Charlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal.
Last year the Calais Jungle was dismantled. Nearly 10,000 people were living in conditions of appalling squalor – rickety shacks and tents. There was no running water and little sanitation. People traffickers roamed free, exploiting migrants, adult and child alike.
Dismantling the Jungle and moving the people there into safe reception centres far from Calais was a major step forward. Yet the risk is that the good intentions of the Dubs amendment scheme could cause the evil of the Jungle to return.
It sounds compassionate to bring in child refugees from Calais to Britain. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For what would happen is that Calais would once again become a migrant magnet. The people traffickers would encourage families to make the dangerous journey to Calais. There they would once again be subject to horrendous conditions and terrible exploitation.
So what should we do? We should start by discouraging refugees from making perilous journeys across the seas and the European mainland, because we must protect innocent youngsters like little Alan Kurdi whose life was needlessly lost.
Yet we must always hold out a helping hand to the most vulnerable families and children fleeing the Syrian conflict – and make sure those people are brought to the UK from the Middle East or North Africa so they can have the care and support that they need. That’s why the Government is right to be seeking to resettle people from these war-torn countries and is right to warn of the risk of the return of the Calais migrant magnet.
Moreover we have a strong record of making a difference. In the last quarter of 2015, Britain resettled 1,086 refugees – more than half of whom were children. Let’s not forget the children we took in from the Calais Jungle last year, reuniting them with their families already living in the UK. By taking action and dismantling the camp, this meant hundreds of youngsters had a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over their head at Christmas.
It’s also important to remember that Britain has spent over £1 billion of our aid budget in providing places of safety close to the Syrian conflict zone, where we are caring for more than a million people. Indeed we spend more on aid than any European country.
At the Dover and Kent frontline we have been working hard to care for refugee children. We are caring for nearly 800 children – almost a quarter of all child refugees in Britain. That’s five times more than the whole of Scotland – and 12 times more than Wales. This has put real pressure on public services and it’s incredibly disappointing that other councils and other nations fail to do their bit.
In Kent we are not just caring for the refugee children, we are in a very real way at the frontline of this migrant crisis. It is we who see families shivering in the back of refrigerated lorries at Dover docks. It is we who see desperate migrants landing on our beaches in dinghies and claiming asylum. And it is we who see our resources stretched to the brink as we care for ever more vulnerable youngsters dumped on our doorstep by ruthless people traffickers.
This is why taking in more refugee children from Calais and the Dubs amendment system is the wrong answer. The right answer is to discourage people from coming to Calais at all. It is to encourage people to go to our places of safety close to conflict zones. It is to take into Britain the most vulnerable and needy refugees direct from those war zones. And it is to take the battle to the people traffickers and end their evil trade of modern slavery.
Last week the Government took a big and bold step in weakening the pull factor that the people traffickers rely on. The Government is right to ignore the siren voices of the liberal left – because this is how we can defeat the people traffickers and make sure those most in need can be cared for.