Beth Gardiner-Smith taking part in a discussion

REFUGEE WEEK 2020: Charity Safe Passage warns of Brexit threat to child refugees

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Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO of unaccompanied child refugee charity Safe Passage

Safe Passage CEO Beth Gardiner-Smith writes:

Since the UK went into lockdown, we have all been required to live in isolation, separated from our loved ones and friends. But for many of the people that Safe Passage International supports, the experience of separation from family started months, or even years, before COVID-19. Safe Passage provides legal advice to children who have fled war and persecution and made the dangerous journey to Europe. These young refugees have a family member in the UK – a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent – and need our help to navigate the legal system in order to access a safe and legal route to reunion with their family.

This Refugee Week’s theme of ‘Imagine’ is surely one which children waiting for family reunion understand only too well. Separated from their relatives and with no idea of when, or if, they will be safely in the UK, they can only imagine what life here with their families will be like. Many of the children we support speak to us about their dreams of going to school, of playing sport, of getting a degree. Opportunities that every child should enjoy but for Safe Passage clients waiting for an answer from the Home Office, all they can do is imagine.

Since we began operating in 2015, Safe Passage has been working to ensure every child can access safe and legal routes to reunite with family under a process that is fair, fast and effective. There are EU rules – the Dublin III Regulation – which make clear that children should be reunited with their relatives as quickly as possible, but the reality is that children often spend months sometimes over a year alone in overcrowded camps and shelters awaiting a decision by the UK government.

Now, with the Brexit transition period coming to an end this December, there is a new risk to children seeking to reach their family, as the Dublin III Regulation will no longer apply in the UK. In its place, the UK government is proposing a new agreement with the EU that would make family reunion entirely discretionary, meaning children would have to rely on the Home Office deciding in their favour under a process that places no legal obligations on the UK. Under this scenario we believe far fewer children will be able to access a safe and legal route to join family, more children will be stranded in Europe separated from family, and many will choose to risk their lives with smugglers as a result.

Now, more than ever, we need people to show their support for refugee children. Hammersmith & Fulham has been a true champion of safe routes for refugee children and has given many children a home under the Dubs scheme (named after Hammersmith & Fulham local, Lord Alf Dubs). We are grateful to Leader Steve Cowan and all the councillors, officials, social workers and residents for demonstrating that local communities in the UK will not turn their back on children in urgent need.

This Refugee Week, and in the months to come, Safe Passage will be campaigning against the closure of the only safe and legal routes for child refugees in Europe to reach the UK. Alongside our campaign to prevent the end to family reunion rules, we are also calling on the Government to continue its commitment to child refugees who don’t have family in the UK, following the closure of the Dubs scheme. The Dubs scheme offered homes to 480 unaccompanied child refugees, but with the places now filled, this route is now closed.

But rather than leave children to lose their childhoods living in camps in Europe, local communities across the UK have started to imagine a different world – where the UK would make a long-term commitment to refugee children by providing safe resettlement to welcoming boroughs. So far 25 councils have pledged over 1,400 places for such a scheme, like Hammersmith & Fulham who have pledged to welcome 200 additional children over the next 10 years.

A huge thanks again from Safe Passage to everyone in H&F doing so much for child refugees. If you would like to support us this Refugee Week, please visit our Refugee Week 2020 fundraising auction. And to get more involved in our campaigning, please sign up for news, updates and campaign ideas.

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