The story of Alf Dubs: from Kindertransport to the House of Lords
Lord Alf Dubs is one of Labour’s most respected figures – a child refugee who fled the Nazis before World War Two and went on to become an MP, CEO of a charity and Member of the House of Lords. To this day, he is a tireless campaigner for refugee rights and is now a patron of many charities working in the field.
Blog by Alf Dubs,
When the Nazis occupied Prague in March 1939, my Jewish father left immediately. My mother was then initially refused permission to leave and in July she got me on a Kindertransport. These were arranged by the wonderful Nicky Winton who got 669 children out of Prague to the UK. (What is not so well known is that Nicky stood as a Labour candidate for Maidenhead District Council 1954 and 1955. He didn’t win.)
When the Nazis arrived, I remember having to tear a picture of President Benes from my school book and stick in a picture of Hitler. There were German soldiers all over Prague.
I remember the scene at Prague station before the train left – German soldiers with swastikas watching as anxious parents said a tearful goodbye to their children. At the age of six I was and one of the youngest. Two days later, after a long journey across Germany and Holland, I arrived at Liverpool Street. I spoke Czech and German. I had to learn English fast. I was met by my father so was very lucky. My mother escaped at the last minute. But then we had to cope after my father died a few months later.
By the time of the 1945 election I was already passionately interested in politics. I knew all the names of the Labour candidates in Manchester where my mum and I were living. About six weeks after polling day the votes were counted. This was to allow for the ballot papers to be returned from the soldiers in the Far East. My mum had taken me to near Blackpool for a week in a B& B. I was sent to hear the early results as they were counted. No TV so the BBC broadcast them from the town square. I got back to the B&B and proudly announced something like Labour 140, Conservative 30. I heard a voice say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the end of England!’
Recovering from a fairly severe illness in Stockport Royal Infirmary the day the NHS was founded, I asked a humourless consultant on his morning rounds when we were having a party. What for he said. I replied with enthusiasm: to celebrate that the hospital is ours! He walked on but the other patients, all, adults asked me what that was about.
Fast forward to 1979 when I was elected for Battersea South. A few years later I was made Shadow Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Race relations. I lost in 1987, became CEO of the Refugee Council and joined the Lords in 1994.
All along I had been committed to campaigning for refugees and in 2016 I moved an amendment that the UK should take unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, especially Calais and the Greek Islands. The Tory Government fought hard against this but eventually gave way because of the weight of public opinion – though they then arbitrarily put a cap on the numbers.
Another battle followed to continue the right to family reunion for unaccompanied child refugees and these arguments must continue. We owe that to the many vulnerable child refugees existing in awful conditions in camps on the Greek islands or sleeping rough near Calais.