This week, non-profit organisation Help Refugees made serious progress in their two-year fight with the British government to get vulnerable, unaccompanied child refugees safely into the UK. The progress is the permission to appeal the decision of the Home Office to cap the number of refugee children allowed into the UK at 480. This right to appeal, granted by the Court of Appeal, is a huge ray of hope in an increasingly bleak and distressing situation. Help Refugees is crowdfunding the money to finance the appeal; essentially, they’re asking the British public to help them sue the government.
Here’s the context:
In April 2016, in response to the urgent refugee crisis and the mounting pressure from the general public for the British government to do something, a bill called the Dubs Amendment was passed, spearheaded by Labour peer Lord Dubs, who himself entered the UK in 1939 as a 6-year-old refugee fleeing Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The amendment was a commitment by the British government to speak to local councils and find out how many spaces were available across the UK for child refugees. Although ministers were careful not to put a precise figure on the extent of their commitment, MPs were told local authorities were being asked to provide homes for 3,000 children from camps in Greece, Italy and France.
However, the scheme closed promising to resettle just 350 children, a number the councils and the general public felt was far too low. And in the months that the Dubs Amendment was open, during which time the Calais Jungle was destroyed, not a single child had actually been transferred to the UK. Why? Because, as long-term volunteer and child psychologist Evelyn McGregor told us last year, “the UK government isn’t exactly that excited about getting lots of refugees… and so they may be finding other things to do in their office rather than process applications” – something she has to explain time and time again to eager young boys stuck in Calais hoping to enter the UK.
At the time, Help Refugees challenged the British government and Home Secretary Amber Rudd on how she reached that number of 350, and armed with the Freedom of Information Act, did some digging of their own. From their research, they found that 91% of the places offered by Scottish councils had not been included in the 350 number because, as the charity’s communications manager Tom Steadman told us on the phone, “in the confusion after the Jungle was demolished, most of the places offered came after the deadline date [set by Rudd].” Help Refugees spoke to a number of councils and, as Tom explains, “many said the consultation into how many places they could offer was completely puzzling, chaotic, and cursory to the point where they didn’t even realise it existed.”
So because of this pressure from Help Refugees and pressure from the public, in April 2017, “the government was forced to admit that it had missed 130 places in the 350 number, so the number went up to 480, which was a big success,” Tom says, “but we still believe, based on the evidence we gathered, that that number is far too low.”
Fast-forward to 2018 and the government has still only filled roughly 200 of the 480 places they promised under the Dubs Amendment. “So there’s still over 200 places unfilled, while children are freezing and getting teargassed in tents across the border”, Tom says. And many of the children who were 16 when the Dubs Amendment was passed in 2016, have now been aged out of the scheme because the government has been so slow processing claims.
So with the help of human rights law firm Leigh Day, Help Refugees is suing Amber Rudd and the government for capping the number at 480, a figure they believe to be entirely arbitrary. Their right to do this has been granted by the Court of Appeal, which, basically, means they have a case. “It’s not every day the people get the opportunity to take the government to court”, says Tom.
And since this is very much a “people’s case”, Help Refugees is appealing to the public to help finance it. In 24 hours they’ve raised £10,000 of their £30,000 target by crowdfunding, with support from various MPs and celebrities. The deadline for the fund is 24th February – you can donate here.
Help Refugees say there are at least 95,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe and an estimated 1,000 refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. In the last month, three people have lost their lives trying to get to the UK – one a 15-year-old boy attempting to reunite with his brother who is living here.
Since the camp was demolished in October 2016, the UK has spent £150 million on security and CCTV at the Calais border, meaning refugees are taking higher risks than ever to get to the UK, and losing their lives in the process.
During the demolition of the Jungle, over 100 children went missing, and nobody knows where they are.
According to Help Refugees, the UK government is spending just £3.6 million on speeding up the process of asylum claims for refugees who have family in the UK.