On 5 October, the British government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted to back an amendment from Lord Dubs designed to protect family reunion rules for asylum-seekers beyond Brexit.
The amendment to the government’s flagship immigration bill was voted for by a significant majority of 317 votes to 223 against. The amended bill will return to the House of Commons, where the government may use its large majority to overturn the defeat.
Following the vote, Lord Alfred Dubs, who came to the UK at the age of six from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in the 1930s as part of the Kindertransport rescue mission, said:
“Families should be together.”
“The government defeat today demonstrates the strength of feeling that we should not abandon our humanity and compassion by removing the right of children to be reunited with relatives here in the UK.
“I would now urge the government to put their own words into practice, by rethinking its policy and supporting this amendment when it comes before the Commons.”
Dubs added: “The home secretary claimed on Sunday that the Conservative Party has a proud history of providing a safe haven to those in need.”
“This claim does not align with what we have seen in the House today, as the government is prepared to callously abandon these most vulnerable of people, leaving them at risk of exploitation of the worst kind.”
What is at stake?
The EU’s Dublin rules currently allow asylum-seekers to be transferred to another member state to join their family as they claim asylum but this will cease to apply in the UK when the transition period ends on 31 December.
According to the Guardian, since 2015, 3,079 people have been transferred to the UK under the Dublin regulation, including 714 transfers in 2019, to be reunited with their families as they claim asylum.
The Dublin regulations have been at the heart of the recent debate over the UK’s asylum policy, with the UK government arguing they are
“rigid, inflexible and abused by migrants and activist lawyers”.
Human rights groups and charities have said the Dublin rules provide one of a small number of remaining safe and legal routes for asylum-seekers to reach the UK. In the absence of such legal routes, migrants are forced to turn to high-risk attempts to reach the UK including crossing the Channel in small boats.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, the chief executive of Safe Passage International, told the Guardian:
“This defeat should be a wakeup call to the government that providing a safe and legal way for vulnerable refugee children from Europe to be reunited with their families is not only the moral thing to do, but the will of a cross-party collaboration across the house and local authorities.”
Earlier this year, the International Observatory of Human Rights spoke to Lord Alfred Dubs about the amendment and how barring child refugees from legal ways to arrive in the UK and join their families force them to seek dangerous alternatives.