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Ninety-one-year-old former child refugee attacks government at Stratford meeting

PUBLISHED: 08:23 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 08:23 13 February 2017

Professor Leslie Brent, centre, was joined by East Ham MP Stephen Timms and Siema Iqbal from Muslim Engagement and Development.

Professor Leslie Brent, centre, was joined by East Ham MP Stephen Timms and Siema Iqbal from Muslim Engagement and Development.

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A man who was one of the first child refugees to enter the country after fleeing Nazi persecution in the Second World War has attacked the government.

Speaking in Newham Picture House in Stratford at a public meeting organised by campaign group “Stand Up to Racism”, Professor Leslie Brent accused Theresa May’s government of “completely abandoning” a deal, known as the Dubs amendment, to allow thousands of unaccompanied refugee children into the UK.

On Wednesday ministers announced 200 children had been allowed into the country and after a further 150 had been admitted the deal would end.

Prof. Brent, whose entire family were murdered in 1942 during the Holocaust, said: “I think that is a total and utter disgrace and totally indefensible.”

The professor, one of the first child refugees to arrive in this country in 1938 on the kindertransports which saved 10,000 mainly Jewish children from Nazi aggression, told a wrapt audience of 60 people in last Thursday night’s meeting how the government of the time, led by prime minister Neville Chamberlain, showed a “compassion and generosity” which was “unparallelled”.

“There’s no question my life was saved,” the 91-year-old said, adding that his family’s fate would have been his own if he had not made it to the UK.

He added: “I simply fail to understand why our present government appears unable to add to that kind of compassion towards the child refugees in France and other continental countries where they go hungry and are prey to exploitation and abuse.”

The professor told his audience how he joined the army at the age of 18 and was made a captain before he became a pioneer in immunology, commenting that, as a migrant, he didn’t believe for a minute that he was “exceptional”.

“There’s absolutely no reason to think that a child refugee allowed into the United Kingdom now would not make a similar contribution,” he said.

In response, a government spokesman said: “We are not giving up on vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger. Thanks to the goodwill of the British public and local authorities in the last year alone, we have provided refuge or other forms of leave to more than 8,000 children.

“Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping. We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it and children will continue to arrive in the UK from around the world through our other resettlement schemes and asylum system.

“We’re also clear that behind these numbers are children. It’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have the capacity to host them and provide them with the support they will need”.


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