In the midst of the ‘migrant crisis’ in May 2016, the UK government passed an amendment to the Immigration Bill 2016 which dealt with the difficult issue of unaccompanied child refugees.
Recently, the ‘Dubs amendment’ has been back in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The amendment was originally intended to create a legal route for 3,000 child asylum seekers to enter the UK and have their claims considered. The final draft of the amendment removed the number 3,000 and replaced it with the words ‘a specified number’. However, the figure of 3,000 continued to be widely cited as the goal, with the final figure to be announced following discussions with councils.
Only 200 children have entered the UK under this scheme so far (a further 700 with families in the UK have been brought in under the Dublin III Regulation). These young people have been filmed and photographed. Their faces have been printed in newspapers and their age, possible asylum claim, and degree of need has been speculated upon.
As an asylum lawyer I felt frustrated by the claims in the media that these children are not children at all, that dental checks were needed to prove their age because our Home Office was too lenient. Working on these cases regularly, I am aware that this is not the case.
In the UK documents are examined, children’s physical appearance is scrutinised, and their age is assessed by trained social workers. They are asked questions on their upbringing, parentage, schooling, and reasons for claiming asylum. The Home Office has the final decision on whether to treat the claimant as a child. The children brought over under the Dubs amendment were children: some will have had their birth certificates or identity cards to prove their ages; others will have undergone assessment.
Unfortunately, instead of standing by the amendment and explaining the way it is applied and the checks and balances that are in place, the government remained quiet. This vacuum allowed opposition to the legislation to grow.
Last month it was announced that the UK would take only 150 more children under the scheme, and that a total of 350 young people being rehoused here met the spirit and intention of the law. Lord Dubs and others disagree.
Having briefly visited the Calais and Dunkirk camps as part of a volunteer legal team, I have seen the conditions there first hand. I witnessed the despair as well as the desperation and determination to reach safety.
Since the 2016 Act was passed, the Calais jungle has been demolished and Dunkirk improved, but child migrants continue to arrive in northern France. The dangerous conditions and experiences in the camps often add to the trauma these children have already experienced. These young people risk death, harm, and human slavery on their journey.
Following the announcement of the scheme’s closure, the Red Cross stated: ‘People traffickers thrive in the absence of safe and legal routes to protection... we need to make sure that children are not left to fend for themselves in places such as the jungle camp again.’
Whether there are legal routes into the UK or not, these desperate children, often under the guidance or control of people smugglers, will travel through Europe in pursuit of safety.
There is still massive public support for treating them humanely. Unfortunately, the government appears to have been swayed by the louder, less tolerant voices. Help Refugees has calculated that we could meet the 3,000 figure with each constituency in Britain taking just five young people. This seems a small price to pay for the safety of another 2,650 children.
Thank you to The Solicitors Journal for featuring this article.