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My Lords, I add my thanks for the excellent work done by my noble friend Lady Prashar and her committee and for the excellent report they have produced. It sheds a bright light on the current crisis faced by unaccompanied migrant children, who have travelled across the globe and find that the world they have come to is failing them.
Friends and colleagues who have been working in the Refugee Community Kitchen at Calais have told me that, regardless of what is being announced, the Calais camp is not empty. The kids are not safe and have not been sorted. Those working in the kitchen are cooking and serving at all hours of the day and night.
I received another message that on Friday morning more than 100 children were still stranded in the smouldering fires, waiting for the police to sort them out. Dejected and in despair, they huddled in makeshift shelters in a school on the perimeter of the camp. Fifteen British volunteers spent the night guarding them from potential fires or people traffickers. The abandoned school is an unheated structure, made from chipboard and tarpaulin by volunteers. It is not a place where we would like to see vulnerable children huddled together.
I fear that there is some misinformation and a great deal of confusion. The most vulnerable victims are the children who mistrust the authorities, which regard them as a problem. They fear the authorities to such an extent that they choose to take to the hills, running away and disappearing. Surely in all conscience we owe a duty of care to all children, regardless of colour, creed, place of birth or even their mode of travel. They must not be labelled as immigrants and treated as a burden to society. Children are the harbingers of our future. They, along with our grandchildren, can contribute to making our future safe, comfortable and bright. Children are an asset to any country, particularly one that has a falling birth rate.
We need only to look at this country’s health and social care services to recognise the impressive contribution made by many who have been labelled as immigrants. Without more help from them, in a decade or so the increasing proportion of older and wiser citizens in this country may find it difficult to function. Mere self-interest dictates that we should welcome these children in the hope that in due course some of them will turn their hands to the care and health services and look after us.
As we know all too well, these children are here because their homes have been bombed, their villages burnt down and their families killed. There is little left for these youngsters to return to and very little offered to them to go to at this stage. Without systematic and humane assistance, evidence suggests that many of these youngsters may be caught and drafted into slavery, prostitution, petty theft—possibly even terrorism—and a raft of other misdemeanours.
By welcoming these children we can only be serving the interests of the nation. Not all these kids are traumatised or unable to help; some of them even play cricket. Many of them, given care and protection, could become invaluable citizens of our country. They could bring a great deal to this country. It is the most enterprising, brightest and best of the kids who not only manage to embark on such journeys but manage to survive and get to this country.
Many have relatives in this country who are very willing to receive them provided they are not scared of being demonised. Many others have been welcomed by generous families who have already opened their doors and offered to have them. It is not only humanitarianism and altruism that demand that we accept these children and care for them; self-interest dictates that we make the most of the situation and turn a human tragedy into a national asset. I suggest that we would do very well by accepting these children among us.