LONDON (AFP) — A Jewish member of Britain’s House of Lords rescued from the Nazis when he was just six years old, told AFP the anti-immigrant sentiment behind Brexit should not prevent child migrants being welcomed to Britain.
Nearly 80 years since he arrived from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Labor politician Lord Alfred Dubs said he did not believe his adopted country has lost its willingness to help youngsters fleeing persecution.
“I think there’s general willingness to accept at least some of the child refugees, by most people, not all, but most people,” he told AFP.
“I don’t think Britain’s stupidity on Brexit should affect the principle of what we are doing.”
The June 23 referendum which saw Britons vote to leave the European Union was characterized by a fierce anti-immigration campaign.
Now 84, Dubs was behind an amendment adopted in May to allow vulnerable minors to seek refuge in Britain.
He himself arrived in Britain in 1938 under the “Kindertransport” program, established by late British humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton, which rescued thousands of Jewish refugee children from the Nazis.
The initiative saw some 10,000 children fleeing persecution in Germany, Austria and what was then Czechoslovakia brought to Britain.
“Although I argue that the case for the amendment doesn’t depend upon my background, clearly I have more of an emotional involvement with it so it helped,” he said.
“I think it helped to put the pressure on the government.”
The Dubs Amendment was passed as thousands of people were gathered at the makeshift “Jungle” refugee camp in the French port city of Calais in the hope of reaching Britain.
The sprawling camp was demolished by French authorities in October, with Britain taking in 300 of the children who had been staying there.
A further 1,600 unaccompanied minors were dispatched to shelters across France, while they wait to hear whether they too will be granted permission to go to Britain.
Since the camp was razed, the British government has announced new eligibility criteria, last month outlining how it would decide which children will have the chance for a new life in Britain.
If a child is Syrian or Sudanese, they are eligible up to the age of 15, but if they are any other nationality, that drops to 12, the guidelines say.
Children may also be let in if they are identified as being at high risk of sexual exploitation, and they are eligible up to the age of 18 if they are accompanying a sibling who meets one of the other criteria.
In addition, the interior ministry said they must have arrived in Europe before March 20, have been present in the Calais camp on or before October 24, and their transfer to the UK must be determined to be in their best interests.
Dubs described the new measures as “wrong” and said they excluded “some very vulnerable children that have come from Eritrea, Ethiopia.”
“To say ‘eligibility’ went against the letter and spirit of the amendment which the government undertook to do,” he added.
The politician is featured in a new film on refugees directed by Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave, who has praised Dubs for his campaigning and political influence.
“I find it impossible to believe that government ministers don’t do what he’s asking them to do,” she told AFP in an interview ahead of the “Sea Sorrow” premiere.
Both London and Paris have remained tight-lipped about the number of unaccompanied minors that will be brought to Britain.
Sources put the figure at 600 in total although France wants Britain to take more.
But Dubs appeared frustrated at the speed of the transfers, aware that elections in France next year and the influence of the far-right National Front made the situation particularly politically charged.
“I would have thought between us we could deal with this without falling out, we could deal with it quickly and smoothly,” he said.