Government just looks heartless and out of ideas as migrants keep dying - Christine Jardine

Six years ago the world was shocked into action by the heart breaking picture of a toddler’s crumpled body on a Mediterranean beach.

Refugees light a fire to keep warm at daybreak next to an old railway line at Dunkirk. At least 27 people, including five women and a young girl, died on Wednesday trying to cross the Channel to the UK in an inflatable dinghy in an incident in which the International Organisation for Migration described as the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

Three year-old Alan Kurdi drowned with his mother as they desperately fled war-torn Syria on one of the many refugee crafts attempting the treacherous route.

The global outcry prompted our Government to include the Dubs Amendment – named after former child refugee and campaigner Lord Alf Dubs – into immigration law in 2016.

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It required the Secretary of State to make arrangements to relocate and support a specific number of child refugees from Europe in the UK.

And yet as 2021 draws to a close we find ourselves facing the same soul-destroying dilemma as before, and the Dubs amendment is itself dead, having helped fewer than 500 children.

How did we allow it to get to the stage where another boat load of families and children drown, this time in the English Channel, in a frantic attempt just to have a life worth living?

I awoke to the news on Friday of a husband, settled in this country, who had been expecting his wife and children arriving on the boat which was lost.

He hadn’t heard anything from them and feared they were dead.

I know there will be those who say that it was an illegal crossing. Who will question why they were coming here.

But as I thought about the pain he must be going through all I could feel was anger that our Government, and others, have fundamentally failed to find a solution for the thousands fleeing from conflict, oppression and natural disaster.

Every action they have taken has done more to push desperate refugees into the hands of criminal gangs and smugglers than to find a way forward.

They have closed the UK’s three main resettlement schemes, ended the ‘Dubs’ scheme for unaccompanied child refugees and taken the UK out of the Europe-wide protections for unaccompanied refugee children.

They have refused to expand family reunion rules, and the Afghan resettlement scheme that was promised more than 100 days ago is still not open.

It is as if the Government does not know that the word and concept of refugees was created by this country.

Its origins are in the creation of a safe haven, a refuge in London for Huguenots fleeing persecution in 17th century France.

They became known as refugees.

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That was the start of a long, proud tradition of this country providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution or poverty and willing to contribute to our society.

Perhaps the proudest episode was the kinder transports of the second world war which allowed so many youngsters who might otherwise have perished in Hitler’s death camps to build happy, prosperous lives in this country.

There’s nothing of the spirit of the late Nicholas Winton who founded that programme evident in this government.

I know individual members of the cabinet will be as shocked and upset as any of us at the horror of what has happened this past few days.

But collectively their response to the issue to date looks heartless and devoid of any compassion.

At best it is incompetence that has led the Home Secretary to announce hopeless policies like the dangerous ‘push-back’ of refugee boats to French waters or the ludicrous proposal to process arrivals in Albania.

There seems to be little if any understanding of what the problem is or any creativity in addressing it.

The cruel and counterproductive Anti-Refugee Bill serves as proof of that and is a nasty piece of legislation that only makes problems worse.

It will add even more delays and increase the Home Office’s already huge backlog, all of which plays into the hands of the human traffickers, whose victims are pushed towards them by the lack of safe, legal, speedy ways to get the support they need.

What many of them crave most is not some alleged easy ride but to see their families again. Their parents or their children.

And as for those who say they should stay in the camps in France, the reality of that situation is drastically different to that presented by so many.

Five years ago before the Calais Jungle camp was cleared, an infrastructure had been built which allowed charities to support vulnerable refugees in a relatively stable environment and allowed for the processing of some applications.

Now vulnerable people are scattered across the fields surrounding Calais and Dunkirk sheltering in make shift tents with very limited access to humanitarian support.

This is exacerbated by constant harassment, raids on camps, seizing the refugees’ possessions and destroying their shelters.

Just this week another report emerged of a small refugee settlement being cleared and families, including very young children, being left miles away from any settlement.

Is it any wonder they are propelled towards the channel?

A joint approach was mooted, but our Government’s incompetence there led the French to reject the proposal and withdraw an invitation to our Home Secretary for talks.

That could have been a way to reach the long term solution that we all want to see.

It’s long past time to repair our broken immigration system. Not by punishing those who want to make a valuable contribution to our society, but by making it easier and clearer how to come here legally.

And we must invest again in the foreign aid which can help provide solutions for people in their country of birth.

Supporting and enabling democracies to survive and their people to thrive is the only way we can end the needless deaths at the hands of the people traffickers.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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