Countless reports told us that as the summer drew to a close, deteriorating weather conditions would stop refugees from risking their lives on the Mediterranean. This assumption has been proved devastatingly wrong.
Three times more refugees reached Greece in November of this year than in all of 2014, while the number of dead and missing in the Aegean continues to rise. The sea is becoming more and more dangerous, but refugees continue to take their chances; it offers them more hope than the horrors they are fleeing.
That is why we are calling on the UK Government to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees who have already reached Europe, working with the charity Home for Good, which has mobilised 10,000 potential foster families.
An urgent request
The urgency of our proposal only increases as more children arrive in Europe. More than a quarter of the 13,026 unaccompanied children who reached Italy in 2014 disappeared on arrival. These thousands are joined by thousands more, as more than three times more refugees have reached Europe this year than last. As Save the Children’s George Graham told MPs in his evidence to the International Development Committee last month, many of these ‘vanished’ children are trafficked into the sex and drugs trades or forced into child labour. Brian Donald, Europol’s Chief of Staff, went further, saying that children are being systematically targeted by criminal gangs.
Throughout the autumn we have been encouraging the Government to act, both in private and in Parliament, thanks to supportive MPs and peers. We received a series of non-committal and inconsistent responses, but recent signs give us hope that our persistence is paying off.
Signs of progress
When Richard Harrington, the Minister for Syrian Refugees, was quizzed about the idea by the International Development Committee last week, he would say only that “it’s under discussion”. This was followed by the Prime Minister’s response to a question from Tim Farron during the debate on intervention in Syria. While he initially reasserted his preference for resettling refugees who had not come to Europe, he said: “I am very happy to look at that issue again, both in Europe and out of Europe, to see whether Britain can do more to fulfil our moral responsibilities”.
When compared with previous hesitation from the Government benches, indeed from the Prime Minister himself, this represents very welcome progress. We must now ensure that when he comes to look again, he understands that he has the opportunity to give thousands of children the chance of a better life.
Reaching Europe does not mean reaching safety; vulnerable children who have fled from war, terrorism and oppression are being abused, trafficked and exploited on our continent. We hope that we are seeing the beginnings of a significant change in the Government’s position, because it is in the UK’s power to take children out of this nightmare.