Q & A with WW2 child refugee Lord Alf Dubs

Dutch Child Refugees Arriving in Britain, Essex in 1945


This is an edited Q & A with WW2 child refugee Lord Alf Dubs who has vigorously campaigned for the UK to do more when it comes to the rights of child refugees and is now a Labour Peer.

Q: You're a child refugee. How did you end up coming to this country?

A: I was 6 years old. My father was Jewish, my mother wasn’t. My father left Prague within a day of the Germans occupying in March 1939. He talked to his cousins and my uncle and aunt and said to them that if the Nazis come "I’m out" and they said they would take their chance and in 1942 the Gestapo came and took them off to Auschwitz. We had to tear out a picture of the president in our schoolbooks and stick in a picture of Hitler. There were German soldiers everywhere.  My mother applied to leave the country and was refused. Eventually, she got me on a kinder transport. I can still see her in my mind's eye standing at Prague station. When the train pulled out I didn’t know if I would see her again. We got to the dutch border and the older ones cheered because we were out of reach of the Nazis. In the end, my mother did get an exit permit. She arrived in London on August the 31st. The war with Poland was started on September the 1st, so if she had been a day later she would never have made it.

Q: How important of a role do you think the European Union has played in keeping peace in Europe over the last 70 years?

A: During the EU referendum I really worked my socks off for Remain. I think the EU has been absolutely phenomenal, not just for peace and I’m very sad that we are no longer in it. I have found the whole situation since then utterly, utterly painful. I just find the idea of turning our back on Europe so undermining and I worry for the future of this country and future generations. The idea the government has set a deadline to conclude negotiations by the end of the year come what may, when it is obviously, patently, clear that we can’t have proper negotiations anyway is ridiculous. My fear is they are just heading for crashing out of the EU because that’s just about the only policy they have. I think people take peace and the benefits of the EU for granted and have forgotten the old tensions with countries beyond the borders of Eastern Europe.

Q: Do you think the UK has become less caring about the plight of refugees in other countries? 

A: All European countries should share responsibility. Germany has done especially well and we are not playing our part. Some of the EU countries have already agreed to take children from Greece. Although we are taking some refugees under the Dublin treaty for family reunion purposes, we are taking very little, because the Home Secretary has said she doesn’t want child refugees to come here.

Q: When the Home Secretary says she doesn't want child refugees to come here does it make you lose your faith in humanity?

A: I haven’t lost my faith in humanity, just in some of the politicians. Whenever I went to the refugee camps in Northern France or Greece, one of the things that humbled and excited me was the wonderful volunteers who have gone to work in Calais and the Greek islands, who are doing the most fantastic job for the most vulnerable human beings in very difficult conditions. And the other thing is, that every time the government have been awful towards refugees public opinion has kicked in. I think Britain is essentially a humanitarian country and British people are essentially supportive of child refugees – provided the arguments are put to them. 

Q: It’s Europe day on Saturday. How important do you think the European Convention on Human Rights has been to UK citizens over the last 70 years and does it worry you that the government has so far refused to include a commitment of staying members of the convention in the Brexit trade talks?

A: They have refused to be committed to it all along… If we didn’t have this pandemic crisis I think we should be celebrating Europe Day in parliament square waving the EU flag. I think it would be absolutely disastrous to detach ourselves from the convention and the court. They are fundamental, the UK played a key part in setting them up and I would go to the wall to defend them. It is also crucial that we fully adhere to the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which we haven’t been doing on one or two occasions... 

Q: What would you have been doing this VE day if it wasn't for coronavirus?

A: I was lined up to to be with the Czech embassy to pay tribute to the many Czech and Slovaks who fought in the British forces, particularly in the airforce.


By Harry Ridgewell - Staff member for the Labour Movement for Europe

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