There is hope that the recent ‘boat deaths’will change the terms of the coming debate. Labour peer Alf Dubs has asked that MPs look to their conscience before they support Priti Patel’s attempt to quash his bid to preserve help for child refugees, in law.
The amendment to the home secretary’s Immigration Bill allowing unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with close relatives in the UK, is currently at the centre of a battle of wills between the two houses of parliament, after peer reinstated it last week following its defeat in the Commons.
Lord Dubs stated that he hopes that the death of four people, including two young children, off Dunkirk, will ‘change the terms of the debate’ when Ms Patel asks MPs to strike out the measure again.
The home secretary, together with the prime minister Boris Johnson, were very quick to offer their thoughts and prayers after the recent news of the tragedy, with both stressing the need to crack down on criminal smuggler gangs who are believed to have helped almost 7,500 people make the perilous journey across the Channel this year.
Lord Dubs, however, said that it was important not to lose sight of the fact that numbers coming to the UK are far smaller than those who seek refuge in France or Germany, many choosing the more difficult route to Britain because they have family or friends here. Dangerous boat crossings have increased as safe routes to Britain were closed down.
“I would appeal to MPs in the Commons who are currently inclined to support the Home Secretary to think again in the light of these recent events”. said the peer who himself arrived in the UK as a child refugee. “This latest tragedy will change the terms of the debate because hopefully it will focus people’s minds on how desperate people have to be to cross the Channel in this way, and on anything that we can do to save children from ending up in these boats. If there are safe routes available people will take them but if not people will continue to risk their lives”.
“This is a matter of basic human rights. MPs have responsibilities and I would hope that they might think again before the debate. This is more than likely the last opportunity to act before the transition period out of the EU is over.
Existing reunion rights under EU law will end on 31st December when the UK transitions to its new post-Brexit relationship with it previous partners.
Yvette Cooper, Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said that she hoped the government would now listen to supporters of Lord Dubs amendment, which ‘helps child and teen refugees reunite with family who can care for them through safe legal routes so that they don’t try to make these dangerous journey or become exploited by criminal gangs”. “This is an awful tragedy. For anyone to lose their lives in the cold sea like this is terrible, and when young children are involved it makes it even more distressing”.
“We have feared that we would see a tragedy like this for a long time because the boats are incredibly unsuitable and dangerous, the journey perilous and we have seen an increase in the number of these small boat crossings”. She added: “I don’t think the Home Office have a clear enough analysis of the reasons why people are making this journey”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow home secretary described the latest incident as ‘an absolute tragedy’ and ‘a heartbreaking reminder of the human cost of this crisis’.
Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National Party home affairs spokesperson said it should serve as ‘a final wake up call for the UK government before more innocent lives are lost’. “The UK government must rethink its hostile approach and urgently step up international co-operation to strengthen safe and legal routes to help vulnerable people fleeing hardship and conflict reach safety”.
“The harrowing and avoidable deaths of two children and two adults must signal an immediate U-turn in the approach of the UK and French authorities. Rather than ramping up the rhetoric to involve the military and to crack down on small boats, the UK government must head the warnings from charities and organisations to help to save lives”.
Ms Patel said in a recent statement “I am truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters. My thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this time”. “We are in touch with our French counterparts who are leading on the response and have offered whatever support they need as they investigate this incident”.
“This tragic news highlights once again the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people”.