Deborah McMillan spoke out as Chief Minister John Le Fondré said he would soon provide an update on whether the Island will provide homes for a small number of unaccompanied child refugees. She said Islanders need to ‘look into our hearts’ and consider that ‘surely there is something that Jersey can do’.
And the Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs is expected to renew his call for the Crown Dependencies to welcome child refugees when he visits Jersey later this month.
‘There are lots of myths out there that people perpetuate through social media,’ Mrs McMillan said. ‘And many of the questions that are being asked are relevant and understandable but I would like the opportunity to dispel any myths, so that people can know the facts and make informed decisions.’
Two concerns that are commonly raised are that child refugees would bring their families with them, or that adults may try to enter under the scheme posing as children, she said.
‘These are pure myths,’ she added. ‘We know that children who might potentially come to Jersey under the kind of scheme that is being discussed would already have been screened. All of that work is undertaken through the Home Office. We would already know that they were children, and they would not, as children, be eligible for the family reunion scheme that is open to adult refugees.’
And in terms of pressure on already stretched resources within States services and the question of a perceived need for specialist help in safeguarding and looking after refugee children, she said that Jersey was just as well placed as other parts of the UK.
‘We know that there is pressure on children’s services here, but equally, there is pressure on children’s services across the UK,’ she said. ‘We would know enough about these children’s backgrounds to make sure they were placed in the correct homes.
‘Yes, these children may have witnessed all sorts of trauma but what we hear from research is that the best way to deal with that trauma is simply by showing care. There is nothing here that is specialist. We can help these children overcome their trauma simply by welcoming them into our homes.
‘Also, the EAL [English as an additional language] team are amazing and they do a tremendous job. Children who come to the Island with little or no English make rapid progress, and that is in a number of languages.’
She added that she did not think Jersey was a racist place and that this claim would ‘probably sadden most people in the Island’.
‘I am really sad to have read on social media people saying that we should not accept these children because we are racist in Jersey,’ she said. ‘That is just such a shocking thing to read, and I think it would probably sadden most people in the Island.
‘We need to look into our hearts and ask ourselves if we think it is right that in the 21st century we have children, very small children, living in these camps. Surely, there is something that Jersey can do.’
When asked if she had been involved in the Chief Minister’s discussions on this issue so far, she said she had not but would be open to sharing her understanding.
‘I have not been approached to date but I would be more than happy to share my understanding with them. We have talked about putting children first as a government – this is an opportunity to demonstrate that.’