The ‘Kindertransport’ was a British organised rescue of 10,000 children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland just months before the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom rescued these predominantly Jewish children from Nazi persecution and welcomed them into British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. In many cases, they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust. 

In December, we will commemorate 80 years since the first Kindertransport trains departed Europe, bringing thousands of children to safety in Britain. We must thank the delegation of British, Jewish, and Quaker leaders who appealed in person, to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, five days after the devastation of "Kristallnacht" on 15 November 1938.  Chamberlain debated the issue the next day with his Cabinet and swiftly prepared a Bill that saw the UK Government waive immigration requirements to allow the entry of these unaccompanied children to Britain, without their parents. In less than a year, 10,000 child refugees were evacuated to safety in Britain.

It is an inspiring example of the power of civil society to demand action and then organise an effective response. 80 years later, it is our turn again because the needs of vulnerable children for a safe refuge is equally pressing today. Global migration is the humanitarian crisis of our age. Half of the world’s refugees are children.

We cannot ignore the terrible plight of so many vulnerable children - we can and must play our part. The UN recorded 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children on the move in 2015/16 across 80 different countries.  Last year over 20,000 unaccompanied children arrived into Europe, with many thousands now stuck in makeshift camps or living rough on the streets due to the lack of shelter capacity for such numbers, within arrival countries such as Greece and Italy. Worse still is that many children subsequently disappear into the hands of ruthless smuggler gangs and traffickers where the risks of forced prostitution and forced labour are extremely high. More than 75% of the 1,600 14 to 16 years old refugees arriving in Italy for example, reported being held against their will or forced to work.

Britain is and always has been generous and open-minded towards refugees and has offered a home to those in trouble time and again. From the Huguenots to the Belgians and Jewish refugees, we have a strong tradition of welcoming those who need shelter. As a child, I can remember my own mother working as a nurse to welcome the Ugandan Asian refugees, and then later the Vietnamese boat people. This seemed only natural to me, given that my own father had been evacuated as a child to Canada during the war. This tradition of welcoming refugees to Britain in times of extreme need is something we should celebrate and continue.

‘Our Turn’ campaign, led by Lord Dubs and some of the children of the Kindertransport, supported by Safe Passage, UNICEF UK, Save the Children and SoS Children’s Villages is calling for Britain to voluntarily receive 10,000 vulnerable refugee children over the next 10 years. This is a modest target that amounts to only 1,000 children a year and 3 children per local authority; and it is roughly equivalent to our existing commitments to child refugees that are unfortunately set to expire in 2020 and have yet to be replaced. Currently, the UK provides refuge for an average of 870 children a year from two refugee schemes: the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme and the ‘Dubs’ scheme offering refuge for 3,000 and 480 refugee children respectively. ‘Our Turn’ would continue our commitment and match exactly the number of refugee children that Britain rescued 80 years ago.

I ask you to support this campaign in any way you can to help the young lives and potential of 10,000 individual children fleeing conflict and oppression. ‘Our Turn’ would provide long-term certainty of safe and legal pathways to the most vulnerable children in the world (visit www.80yearson.org.uk).

 This year of all years, as we prepare to leave the EU, is when we should think about what country we want Britain to be. This nation is and always has been generous and open minded towards refugees. We have a strong tradition of welcoming those who seek shelter. This tradition is something which I hope, regardless of one’s views on Brexit or the European Union, we can all agree on – that we should build on our history and remain open, welcoming and generous, providing global leadership to protect the most vulnerable children.