World Refugee Day: plea to give sanctuary to child refugees

Quaker.org.uk: Quakers are among more than 250 faith leaders who have written an open letter to the Prime Minister, asking him to commit to offering child refugees a safe route to asylum in the UK.

three people in emotional hug

The signatories to the letter include the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of England bishops, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, rabbis representing Reform, Liberal and other Jewish denominations, the former president of the Hindu Forum of Europe, the lead Catholic Bishop for Migrants and Refugees plus numerous senior leaders from the Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed, Salvation Army and Quaker traditions across the UK.

Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain signed the letter, saying, “Unaccompanied child refugees are among the most vulnerable people in our world. If anyone deserves our compassion, they do. We are called to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. It is time those words meant offering safety to this desperate group. Let us try what love can do.”

Diana Strauss signed the letter for Canterbury Local Quaker Meeting; Clare Henry for Exeter Quakers and Sheila Mosley for QARN Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network .

The letter says, “These children are at a severe risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence, and are surviving in circumstances that no child should experience.”

The charity Safe Passage organised the letter in the wake of an announcement by the UK government that the 480 places available to child refugees under the ‘Dubs Scheme’ had been filled. MPs voted to establish the route to sanctuary in 2016, to help bring children safely to the UK from horrendous conditions in the Calais Jungle and Greek camps but the government insisted on capping the scheme at 480 places.

We are called to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. It is time those words meant offering safety to this desperate group. Let us try what love can do.

– Paul Parker, Quakers in Britain

The letter has been sent to the Prime Minister in the same week in which MPs in parliament debated an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which seeks to protect family reunion and relocation for unaccompanied children in Europe. The amendment has so far been opposed by government.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, may we congratulate you on the UK government’s collaboration with the Greek government in organising a flight to allow 47 refugees waiting in Greece to reunite with their loved ones here. This is a true example of the UK’s humanitarian leadership.

We are writing to you today to ask if you will build on that humanitarian spirit, by offering sanctuary to unaccompanied children stranded in Europe.

More than 1,600 unaccompanied children [1] remain stuck on the Greek islands – they have escaped war, persecution, and poverty only to find themselves now trapped in desperate conditions, with little or no access to the most basic necessities. Water, shelter, food, and toilets are in scarce supply and with many children already unwell, they are also at heightened risk of Covid-19 infection. These children are at a severe risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence, and are surviving in circumstances that no child should experience [2]. Heartbreakingly, an increasing number of these children are attempting suicide and self-harm.

These children are at a severe risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence, and are surviving in circumstances that no child should experience.

– Faith leaders’ letter to Prime Minister

Inaction in the face of such deprivation and suffering is not an option. Now, more than ever, the UK must step in and offer sanctuary to children in urgent need.

Last October, the Greek government called upon European states to urgently evacuate unaccompanied children and earlier this year the EU commission pledged funding to help [3]. 47 children have been welcomed to Germany [4] and 12 to Luxembourg [5] with 11 other European countries including Switzerland, France, and Ireland all pledging places. So far Portugal has led the way, offering 500 places [6].

Even in challenging times, the UK has always remained a place of sanctuary for those seeking refuge, from the Kindertransport to the more recent Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme, and we urge you to build on this proud tradition by urgently resettling some of the world’s most vulnerable children, giving them a chance to rebuild their lives in safety in the UK.

Furthermore, with the ‘Dubs scheme’ over [7] and with child refugees losing their access to family reunion after we exit the EU [8], very soon there could be no safe, legal routes for child refugees in Europe to seek sanctuary in the UK.

As a signatory to the Global Compact on Refugees and one of the world’s richest countries, seeking to build and demonstrate global cooperation and goodwill, we have a moral duty to act. Up and down the country, communities are ready to help – a campaign led by Lord Alf Dubs and the charity Safe Passage has secured pledges from UK councils for over 1,400 places for child refugees [9]. If you agree to give these children a safe route by extending the Global Resettlement Scheme to Europe, councils are ready to welcome them.

Right now, we face an unprecedented and difficult time in the UK – but we believe it is precisely during these dark times that we must show our global solidarity and leadership to others in need.

All the faiths we represent embrace solidarity with those who are suffering and advocate a profound responsibility to alleviate that suffering. We call on the government to embrace that humanitarian spirit and as our Prime Minister, we urge you to act now and offer child refugees safe passage.

We call upon you to firstly meet with Safe Passage and faith representatives to discuss the urgent need to relocate vulnerable children from the Greek islands and to ensure an ongoing safe route for unaccompanied children without family in the UK, and secondly to ensure child refugees can continue to reunite with their family members in the UK after the end of the transition agreement.

Yours faithfully.

Read the letter and full list of signatories

Read about Quakers’ sanctuary meetings