer persecution. We must never lose sight of the compassion and humanity that this country stands for. The Kinder- transport legacy lives on through us all, and it is our responsibility to unite behind it, now and in the years to come.
My Lords, all noble Lords have begun their speech with a justified tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the work that he has done. He is our moral leader in these matters and our provider of detailed information on the plight of refugees. We thank him for his unstinting work in doing this and for never giving up. The hesitations of government are one of the features that apply in every country, but the noble Lord carries on with this work and he has done so well. We thank him again for that and for initiating this debate.
I was Member of Parliament for Harrow East for 27 years, and every day I felt very proud of being the MP for that delightful area of north-west London. Because I am following the noble Lord, Lord Popat, I remember with great pride the moment when Ted Heath’s Government decided to designate Harrow and Leicester as the two main red-star centres to receive East African refugees escaping from Idi Amin. I have to say that we did have trouble from certain hard-faced people in the constituency—I will not say who—who did not like the idea at all. We insisted that they were coming and that we would accept 1,000 people to start with. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, was one of those who came, as we have discussed in debates before. I thank him for the contribution he has made in the House to these matters as well as to many others.
When those Asians came to Harrow, it became a much more dynamic place even than it already was. It was certainly dynamic without them, but with them coming, there was an extra élan in social and economic activity. We were forever grateful that they came, with their learning, experience, knowledge and business acumen—all of which were so important.
The noble Lord, Lord Popat, is sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I remember with great pride that we worked together in the House of Commons, where he did unstinting and wonderful work for the Jewish community in Britain. We worked for Soviet Jewry, with Greville Janner and others, and to promote the good cause of the Jewish community.
There is a quarterly English-language newspaper in Germany, the Jewish Voice from Germany, which I read avidly. I have contributed some pieces, and, in one article, the question from the editor was: what has been the contribution of the Jewish community in Britain? I answered that it had been just magnificent. That has been the case over the centuries, because they were here many years ago, too, but also more recently it has been a wonderful thing.
As a European enthusiast, it gives me great pride to remind this House that, in Germany now, the Jewish community has become reinstated and is sizable and growing, not only in Berlin, Dusseldorf and other big cities but all over the country. It was great to see that, when Angela Merkel addressed the Knesset, she got a standing ovation. It is hard to believe, but in recent polls in Israel, Germany came out as the most popular foreign country.
All that is very positive, and it is because of the efforts of individual Members of this House, of politicians elsewhere and of government officials. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is replying today, because he is a thoughtful and constructive Minister. We look forward to his reply and, I hope, to his responses to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Dubs, about Britain helping more in the global matter of refugees.
The second major point of pride for me as MP for Harrow is that, in 1987, we had the 50th anniversary of the Kindertransport in Harrow, with Tim Renton, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, representing the Government. It was a very moving occasion to see the gathering of the survivors of that Kindertransport. By then, some were very successful people—some were foolishly living in Palm Beach rather than in a respectable part of Florida—and they came from all over Britain, and from everywhere else, too. It was a great occasion, when we celebrated the survival of those who came because the Government and citizens demanded humanity in response to people facing such a dreadful plight.
I think also of the brave people in the occupied territories held by the Nazis, and indeed in Germany itself, who helped and sheltered Jews. In Germany and other places, it was a capital offence to do that. You had to be very brave to do so, and a lot of people were. That shows that humanity does come together when there are real exigencies, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, mentioned in the very moving cases he described. It shows that we need to open our hearts more about refugees and not have this rather hard attitude, which worries me, as it does the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who talked about people not having a humanitarian response to those whose plight is grotesque, particularly those in the Middle East, from north Africa and elsewhere. That is not just important but primordial—the way that a civilised and wealthy country with our resources can respond appropriately in the future.
My Lords, this has been an exceptionally moving debate. As the grandson and great-grandson of people who sought refuge in this country in the late 19th century to escape the hostile environment in which the Jewish communities of eastern Europe struggled to live normal lives, I of course share the profound sympathy for those children who, unlike those who were saved by escaping to the United Kingdom via the Kindertransport, perished in the Holocaust.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs—himself, as we have heard and know, a beneficiary of the Kindertransport who has been a truly powerful advocate for decades for those in most need of safety and support—on securing this debate. It is right to celebrate what was done 80 years ago, an anniversary recently marked by the revelation, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, that Clement Attlee, then leader of the Opposition, took a young Kindertransport boy into his home, characteristically without seeking any publicity for his action.
The world has seen and, alas, continues to see too much young, innocent blood spilled with ruthless indifference in wars between and within countries—sometimes in the name of religion or nationality, but always with shameless disregard for human life and well-being. Think of Syria, with 500,000 dead and millions displaced, or the conditions now faced by 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar. Often, people flee not only from the brutality of war but from the hardships engendered by poverty, hunger and disease, or in search of the freedom to practise their own faith, or to escape regimes that deny freedom of thought and speech, ruthlessly dividing the societies they purport to govern. How we react to the problems faced by these innocent victims is a measure of our claims to uphold human rights and needs to be assessed at international, national and local levels.
Much has been said about our national policy but I want to report briefly, as an illustration, on the situation in my own city of Newcastle. Just as members of my family settled there 130 years ago, some 64 families, comprising 267 individuals, of whom 145 are children—the majority escaping the carnage and horrors of Syria —have been resettled in the city by the city council, with a commitment to resettle another 27 families by the end of the current scheme in 2020. The numbers also include families from Sudan, Iraq and Eritrea.
Further, children’s social care is currently supporting eight unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, out of a total of 20 anticipated from 11 countries, who are now considered care leavers, having attained the age of 16. In addition, the council is discussing with the Home Office arrangements to receive six more Eritrean unaccompanied asylum-seeking children over the age of 16, who are currently in France, under the arrangements secured by my noble friend Lord Dubs under Section 67 of the Immigration Act. This, of course, will be mirrored in many other towns and cities.
However, while the council receives financial support from the Government for these asylum seekers, it receives no such support for the 1,062 asylum seekers housed by G4S and its subcontractor Jomast, whose performance in this area has given rise to concerns about the quality of the accommodation and the number of people housed under a single roof. Have the Government made any estimate of the cost to local authorities, schools and the NHS of support for these large groups and, if not, will they do so as an addition to their impending review of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children funding, an important but discrete issue? What efforts are the Government making to diversify the distribution of asylum seekers and displaced children across the country so that the cost of supporting these unfortunate people and assisting their assimilation into local communities is fairly shared?
The record so far is encouraging, but in the world we now live in, in which racism is apparently on the rise—not least in eastern Europe, Italy and the White House—the spirit of the Kindertransport needs to be rekindled.
My Lords, I am pleased to respond to this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing it, for all the work that he has done in this important area over the years and for being such an outstanding example of the Kinder—which helps ensure that people take this issue seriously, as of course they should and must.
As noble Lords have indicated, this is part of a much broader issue. The commemoration of Kristallnacht and Kindertransport 80 years on is crucially important, but it is part of a much broader and ever more challenging problem, not just for the United Kingdom but for the world, in terms of the displacement of people. I fear we are going to see this on an increasing scale, not just because of war but also because of famine and problems associated with climate change. Despite the hallmark conference in Paris at the end of 2015, this is going to remain a massive and increasing challenge because of some countries failing to meet the expectations and the promises that were made then. That is the point I would start by making. And, since the awful events of the Holocaust and the Second World War, genocides around the world have not stopped; far from it.
Yesterday I had the privilege of opening the new Bosnian community centre in Birmingham. Bosnian British people were there from around the country. This country has a proud record of having taken 10,000 Bosnian Muslim refugees, many of whom faced issues very similar to those that were confronting people in Nazi Germany, so I was particularly keen to be there. Those people, as has been rightly said of other people who have settled in this country, were incredibly proud of Britain and their part in Britain, and regard it quite rightly as their home.
I am also, before Christmas, visiting the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark, where I am particularly keen to see the Ruth David photographic collection. Ruth came across on the Kindertransport, so both of those visits tie in with what we have been looking at today.
Other noble Lords have mentioned things specifically related to the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht and the Kindertransport; the meeting at the Friends’ meeting house for instance. I had the great privilege—my noble friend Lord Shinkwin was also there—of being at the St John’s Wood synagogue when the great musician Friederike Fechner was playing; there I had the opportunity, as I was sitting next to her, of discussing this issue with Dame Esther Rantzen, who has been mentioned already. I think we should mark the massive work that she has done and continues to do in this area: an outstanding contribution.
It is also important to mention our own UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which I know noble Lords are committed to, which will be going up next to Parliament. Work continues on that project, led by Ed Balls and my noble friend Lord Pickles. We are now at the stage of talking about the content there, which will obviously be focusing on the Holocaust but also on subsequent genocides that have occurred in the world, so it will be a very important centre for education and for people to visit next to the seat of our democracy.
I will now say something about the important issues that were raised in relation to ongoing settlement here for refugees, and try to provide some of the information that was sought. In so far as I cannot do so now, I will ensure that that information is forthcoming—in relation particularly to the numbers of people who are here and so on—but let me see what I can do in relation to the figures. These are latest figures I have, which are as at June this year. In relation to the Middle East and north Africa vulnerable children resettlement scheme, 883 have settled out of the 3,000 commitment. The MENA scheme is just children; the Syrian scheme is broader. Again as of June, for the Syrian scheme 12,851 have been resettled and the commitment is for 20,000 to be settled by 2020, so we believe we are on target. Those are the latest figures I have.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about families. I have been told by officials—I will confirm this in a letter—that both schemes are open to family members so that they can be with the children. Clearly, the Syrian scheme would be so because it is not limited to children but I will confirm this in relation to the other scheme to ensure that we are right.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about the position in Northern Ireland. I am told that the scheme is being operated there in the absence of the Executive. Again, I will confirm that, but that is the advice I have been given. My noble friend Lord Polak talked about the importance of remembering the acts of kindness and bravery exhibited, as well as ensuring that they are carried forward. I quite agree.
I know that this subject is close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno—perhaps more than any other. He spoke with great authority on the global challenges we face. That leads us to reflect on the importance of the global leadership of other countries, not just on this issue but on issues that have an impact on this, such as climate change. I very much agree with him.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke about the importance of individuals as well as Governments contributing to this area. He spoke about Clement Attlee, quite rightly. I thank him and, through him, many other faith institutions for their sponsorship of individuals coming to this country as refugees. Those numbers are added to the overall numbers; they are not taken out of them, as it were. They are in addition to the numbers provided.
Forgive me, but can the Minister check his previous answer? The last conversation I had was that these numbers are included in, not additional to, the overall number.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. That is not the information that I have, but I will certainly check that point.
We are working closely with Canada, which has provided strong leadership in these areas through not just faith organisations but higher education institutions, such as universities.
My noble friend Lord Shinkwin spoke about his personal interest in his very moving speech about the importance of continuing commitment. I quite agree with him.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, treated us to some personal, moving reminiscences about her position and that of her family. She said, quite rightly, that this cannot be solved through private action alone. I think she would accept that private action is important, but so is governmental action; I accept that. I will seek, perhaps in a letter, to say where we are precisely on the numbers and how we expect to meet targets on the other numbers.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised several issues. I want to take up the particular point about Asia Bibi; clearly, that case is of great importance. I will tread carefully because I am not quite sure where we are on that, but I know that our chief concern is that she and those close to her are protected. If I may, I will cover where we are on that issue and what we will seek to do in a letter.
My noble friend Lord Popat has led similar debates in the past and speaks with great personal integrity and compassion. He has contributed massively to society and sets an excellent example. I thank him very much for his intervention. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, who spoke about his partnership with my noble friend in Harrow East. They both have strong connections there. I thank the noble Lord for his kind words, especially those about Ted Heath’s Government, who did so much for the resettlement of Ugandan Asians.
Looking back, we are always proud of what we did but perhaps feel that we should have done more. We should always ask the question: could we have done more? Almost inevitably the answer will be yes. Obviously this is well beyond my pay grade and not in the department that I sit in, but I will ensure that the Home Office is made aware of the sentiments here and ask it about not just the numbers, although they are clearly important, but the position of the people living here to make sure that they are properly looked after and that we do what we should do. Those points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham.
Through the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I thank local authorities for what they do. I have certainly seen Syrian families in Newcastle, and in Taunton, Hereford and Southampton. A very good job is done by local authorities. As I said, that does not mean that we cannot do more not just in numbers, although they are important, but in ensuring that the people who are here receive proper care and attention. In short, there is a very local aspect to this in local authorities that works well in general. There is a responsibility on Governments and on individuals, and there is a global position that should worry us very much, in the context not just of some of the challenges but of some of the leadership, in particular the lack of leadership.
The Minister makes a very important point about the lack of global leadership. Given that we all want these problems tackled at the root so that there are not refugees in the first place, will he go back to some of the other departments he mentioned to see whether there could be some sort of round-table discussion involving people such as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others who have participated, so that we could do more and be rather more effective than we have been thus far? Could he also undertake to write to me on the specific point I raised about the detention centres in Libya and the allegations made by Safe Passage that children in those centres have been tortured?
I certainly will. I thank the noble Lord for reminding me of that point. Perhaps he and I could have a word about that. If he could supply me with some information I will make sure it gets to the right Minister so that we can get an answer on it. His broader point about a round table is a good suggestion. I will see whether we can organise something on that basis to look at how we can co-ordinate things, not just in our country. I am conscious that when we had the Climate Change Conference in 2015 the world came together to agree something. If it is possible on climate change, given the very different interests around the world and the very different impact it would have on different countries, you would think that it would be possible for the world to come together on so many other areas. That is something that this round table could look at. I will certainly see what I can do, perhaps working through the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Dubs.
I thank noble Lords for a very moving debate that has looked at many issues, all of them very important. I undertake to come back to them on the issues raised.
House adjourned at 7.08 pm.