The United Kingdom’s Moral Failure


Protection for those fleeing conflict appears to be a very low priority in the United Kingdom (UK) today. On February 8, 2017, the Conservative government quietly announced that it would accept 350 children into the UK under the Unaccompanied Child Refugee Programme. The Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill announced that “…this would meet the intention and spirit of Lord Dubs’ Amendment passed in 2016.” He cited the need for specialist care, as well as a limit to the care and support that could be provided. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister also explained there was no figure specified in the amendment and that the UK had made provision “where we were able to.” Two hundred places have been allocated to children entering the United Kingdom from the illegal settlement in Calais, France. This leaves one hundred and fifty placements pending and Mr. Goodwill noted that the basis on which further children would be transferred from Europe would be announced later.

Political people from all parties, religious leaders, refugee groups, and concerned citizens are all united in their opposition to the small numbers of unaccompanied child refugees allowed into the UK. Lord Dubs, a former Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and a current Labour peers is reported in The Independent as feeling the government had backtracked on its intent and has used the resourcing of local authorities as an excuse for tardy action. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who also opposed to the government’s decision, has informed The Guardian that he was “saddened and shocked by the decision,” Like many others, he presumed the government had committed to allowing 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the UK.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who also opposed to the government’s decision, has informed The Guardian that he was “saddened and shocked by the decision,” Like many others, he presumed the government had committed to allowing 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the UK. Heidi Allen, a Conservative member of Parliament has criticized her party and informed The Guardian the government had not proactively implemented its commitment to the amendment. She also made it clear, as the spokesperson for a group of cross-party colleagues, that the matter would be debated in Parliament. A report from The Washington Post suggested strong opposition to the government’s stance has resulted in legal action from some groups. The Guardian has named the initiators as Help Refugees and Citizens United Kingdom.

Issues around child refugees are not confined to the UK. The Washington Post highlights the reduction in empathy experienced in the Western World when dealing with child refugees. Some observers see this action as a direct result of the public pressurizing politicians. According to Alastair Sloan, a journalist specializing in human rights issues in the UK, newspapers and the media have contributed to the public’s negativity towards child refugees. Certain newspapers have actively promoted government cutbacks and created panic and fear in people’s minds, thereby highlighting the challenges of accepting child refugees without providing any information on the benefits as noted by Al Jazeera. Kirby Swales, Director of the Survey Research Centre, which investigates social attitudes in the UK has discovered that people have concerns about all forms of immigration. Swales tell us the Institute of Fiscal Studies is predicting cutbacks for another few years, thus increased fear and panic can be expected from the public.

Reports from The Guardian also suggest the Local Government Association has promoted the idea of long term resourcing for child refugees to the government with no positive result. Inadequate resourcing for such needy people increases the potential for challenges in the long term as child refugees are often traumatized and need medical and psychological treatment for lengthy periods.  The UK government will have been well researched on this topic and it seems unusual they have not actioned long term resourcing, which hints that other factors are involved. UK politics is moving towards looking at what happens within its borders rather than looking at the global world. The National Health System, according to Swales, is not meeting its goals and people might resent child refugees using resources they have a sense of entitlement for. Some politicians, who are keen to gain public support, will use the public’s alienation towards refugees to increase their political status. Putting political gain before assisting needy children shows little compassion and highlights attitudes in the post-Brexit UK.

Save the Children initiated the call for the UK to take in 3,000 child refugees. Lord Dubs, who is a child refugee himself as he fled from the Nazis, picked up the challenge and initiated an amendment in Parliament to the Immigration Act. He expressed to The Guardian that vulnerable children in Europe were given hope when the amendment was introduced and now felt their hopes were dashed. He believes some local authorities have space for more child refugees and wants the Home Secretary to ask local authorities about this. In 2016, the Conservative government under intense pressure agreed to this Amendment and said it would resettle child refugees nominating 3,000 as a goal, but committed to no specific figure.

Closing Britain’s borders to vulnerable and needy refugee children will not alleviate current pressures on public services or improve the standard of living for citizens within the UK. It will damage the reputation of the UK as an open and tolerant place, where human rights issues are valued. By putting its own interests ahead of the needs of vulnerable refugee children, the UK has morally failed.

Louisa Slack