Surviving members of Kindertransport have urged the government to reopen safe routes for refugees in Europe, especially children, trying to reach the UK or risking further tragedies in the Channel.
Alf Dubs, Stephanie Shirley and Erich Reich, who all arrived in the UK between 1938 and 1939 as refugee children on the Kindertransport, an initiative set up to save nearly 10,000 Jewish refugee children before World War II , said the UK was losing morale. authority in the world and urged the government to change course.
Their warning comes as calls mount for a public inquiry into the deaths of 27 refugees who drowned in the English Channel last month, after lawyers representing grieving family members said “serious shortcomings” in the rescue operation may have contributed to their deaths.
“We warned that this would happen and that the policies followed by the government were going to lead to it happening,” Lord Dubs said. “We shouldn’t allow this to happen. We should be doing the right thing. And the good thing is to have safe and legal avenues for people to find safety. Not all the refugees in the world, but certainly those with a connection to Great Britain.
“This is the position before leaving the EU and it is truly a tragedy that we have stepped back in this regard.”
In 2016, the government accepted a Dubs amendment to resettle 3,000 refugee children. Once the program ended in 2020, only 480 unaccompanied European asylum-seeking children were resettled.
After the UK left the EU, Dubs tabled another amendment, which would force the government to negotiate a deal with the EU to ensure unaccompanied children in Europe can continue to come to the UK to join a member of their family after Brexit, but it was rejected, he says.
“They are closing the legal channels to safety and I find that shocking,” he said. “We are throwing asylum seekers back into the sea… We are just doing the same thing that is tragically happening in parts of the Mediterranean.
Dame Stephanie pointed to a recent investigation by Safe Passage, which advocates for safe legal avenues for refugees seeking protection, which showed that more than half of the children the charity supported had lost confidence in the legal process. .
“I am so proud of this country. I love him passionately, but we have lost our moral leadership in the world, ”she said. “We have something like 11,000 children stuck somewhere in the streets of Calais or in refugee camps [in Europe]. It is not a safe place for children. Every day 17 people go missing, which means they have been killed or exploited or trafficked. These are numbers that are very difficult to accept in a civilized society. “
Sir Reich, who is the chairman of the Kindertransport group at the Jewish Refugees Association and knighted for his charitable work, said he was shocked when he learned of the record number of refugees who have died crossing the Channel. He believes that, at a minimum, the government must announce an ambitious directive that resettles refugee children in Europe with a link to the UK.
“I think it was our 70th anniversary of Kindertransport that Prince Charles came over and gave a short speech. But what he said was very interesting. He said: “I am so happy that the government of the day allowed you to enter because you have given so much to this country.” And that’s what it is, ”he said.
He added that the government’s anti-immigrant policies were “a great source of anguish for me”.
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said: “The UK has always provided sanctuary for those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny and in 2020 we received the second highest number of UASC asylum claims among all European countries. “
Under current immigration rules, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe with family members in the UK can apply to join eligible sponsors.
The spokesperson added: “However, the opportunities to seek asylum in the UK from Europe only spur people on perilous journeys. This is why the new immigration plan will allow the world’s most vulnerable people to come to the UK through safe and legal channels, while making it more difficult for people to enter the UK illegally and to d ‘stay there.