This week I thought I would take some time to address some of the misconceptions being passed around regarding the recent announcement by the Home Office on the Immigration Bill, particularly the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees under what is commonly known as the Dubs Amendment.
I have been concerned to see many false accusations flying around, including that I voted to stop or cancel the programme as covered by the Dubs Amendment in a recent vote in Parliament.
First there has been no vote in Parliament on child refugees recently. The whole of February so far in Parliamentary business was taken up with the Article 50 Bill. In fact when the Dubs Amendment, from the Lords, originally went before Parliament last year, the Government, including myself, supported it, and it was passed unopposed.
What happened two weeks ago was that the Home Office announced the latest stage of the programme for accepting child refugees. This announcement is a requirement under the terms of the Immigration Bill that was passed through Parliament last year. Therefore this is not a particularly surprising move or some change of policy but simply due process under the current legislation.
This programme under the Dubs amendment is a very specific part of this country’s overall work in addressing the global refugee crisis. It is worth noting that the UK continues to be the 2nd biggest contributor to humanitarian aid in the Middle East, only behind the USA. Our contribution is now in the billions of pounds so any suggestion that the UK is not playing its part is simply unfounded.
It is vital that we do all we can to ensure that the large amount of UK Taxpayers money is spent in the most appropriate way. I am sure you will be aware that there is great political pressure to cut the UK’s overall spending on International Aid, which is currently £12 billion p.a. being 0.7% of our national GDP. If we are to maintain our level of aid overall, something I fully support, it is vital that we ensure it is spent wisely and not seen to be wasted.
How this money is spent with regards to helping refugees is a judgement call. The policy of the government, which I agree with and support, is that this is better focused on helping those in the refugee camps in the region – i.e. the countries around Syria itself. There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be the best.
Firstly we have to be aware of the ‘pull effect’ taking refugees from within Europe has – especially children. If we continue to take children from within Europe in an open unending way we will be playing into the hands of the people traffickers. If it continues to be known that we will take any unaccompanied children from within Europe all that we do is encourage families to pay the traffickers to bring their children on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. It is far better to send the message that the best chance of getting help is to remain in the camps and we will take those that are most vulnerable and in need of help from there.
This leads into the second point. By definition those that make it to Europe are the fittest, wealthiest and those with the most influential contacts. The weakest, poorest and most vulnerable are those that are left in the camps. Therefore if we want to target our resources at those most in need it is better to help those that remain in the camps.
Finally, we have to be sure that we are able to properly care for those that we bring here. This means that we need to be able to provide them with housing, education, social and health care. This is all within the backdrop of our currently overstretched public services where we have a shortage of housing, limited school places and we are all aware of the current pressure our health and care services are under. This is why the Home Office have been careful to work with local authorities to ask them to confirm the number of unaccompanied children they are able to take. This is the backdrop to the announcement last week. To date we have taken 200 children under the Dubs Amendment scheme. Local authorities have informed the Home Secretary that they are able to take only a further 150 children in the coming months. This was the reason for her announcement. We are not closing the Dubs scheme as some are saying. The government has simply stated the number of children we are able to accommodate in the immediate future.
Although I am disappointed we have not been able to take more unaccompanied children to date and I am not saying the government could not have done more to help, let us not forget that this is in addition to the 20,000 refugees and 3,000 children we are taking directly from the camps in the region.
So I take great exception to anyone who misrepresents what has actually happened or somehow suggests that Britain is not playing its part. We are doing far more than every other nation bar one on earth. Our response is measured to ensure that we are able to provide and care for those that we bring but it is generous and compassionate.