Peers vote to let 3,000 child refugees into UK
The Government has been defeated in the Lords as peers voted to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the country.
During the debate the Catholic Peer Lord Alton of Liverpool had warned that if Britain turned its back on such children it would be a “lasting stain” on its reputation.
Lord Alton said that the Government had done little since Europol estimated last year that at least 10,000 children had disappeared in Europe and were vulnerable to exploration and abuse.
“If thousands of child migrants have simply vanished in Europe while we have argued about how many angels can sit on the top of a pin that will be a lasting stain on our reputation,” Lord Alton said.
Peers voted by 306 votes to 204, a majority of 102, to amend the Immigration Bill in order to require the Government to let the children, currently in Europe, come to Britain.
Labour’s Lord Dubs said the move would protect children from exploitation, people trafficking, and abuse.
The amendment states the Government must allow the children to come to Britain as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law.
Lord Dubs, who was one of thousands of child refugees Britain rescued from Nazi persecution under the Kindertransport operation in the late 1930s, insisted the country needed to show the same compassion now.
“I would like other children who are in a desperate situation to be offered safety in this country and be given the same opportunities that I had,” Lord Dubs said.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, said: “This is a small, but beautiful thing that we can do.”
Crossbencher Baroness Neuberger said: “We could do it in 1930s, why can’t we do it now?”
Baroness Butler-Sloss warned the children were vulnerable and in danger.
“We must do something to stop them becoming slaves,” the crossbench peer said.
Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lawson of Blaby said children above the age of 12 should be excluded from the scheme.
Lib Dem Baroness Hamwee said with thousands of children going missing, abuse was a real risk.
The peer dismissed claims such a move could act as a “pull factor” for refugees.
“There are so many push factors that we do not need to think about the pull factor,” Lady Hamwee said.
Home Office Minister Lord Bates said the Government had pledged to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, and 51 per cent of the 1,000 people who have arrived so far have been children.
Lord Bates said the Government was concentrating its efforts on helping Syrian refugees before they reach Europe.
The minister said the amendment was not targeting the people most in need of support.
“We have a principled objection. That the people most at risk are in the region.
“I question whether it identifies, or provides help, for the right people. We believe we should not be doing anything that encourages one child to make that perilous journey.
“We are doing an incredible amount. Other countries are not doing a fraction of what we are doing,” Lord Bates said.
The minister also questioned the practicalities of the move as he said their was currently a need for 8,000 more foster parents.
Labour’s Lord Rosser said: “Doing nothing will not mean those children return to where they came from, it will simply mean that they will become more likely than ever to be exploited and abused by people traffickers and others of ill intent.”
Crossbencher Lord Green of Deddington said he feared the move would make a bad situation worse.
Later, the Government came under cross-party pressure to recognise so-called Islamic State (IS) was committing genocide against Christians and others, while offering victims possible sanctuary in Britain.
The move came after US Secretary of State John Kerry determined that IS was committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Lord Alton said massacres, torture, kidnappings and rape targeted deliberately for religious reasons must be recognised as genocide.
Under his amendment, a High Court judge would examine the evidence and determine whether IS’s actions amounted to genocide and require the Government to take “concrete steps” to protect victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.
He said it would establish a mechanism to determine whether acts of genocide were being perpetrated and afford victims with appropriate consideration when it came to asylum applications.
It wouldn’t oblige the Government to take in any more refugees than it had already committed to but would “prioritise” victims of genocide.
Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said something must be done to tackle the “appalling atrocities” being inflicted on Christians in Syria.
Pointing to these “harrowing tales,” he asked how it was that the European Parliament and US Congress could take a “firm view” while the UK Government was “hiding behind legalistic arguments preventing us offering sanctuary to people who are facing real persecution”.
He said recognising the situation as an “appalling genocide” would enable Britain to “stretch out a hand to these people and offer them sanctuary”.
Lord Forsyth added: “How much longer are we prepared to stand by and not acknowledge what is going on, which is a systematic attempt to destroy Christianity throughout the Middle East by people using medieval methods of barbarism?”
In an emotional speech, Liberal Democrat Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne cited cases of rape and kidnap against Yazidi girls and said their testimony had gone all over the globe.
She asked what had happened to “British values” and demanded “British action” to tackle those perpetrating such crimes.
Leading QC and independent crossbencher Lord Pannick said there was overwhelming evidence that acts of genocide were being carried out by Daesh (another term for IS) and it was “shameful” the Government wasn’t prepared to say so.
For the Opposition, Lord Rosser said he had sympathy with the views of those calling for action, but the amendment was “unworkable”.
He said Labour was willing to work with others in developing a scheme to help victims of violence and persecution for consideration at the Bill’s later third reading stage.
Advocate General for Scotland Lord Keen of Elie, opposing the amendment, said it proposed a “lottery” when ministers were trying to achieve a “fair and objective” result.
Lord Keen said no other country in the world had an “open door immigration policy” of the kind being suggested, which could bring millions to the UK.
The Government believed that recognition of genocide should be a matter for international courts and legal rather than political determination.
“This amendment creates a mirage of false hope,” he said. “It might salve our conscience but won’t solve the problem.”
Lord Alton’s amendment was rejected by 148 votes to 111, Government majority 37.Tags: alton, child, peers, refugeee