Relax limit on child refugees allowed into UK, RCN congress tells government

Child refugees deserve safe haven in the UK, congress speakers say

A student nurse who worked with refugees in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp before it was dismantled has told RCN congress of witnessing children as young as six sleeping in tents with men who were not their relatives.

Rosa Schofield told the audience in Belfast she also saw police brutality and dealt with children with injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas.

‘It’s abhorrent that our government has not upheld their commitment to these children… We should open our arms and our borders to these incredibly vulnerable young people,' she said.

Dubs Amendment

Ms Schofield was speaking in support of a resolution demanding the UK government abide by the Dubs Amendment that enables unaccompanied refugee children to settle in the UK.

Proposing the motion, RCN North Yorkshire member Gwen Vardigans said at least 95,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe in 2015. Labour peer Lord Dubs said up to 3,000 children could be supported in the UK under his amendment, yet the government has only committed to accepting 480.

‘It’s absolutely shameful,’ said Ms Vardigans. 'These are frightened children… a few miles from our border, but we are shutting the door on them'.

RCN council chair Maria Trewern said no one could fail to be moved by the plight of refugee children.

‘We are the Royal College of Nursing and we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. And that’s what we have to do now,' she told the hall.

Refugees’ contribution to society

Nurse Sagilia Thiruthanikasalan told the congress audience she had been a child refugee and her family originally settled in Canada. ‘Children like me, if supported, can go on to contribute to society.'

But Cardiff and Vale branch member Philip McCaffrey said he felt the government was already ‘contributing above our weight to caring for these children'.

‘If children have relatives here it’s a given they should come. But if they don’t then it may be better to help them in camps in the Lebanon and Jordan,’ he told the hall.

Political will

RCN deputy president Rod Thomson said he now works in local government and many local politicians have been asking national government to allow them to take more refugee children.

‘What’s happening is appalling. We shouldn’t have to say that but we had better do it and we’d better do it loud.’

The resolution was agreed with an overwhelming majority.

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