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Asylum centre mural: Lord Dubs, who fled Nazis as a child, says row shows refugees ‘aren’t treated as humans’

The peer, who arrived in the UK as a six-year-old refugee, called on senior Conservatives to speak out against the decision to paint over the cartoons

A senior peer who came to Britain as a child refugee after fleeing the Nazis has blasted Robert Jenrick’s “shocking” order for a children’s cartoon mural at an asylum centre to be painted over.

Labour’s Lord Dubs, who fled the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, arriving in the UK as a six-year-old refugee, said he intends to raise the issue when the Illegal Migration Bill returns to the House of Lords this month.

i revealed last week that Mr Jenrick ordered the removal of artworks of cartoon figures at Dover’s Kent Asylum Unit such as Mickey Mouse and Baloo from The Jungle Book because they were “too welcoming” in April.

The Home Office confirmed that the cartoon characters painted on the walls of the asylum centre were painted over on Tuesday following the order from Mr Jenrick.

Lord Dubs, 90, told i: “I think it’s shocking. It shows that the hostile comments were not just exclusively to Suella Braverman.

“I think there are a number of ministers, I hope not all, who are hostile to refugees and don’t treat them as fellow human beings.

“It is almost impossible to understand how any Government minister could wish so ill of children. After all, what is more innocent for children than a few cartoon figures to make the place they are going feel a bit friendly and welcoming?

“I’m really taken aback that we have such people in Government. It’s totally gratuitous. I don’t know what he thought he was doing.

“I think it’s one step too far even for people who are hostile to refugees. Even coming from a Government that has produced this Illegal Migration Bill, something as shocking as that, I find this gratuitous hostility really takes some beating.”

He called on senior Conservatives to speak out against the decision to paint over the cartoons.

The Labour peer was one of 669 children who escaped the Holocaust on a Kindertransport train from Prague organised by British stockbroker Sir Nicholas Winton.

Earlier this year, he accused Government ministers of “pandering to extreme elements” with “despicable” comments about asylum seekers who cross the Channel after Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Mr Jenrick appeared to question the “values” of migrants who arrive in the UK on small boats and the former suggested they were more likely to be criminals.

Painting over the murals “shows hostility to vulnerable young people, and an unwillingness for people in this country to be welcoming”, Lord Dubs said.

“I just think it goes against all traditions of how we behave towards vulnerable people,” he added.

“It was a different situation as we came on a Kindertransport. I had no sense of hostility from anybody. I thought people were welcoming.

“I just had a sense of confusion and bewilderment. In another country. different language, different food, different everything. I had an easy journey, I had two days on a train. Whereas these people have had a nightmare journey.”

Meanwhile, a minister has insisted refugee children arriving in the UK are “looked after well” after the Government faced a backlash for painting over the cartoon mural at an asylum centre.

Victoria Atkins, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said when asked if she agreed with the order that it was important to “focus on the fundamentals”.

“If there are children arriving in the United Kingdom via small boats, then as soon as they land in the UK they are looked after properly,” she told Sky News.

“The local authorities step in, they have their welfare their health needs and their schooling needs looked after. That is the fundamentals.”

Ms Atkins added that the Government’s priority was preventing people from “being enticed by criminal gangs to cross the Channel” as it is “such a dangerous journey.

She refused to say whether she supported the decision to paint over the mural, claiming that “when children come to the UK in those very frightening circumstances as we do we want them to be looked after well”.

She continued: “What I care about is how those children are looked after when they come here and I’m confident that they are given the care and the welfare that we would expect.”

When Mr Jenrick made the order, after visiting the unit earlier this year, he was also said to have urged workers to take down welcome signs with colourful branding, to make clear the facility was a “law enforcement environment” and “not a welcome centre”.

Leading children’s organisations and human rights groups say they are “embarrassed and horrified” by the Home Office’s decision to cover up cartoon murals at a centre for lone children seeking asylum in the UK.

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, described it as a “disgraceful act”.

“I’m embarrassed, angry and horrified that we could treat traumatised and vulnerable children in such a cold and heartless way,” he told i.

“Children and young people seeking safety, already scarred by the trauma of fleeing their homes and dangerous journeys, deserve our care and protection. Instead, they face a hostile culture of disbelief and criticism from Government officials. It’s simply not good enough – children must be treated as children, first and foremost, no matter their nationality, status or background.”

Save the Children said the move was “deeply alarming”.

Tom Southerden of Amnesty International said: “The pettiness and calculated cruelty of this decision exemplifies the entire approach to asylum from this Government – it’s all about looking ‘tough’ over and above lawfulness, efficiency and common decency

“Robert Jenrick ought to be deeply ashamed of this entire episode – the fact that he doesn’t appear to be tells you everything you need to know about how performative cruelty has become a key part of the Government’s entire approach to asylum.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do all we can to ensure children are safe, secure and supported as we urgently seek placements with a local authority. All children receive a welfare interview on their arrival at accommodation, which includes questions designed to identify potential indicators of trafficking or safeguarding issues.

“Our priority is to stop the boats and disrupt the people smugglers. The Government has gone further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”

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