Disgrace over Lesbos refugees

A Labour peer calls on the government to take in children left homeless by fire at a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.  The labour peer who masterminded a change in the law that forced the government to give sanctuary to child asylum seekers has branded the UK’s lack of action over a devastating fire at a migrant camp in Greece an ‘absolute disgrace’.

Alf Dubs, a former child refugee, called on the government to follow the lead of other European nations and take in some of the thousands of asylum seekers left without shelter following the blaze on the Greek island of Lesbos.  His calls have also been backed by Yvette Cooper, the chair of the influential home affairs committee.

Two weeks have passed since the fire tore through the Moria registration and identification centre (RIC) incinerating tents that had been home to 13,000 people, including at least 4,000 children.

Germany has agreed to take in a total of 1,553 people from 408 families whose protected status has been confirmed by Greek authorities, while France has also offered to provide refuge to unaccompanied children from the destroyed camp.

Lord Dubs has said how very disappointed he was.  It would not take much of a humanitarian gesture to say to the Greek government we’re going to share responsibility and bring some of them over.  “We should be ashamed that we are not responding, it is an absolute disgrace”.

Dubs said he visited the camp on Lesbos two years ago and said the centre which was designed for 2,000 people but held more than 10.,000 was a ‘powder keg waiting to blow up long before the fire’.

The UK government already has legislation in place that could be used to bring children over from Lesbos, Dubs said, or it could offer one off humanitarian assistance.

The dire situation underlines the threat to EU family reunion laws that are set to expire when the transition period ends on 31st December he said.

The powers – under so call Dublin 111 regulation – would allow for the UK government to transfer children in Lesbos to the UK if they have relatives in the country.

The EU has rejected the UK’s proposal for an alternative to the Dublin regulation – Dubs has tabled an amendment to the government’s immigration bill designed to ensure the rules continue.  He hopes it will be voted through the Lords soon.

There are also powers introduced by an amendment to UK laws, again tabled by Lord Dubs that required the Home Office to accept an unspecified number of unaccompanied child refugees from Europe.  The process was subsequently referred to as the Dubs scheme.

The government capped the scheme at 480 children, although there was no legal requirement to do this.  The cap has been met so the scheme has in effect ended.  However, the legislation remains open.

Yvette Cooper has said that all countries should be doing their bit to help vulnerable children and the UK should use the well established Dubs scheme and Dublin arrangements in order to do so.

Alf Dubs is right – the UK has a long history of helping child and teen refugees going back to the Kindertransport.  The government stopped the Dubs scheme prematurely last year and the Dublin arrangements to help reunite child refugees with their family are about to be closed down.

‘The simplest thing to do would be to use both those schemes to help children and teenagers left alone and homeless after the Moria fire”.

While th UK and other countries watch on, police are forcibly moving people on Lesbos into a temporary facility outside the port town of Mytilene.

Dubs said: “Its left us out on a limb as if we’re not willing to be humanitarian anymore”.

A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic the UK has remained ready to receive those accepted for transfer under the Dublin 111 regulation, including unaccompanied children.  We remain in regular contact with sending member states, including Greece who are responsible for arranging transfers.