Our next Prime Minister must take the plight of refugee children seriously

Tim Loughton MP and Nicky Morgan MP

This World Refugee Day we will be taking a moment to consider the plight of those who have fled war and disaster to reach a place of safety. We saw this ourselves during a visit with Unicef, over two years ago, to Greece where we met children who had undertaken dangerous journeys to reach Europe.

Therefore, as we elect a new leader, and with it, a new Prime Minister, we want to stress the importance of this issue.

Just a couple of weeks ago we heard that a ‘record’ number of boats, carrying 74 people, were intercepted in the Channel – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes - in a single day. Although we are aware of conversations which are ongoing between the Home Secretary and his French counterpart, the fact that these crossings continue serves to highlight the desperation felt by those who undertake dangerous journeys attempting to reach our shores.

However, not all boats carrying refugees and migrants are intercepted before disaster hits.  According to UNICEF, in the first three months of this year 365 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean, representing over 60% of the total number of fatalities in 2018.

This situation is further compounded by an increase in the proportion of children amongst arrivals, from one in five to one in four. When making this journey into Europe, children routinely face abuse, discrimination and exploitation. This is particularly true in Italy, where nearly all female arrivals reported experiencing sexual or gender-based violence.

Frustratingly, there have been a number of missed opportunities where we could have ensured that refugee children, who have family members in the UK, can reach them safely, without having to make a dangerous journey into Europe.

Firstly, there was the EU Withdrawal Bill, where we withdrew our amendment after being assured by the Immigration Minister that this issue would be resolved. Then the Immigration White Paper was published after months of delay and the issue was side-stepped.

While the European Refugee Crisis is not Britain’s problem alone, we are definitely in a position to do more. Without having to pass any legislation, we could change our own immigration rules meaning that refugee children could be reunited with their adult siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents in the UK, without being forced to make life-threatening journeys.

As we leave the EU, the new leader of the Conservative party, and the country, must ensure that the UK remains an outward-looking nation by helping vulnerable children. A Home Secretary could amend these rules today to ensure that child refugees can reach a place of safety in the UK – and their families. We hope this is something our new leader will commit to reviewing as soon as possible.