The House of Commons’ vote on Monday the 25th to not allow 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the UK has heralded strong backlash from communities across Britain, from London to Wales to Gloucester and beyond. Headlines that strongly oppose the government’s decision are striking throughout a cross-section of media, both in national and local papers, and express strong emotions, e.g. “The Child Refugee Vote Brought Shame on the Government” (New Statesman); “ ‘I’m disgusted’: People Respond to MPs Vote Against Accepting 3,000 Child Refugees” (The Guardian); and “The Day Britain Chose Not to Help Refugee Children” (The Pool).
With strongly worded criticisms of the government’s decisions nearly universal, one might assume that the public attitude toward this decision may reflect similar attitudes. This would be somewhat surprising given the strong anti-migration attitudes that have been expressed throughout the United Kingdom, especially during Brexit discussions. It’s hard to say whether this positive feeling toward migrant children stems from the fact that they are children or whether it’s a reaction to the disappearance of thousands of unaccompanied children within Europe, presumably from human traffickers.
The argument of those who voted against bringing 3,000 child refugees into the country was best summarised by the Home Office Minister James Brokenshire who said that voting yes to accepting unaccompanied migrant children in Europe could, “inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children alone ahead and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by attempting treacherous sea crossings to Europe which would be the worst of all outcomes.”
Aside from the counterargument that many families are already sending their children alone, as they don’t have enough money for the whole family to make the journey, those who supported taking 3,000 child refugees looked to history, which Lord Dubs summarised when he stated, “My message to Conservative MPs is that, in 1938-39, Britain took 10,000 child refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. We were in the lead then and we could take an important step now. The least we can do is say this is a small number and they should be welcome here.”
As such, many seem to worry that in addition to standing by while children fall prey to human traffickers, Great Britain is also ruining its history of supporting refugees. It is yet to be seen what the longer term public attitudes and pressure on the government may lead to, but on Monday, the situation for refugee children looked dire.