The charity Safe Passage UK on Sunday called on the British government to strengthen its role in helping at-risk child refugees, as it marked 80 years since the first Kindertransport trains arrived in London, carrying Jewish children evacuated from Nazi Germany.
The campaign “80 Years On, It’s Our Turn” reminded lawmakers of the UK’s legacy and urged decision makers to help new groups of youngsters in desperate need of protection.
“What the Kindertransport teaches is that Britain is capable of quite significant acts of humanitarian justice,” Beth Gardiner-Smith, Chief Executive of Safe Passage UK, told BBC Radio.
She questioned why the Kindertransport program was able to help 10,000 mostly Jewish children, but today the prospect of resettling just a few hundred children at a time had become a big issue for politicians.
“These children are bearing a lot of trauma, they’ve traveled incredibly long journeys, and they then face quite significant hardship when they arrive in Europe.”
UK government ‘falling short’
Safe Passage UK said while the British government agreed in 2016 to make 3,000 places available for vulnerable children from the Middle East and Africa, the scheme was subsequently reduced to just 480.
A freedom of information request by the charity suggests just 240 unaccompanied child refugees have been settled in the UK since the government made the pledge, the Independent reported last month.
The charity has urged UK local authorities to pledge a total of thousand places a year for the next decade for young refugees.
First arrivals remembered
On December 1, 1938, the first 200 Jewish children arrived at Liverpool Street station in London, a month after the Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) pogrom that terrorized Germany’s Jewish population.
The first children came from Hamburg, and a Jewish orphanage in Berlin damaged by the Nazis.
Organizers ensured someone was waiting at Liverpool Street to receive and care for each child.
As a result of pressure on the UK government by British, Jewish and Quaker leaders, the UK parliament offered refuge to some 10,000 children from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland, in the months leading up to World War II.
Often the youngsters were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust, and many settled in Britain.
The last group left Germany on September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, and the borders were closed.
Similar arrangements were made in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden, but many of the youngsters lost their lives when Germany occupied those countries.