Ex-child refugee says modern leaders are using migrants as pawns

Ruth Barnett, 85, was collecting an MBE for services to Holocaust education and awareness.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Investitures at Buckingham Palace

A woman who fled to Britain as a child during the Second World War has accused political leaders of using refugees as “pawns”.

Holocaust education campaigner Ruth Barnett described her heartbreak at recent “awful” scenes of hostility towards migrants in Greece, and hit out at the UK government for “going back on their word” to take in more child refugees.

The 85-year-old, who was made an MBE for services to Holocaust education and awareness, described politics as “absolutely toxic” in relation to the global refugee crisis.

Speaking after being honoured at Buckingham Palace on Thursday, she said: ”I think it’s absolutely appalling that our leaders are able to threaten each other, using people as pawns.”

80th anniversary of first Kindertransport
Ruth Barnett, one of the Kinder, speaking during a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of first Kindertransport in Hope Square, London (Yui Mok/PA)

There have been clashes between police and migrants trying to cross into Greece in the past week, after Turkey opened its previously guarded border.

Greek officers have fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon in an attempt to stop thousands of people trying to get into Europe.

Ms Barnett, who arrived in the UK aged four in 1939 on the Kindertransport from Germany, said the refugees were “pawns in a game”.

She said: “This is a political game.

“Turkey is deliberately encouraging them to go for political reasons, not for humanitarian reasons.”

The rejection in January of a measure in the UK guaranteeing family reunion rights for unaccompanied child refugees after EU withdrawal left Ms Barnett appalled.

She said: “I’m absolutely outraged at the Government going back on their word.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Ruth Barnett (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“It makes me feel very angry. Politics is absolutely toxic.”

Conservative MPs voted down the measure despite support in the House of Lords and appeals from children’s charities.

But Ms Barnett said she intends to continue her campaigning work – which involves going into schools and universities to educate people about the Holocaust and consider the realities of wars and genocides today.

She said: “It’s very nice to be honoured, it’s always nice to have what you do appreciated.

“It’s given me a real boost to keep going.”

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