The Kindertransport Legacy Campaign

The Kindertransport Legacy Campaign

Refugee History is interested in exploring the connections between past refugee movements and the present. We have seen, since the debates surrounding the passing of the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act in March-May 2016, the ways in which the legacy of the Kindertransport has been used to try and influence government policy. Here, in the context of the 'Brexit Bill', we see campaigners making a forceful case for a ‘Dubs II’ amendment to ensure the continuation of the right to family reunion ‘post-Dublin III’. 

Based on a piece originally published by Calais Action. Photo: Lord Alf Dubs in Parliament; Credit Calais Action.

In 1939, my mother took me to the Kindertransport office in Prague to put me on the train. Today I get to stand in her shoes and help another child to safety.

It’s 9th May 2018. Ben Abeles, a child of the ‘Kindertransport’, is in the House of Lords along with other past and present child refugees, telling his story of how he escaped from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, by trains and ships arranged by British groups to bring Jewish and other young refugees to Britain. Near him sits an Iraqi mother and some of her six children, who were recently resettled here from a refugee camp via the Children At Risk scheme which aims to resettle 3,000 vulnerable children from areas of conflict.

We’re at the launch of the Kindertransport Legacy Campaign hosted by Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, himself a child of the Kindertransport, whose ‘Dubs Amendment’ to the Immigration Act 2016 has helped hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees to safety since the Calais Jungle was demolished in October 2016. This year he’s proposed another amendment, this time to the ‘Brexit Bill’ (the EU Withdrawal Bill 2018) to safeguard the vital lifeline, the Dublin Regulation on family reunion, that helps children and adults in Europe reunite with family in the closest EU country. After Brexit, this safe and legal route to asylum will be endangered. Lord Dubs argues:

If the Government is serious about treating people with human decency, they mustn’t turn their backs on child refugees in Europe who seek to join their family here after Brexit.

Encouragingly, Lord Dubs’ new Amendment - Dubs II - has been passed by the House of Lords and will go to vote in the House of Commons on May 21st 2018. MPs need to back ‘Dubs II’ in order for it to become law, which would prevent Britain from closing an important route to safety for young vulnerable refugees.

Just as it is today, the issue of taking in child refugees was championed in 1939 by some concerned members of the public – faith groups and other self-organised refugee support groups – who went to meet Neville Chamberlain after Kristallnacht to ask that children be urgently given sanctuary in Britain. As a result, a bill was passed in Parliament to allow children between 4 and 17 to come to Britain temporarily to escape the Nazi occupation.

Then, as now, large swathes of the media were against it, but even so, nearly 10,000 children were brought to safety by this method, to a Britain on the brink of war, but where many citizens opened their homes, schools and groups to help accommodate and feed them. (See Refugee History’s policy paper, and forthcoming information pack – The ZS Case and the Kindertransport - for further links between the 1930s and today).

‘We’ve done it before; we can do it again,’ says Yvette Cooper, one of the MPs present at the launch. ‘This is a cross-party initiative. We have the tools to do it with this Amendment, and we need MPs of all parties behind it.’

The short-term goal of the Kindertransport Legacy Campaign is to encourage MPs to back the ‘Dubs II’ Amendment to safeguard family reunion beyond Brexit. The longer-term plan is more complex: to assist citizens in lobbying their local councils to provide three places to vulnerable children and child refugees per year, to accommodate up to 10,000 children in ten years. During the first ‘Dubs Amendment’ of 2016-17, nearly 20,000 places were pledged by councils in response to pressure from the public – although the government did not take them up. Lord Dubs is also asking the government to extend the ‘Children At Risk’ scheme to consider some of the 90,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, not just in areas of conflict.

Barbara Winton tells us about her father Nicholas Winton who rescued 669 children from Czech refugee camps, mainly refugees from the Sudetenland, fleeing Nazi invasion. He aimed to rescue five thousand and, by the time Czechoslovakia had been invaded (effectively preventing any more departures) he had rescued 669.  She says:

My father felt he had failed, but fifty years later, he met some of those child refugees
who he had rescued, and saw what good lives and what happiness they had as a result.
Of them, nearly seven thousand descendants are alive today, paying back to Britain what they received from us, and they gave him this.’ She holds up a ring to show us. ‘It’s engraved with an inscription, “Save one life, save the world.” Just because you can’t help everyone, doesn’t mean you can’t help someone.

For more information on the Kindertransport Legacy Campaign visit Safe Passage or Calais Action on Facebook.

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