Boris Johnson’s Tory government published legislation in December announcing their intention to scrap the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). This would enshrine in law the Tories’ hostility to child refugees.
VCRS was introduced by David Cameron’s government but has done little to progress family reunions despite a pledge to resettle an additional 20,000 Syrians into the UK, including 3,000 child refugees.
This situation is demonstrative of the Tory’s failure to fulfil the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it applies to child refugees. The UN Refugee Agency (2019) reported there are 25.9M refugees globally, with over 12.8M of these aged 0-17.
Our government has not only failed to assist with the refugee crisis as a whole but has even refused assistance to the refugees on its doorstep: in the ‘Calais Jungle’. Instead, for the past five years the government has persistently advocated use of a heavily militarized EU external frontier against migrants and of baton use towards political protestors and refugees in Calais.
Britain as played a larger role than most countries in the creation of refugees – via the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the bombing of Syria, the legacy of colonialism and the modern-day exploitation of the money and resources of poorer countries Britain has forced millions to flee their homes.
In the context of Brexit and the “hostile environment”, British hostility to refugees has become ever more rabid. Tory MP David Davis publicly demanded teeth checks of child refugees in 2016 to “weed out adults in disguise”.
There have been important solidarity campaigns, offering practical and often life-saving assistance as well as raising awareness of the injustices metered out to the world’s refugee population. For example, migrant solidarity was shown by the ‘Stansted 15’ group that attempted to prevent the deportation of detainees to Africa in 2016 despite the political protesters being liable to be charged for so-called ‘terrorist offences’ by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Delegations organised by Care4Calais have fed refugees, treated their injuries and organised alongside local activists.
Some Labour MPs have been outspoken in their support for refugees and the 2019 Labour manifesto condemned Tory treatment of refugees – promising to uphold their rights and resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean. However, what was missing is more telling: the manifesto promises to close only two of Britain’s detention centres made no concrete commitment to give refuge to those waiting across the channel. The Labour leadership’s unwillingness to unequivocally support the needs of refugees is a cowardly reaction to the rising tide of racism. Corbyn’s first speech as leader back in 2016 addressed a migrant rights’ demonstration but three years later our party policy is a dim echo of that early radicalism.
Now, with their large parliamentary majority, the Tories have been empowered to carry out a thoroughly reactionary programme of attacks. One of the first groups they have set their sights on is child refugees – a sop to their reactionary base. We cannot wait five years to see if Labour can win the next election. Our resistance must be internationalist, anti-racist and organised from the streets.
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