The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
There’s some doubt over whether Mahatma Ghandi ever actually uttered these words which are so often attributed to him – but no one could argue with the sentiment behind them.
There are many, many vulnerable people in society – but few more so than unaccompanied child refugees.
Often they’ve escaped from terrible conflict and, despite their young age, have witnessed or experienced more unimaginable horrors than the rest of us will in a lifetime.
The reason that so many children end up by themselves are varied and complex, but what they have in common is that they are all – by virtue of being alone – acutely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
So when the Tory government announced last week that they were going to end the “Dubs amendment” scheme which allows unaccompanied child refugees into the UK, it’s no surprise that reactions ranged from shock to disgust. And its why, on Friday, I wrote to Theresa May and urged her to reconsider this inhumane decision.
It had initially been thought that 3,000 vulnerable children could be helped through this scheme – but only 350 children will actually have come to the UK by the time it closes next month.
Given that there are an estimated 90,000 unaccompanied child refugees across Europe right now, they have barely scratched the surface.
Poignantly, the scheme was put forward by Lord Alf Dubs – a former child refugee, and one of hundreds of mainly Jewish children brought to the UK from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by businessmen Sir Nicholas Winton on the Kindertransport.
It was less than a year ago, and only with great reluctance, that the Tory government agreed to his proposals – and now they’ve abandoned that commitment.
Failing to help child refugees is a clear dereliction of the UK’s moral and global duty.
And by ending this scheme, there is no way for children who do not have a relative in the UK to come here legally.
That means that only dangerous and illegal routes are open to them – and as others have pointed out in recent days, this in effect aids the human trafficking industry and increases the potential for exploitation of these young people who are in desperate situations.
Listening to Lord Dubs’ reaction to the announcement last week, I was struck by something he said.
Describing himself as “one of the lucky ones” to have been rescued – because, of course, countless others sadly weren’t – he said it would be a terrible betrayal of Sir Nicholas Winton’s legacy if we as a country were unable to do more to help a new generation of child refugees.
In other words, of course we can be proud of what we did in the past to help those in need.
But it’s the actions that we are willing to take in today’s world that should be the true measure of our society – and how we will be judged by future generations.
There are currently more displaced people in the world today than at any time since the Second World War – in times of such upheaval, every country must do what it can. There is no doubt that the UK can and should do more.
– This article originally appeared in the Daily Record.