Below is the speech Cabinet Member for Refugees Cllr Kevin Bonavia gave at Lewisham Council on 22/01/20 when positing his Motion on Unaccompanied Migrant Children.
“Earlier this week I met Ridwan who is a 17 year old studying A Levels in maths, physics and politics. Ridwan was born in war-torn Eritrea and a few years ago he was one of millions of children across the world fleeing from conflict and persecution. Tragically Ridwan lost his mum when the boat they were on sank in the Mediterranean. Ridwan was now a lone child refugee in Italy. But he had family willing to look after him – namely his aunt here in London and so he got the chance of starting a new life in her care. I was privileged to meet her too – she should be proud of helping to raise Ridwan into such a confident and able young man.
We were all there for the Safe Passage rally outside Parliament to persuade law makers to keep the legal protection for family reunion that gave Ridwan his new life, and not deny it to so many other children currently alone in camps across Europe whose lives will now be in even greater danger of trafficking, exploitation and worse.
Removing the right to family reunion is not just immoral, it is nonsensical too when there are willing family relatives and willing local councils like Lewisham who can make it happen.
So why on earth is this Government doing this? The right to family reunion for unaccompanied child refugees is a legal right that our country signed up to as a member of the European Union as part of the Dublin Convention currently in force as the Dublin III Regulation. Now that the Government is ploughing ahead with Brexit this obligation will fall away when we leave the European Union unless it is kept as part of the withdrawal legislation currently going through Parliament.
And that is exactly what campaigners led by Lord Alf Dubs are fighting for. Alf’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords restores the legal right to family reunion and yet it remains opposed by the Government.
Now the Government claim they will keep the right to family reunion in some other way, rather than remaining bound to yet another EU law after Brexit. But experience shows we simply can’t take their word for it.
Back in 2016, Alf had also sought an amendment to a bill in order to guarantee a home here for unaccompanied children from abroad. Alf himself had fled the Nazis as a Jewish 6 year old boy as part of the Kindertransport by which this country saved 10,000 children from near certain death. With the world now facing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, Alf’s amendment was a small ask, simply to take in 3,000 refugee children who didn’t have family relatives living here. The Government eventually caved in and made a promise to Alf to give safe passage to 3,000 children, known as the Dubs Amendment.
Yet in a matter of months, the Government broke its promise having taken in only 350 children. The then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, used the old hostile environment line of this country acting as a “pull factor” to migrants and claimed that councils did not have enough care places. I remember being so angry hearing that when I knew that Lewisham Council had been asking the Home Office for months to give us Dubs children to fill 24 places we had and we had received only one.
So this Government has form on abandoning child refugees and simply cannot be trusted on promises alone. And now with Boris Johnson leading this Government, trust is one quality we simply cannot rely on. Keeping promises is not exactly something Mr Johnson is renowned for. The only way to force him to keep his promise is through binding law. I hope that MPs from all parties have the human compassion to make this happen.
We certainly have that compassion here in Lewisham, not only with families taking in their relative children, but other families fostering refugee children without relatives here. This Council is doing all it can to support this, including our commitment made last year to welcome 100 unaccompanied child refuges under the Safe Passage pledge. In addition to that we are well on our way to resettling 100 refugee families from Syria and other areas of conflict making us London’s leading borough for refugee resettlement. This is what a Borough of Sanctuary looks like.
But we cannot give that sanctuary to refugee children who the Government won’t let in. Now is the chance to the right thing both morally and practically. We simply ask – let the children in.”