They are children for crying out loud

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When did Britain lose the values that made it so great?

The topic of refugees has dominated news since the beginning of the unrest in the Middle East which began close to five years ago. Be it the mistreatment, the rise of right- wing extremism or the recent refugee deal being struck with Turkey.

The topic has also hit close home with our university still ‘reviewing’ its ability to provide scholarships for refugees, despite turning over a profit of 243.4 million. Alas, I digress.

Save the Children estimates that there are some 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees currently in Europe. Earlier this year, Europol warned that some 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children had disappeared after arriving in Europe, falling prey to human trafficking and potential human rights abuse.

Recently, the British House of Lords amended the Immigration Bill so that the UK takes in 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees currently in Europe. The amendment was proposed by Lord Alfred Dubs, the Labour peer who was himself rescued as a child from the Nazis.

He urged the government to remember the spirit of Kindertransport, the scheme that saved thousands of Jewish children in the months before World War 2, bringing them from Nazi Germany to Great Britain.

All good so far surely? No threats to the security of the state or British citizens, these are children we are talking about after all. Yet here I am writing this, something that makes me sick to my stomach: the current government has the audacity to contest this reform on the grounds that this would only encourage them. Encourage them.

Encourage them to leave a war- torn country where bombs fall daily, courtesy of the UK. Encourage them to leave a place which they call home which has been devastated by war. Encourage them in making a treacherous journey over hundreds of kilometres, deterred every step of the way by soldiers, fences, and tear gas. Encourage them to make a trek that no human being should have to make.

The topic of immigration continuously divides this country. Clashes are often ugly and display frightening racism and discrimination that many had thought we had left in the past.

However, it appears that the strong British history of adopting refugees over the past decades has been selectively forgotten. Instead a policy of deterrence has been taken, seen in stemming the flow of refugees in countries such as Turkey and Jordan, on the brink of collapse in its hosting capabilities.

The commitment to take in 20,000 by 2020, is specific to only the refugees in the camps in Jordan and Turkey, but does not acknowledge at any point the thousands of refugees that are currently in Europe.

A Swiss police officer accompanies migrants from Syria carrying their children (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Swiss police accompany Syrian migrants carrying their children

British ministers can continue in speaking on deterring young children from making these dangerous journeys, but their refusal of providing safe routes and admitting the gross complexity and gravity of the issue makes these very journeys more dangerous. These are the very same places that the U.K. agreed to begin bombing last year. It is clear that the logic and rationale appears to be lost on this government.

The other part of this discussion is the issue of family connection. Under the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers in Europe are allowed to join a relative in the UK – a policy that offers a lot of hope often falls short in practice.

150 of the 423 identified unaccompanied minors in the Calais jungle have proven family ties to the UK. However, it had to take a case in January to allow three children to be in Britain while their claims were being checked.

The topic of refugees brings unresolved issues to the fore and in particular unaddressed problems of tolerance, racism and discrimination. I don’t, for one second place this as a simple issue, indeed, it is always more complex than what is discussed around the table, in the newspapers, or in debates.

Information gets missed out, misinterpreted, or misconstrued. Refugees also bring a new dimension to the picture, something that is often overlooked and not considered; the new value, approach and perspective that they have to offer.

It will be a tremendous uphill battle in absorbing refugees, especially those who are unaccompanied minors who have seen the unspeakable horrors of war.

I sincerely hope that this society will rise to the challenge, like it has throughout its history. Indeed, it the most of testing of times that makes societies and countries stronger.

A young refugee has yet to fully begin life, they have years to live and lots to give, but it is critical that they are given the chance and the opportunity to do so. The odds are in their favour to flourish, as they are in a multi-cultural fully developed society.

But if you only look at these children as a topic to refute, a bargaining chip, a historical contest, or as a continuous problem, we are missing the whole point. It is the overwhelming dominance of short- sighted and some would say the complete and utter lack of imagination. That is why the House of Lords should be applauded for defeating the government, and allowing the amendment, despite the inane government stance.

These are children who just want to be given the chance. The same one we have all been given, to be here at university receiving an education, pursuing our interests which may revolutionize the world we live in.

When you are fleeing the horrors of war as a child you are not doing it to be a threat to another country, you are doing it for the fundamental drive to survive and be provided security. A state which we take for granted everyday and has been taken from them far too soon.

Britain could use the infusion of new energy and perspective – maybe in the form of a few thousand refugee children fleeing war.

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About Author

Alisha Lobo is News & Comment Editor at bathimpact (2015/16). She writes about international politics and society. She is a reporter on University of Bath issues, including education and the Students' Union.

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