The Tory Brexit Withdrawal Bill went through the House of Commons this week with a series of amendments - one ending the right to family reunion for unaccompanied child refugees within the EU.
The so-called "Dublin regulation" is set to be removed with a majority of 96, a damning sign of what is yet come and the callousness of this latest Tory government.
But none of this should surprise us. Only days after their victory in December, prominent members of the far-right took to social media to announce that they had now joined the Conservative Party. Be they Tommy Robinson or Paul Golding (and whether their memberships are fake or not) this was a signal to the racists and bigots of the EDL and Britain First: here is your new home. Since Brexit, the political base of the Conservatives had already shifted to the right, and these latest far-right endorsements take it radically further.
The project designed by and for the far-right – Brexit – is now beginning to deliver what it always intended; ever-harsher border controls, and dehumanising treatment of some the world’s most impoverished people. Along with the ending of EU Free Movement post-Brexit, the destruction of the right to family reunion is another attack on what should be a basic human right. Needless to say, this wasn’t announced as Tory Party policy in their 2019 manifesto.
With climate change obliterating local environments, and conflicts tearing societies apart, the UNHCR estimate that there are currently over 70 million people displaced from their homes – the highest ever on record. In that number includes 13 million child refugees under the age of 18. Every single one of these people deserves the same rights to healthcare, nourishment, secure housing and basic support as anyone else, and yet they are being systematically denied this.
In the rush and chaos of fleeing war and poverty in the back of a packed lorry or an over-crowded raft, it should be no shock how frequently families are split up, either forcibly or by accident. Further eroding the right for unaccompanied children to escape the horrors of detention centres and refugee camps through familial reunion will only exacerbate their suffering and insecurity. Socialists must therefore argue against the border controls that restrict them from reuniting, and fight for safe and legal routes for this to happen.
In the Labour Campaign for Free Movement we have worked to raise the consciousness in the Labour Party on issues affecting migrants and refugees, and won major party policy changes in 2019, including the unconditional right to family reunion. As part of a governmental programme, some of our demands would have seen major advances towards ending racist border controls and the hostile environment. Despite its omission from the Party’s 2019 General Election manifesto, socialists must honour this conference decision, and campaign for the right to family reunion – and especially now, as this comes ever-closer to its outright abolition.
The parliamentary arithmetic means that for the foreseeable future the Tory Party will continue to launch hammer-blows against rights that provide dignity to – and save migrant and refugee lives. But outside of parliament there is work that needs to be done – building international links with those fighting the forces of global reaction, and bringing down the government to prevent more damage from being inflicted. This amendment has not yet passed into law, and there is still a chance to stop this from going any further. It is now more important than ever that we don’t neglect our duty to provide unconditional solidarity with those so brutally oppressed by the evils of capitalism, climate change, detention, borders and war. We must continue the fight for free movement, and fight for such basic dignities as family reunion.
Josh Lovell is a member of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement Steering Committee, writing here in a personal capacity