THERE was a photograph doing the rounds on social media a few days ago. It was taken in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir and showed a lone coffin sitting on a plinth in a cemetery just before burial.

There are no mourners in the picture, only the driver of the vehicle that brought the coffin there and a Turkish mullah or priest saying a prayer over the coffin.

Next to nothing is known about the deceased man in the coffin save that he was a Syrian refugee who drowned in the sea while trying to cross to Europe. Should they themselves still be alive, the chances are his family know nothing of his lonely death far from home.

The man is not the first and will not be the last to die such a near-forgotten death fleeing conflict. Bad enough that the life of any human being should end in this way, but when it’s a child as is often the case, it is doubly tragic.

What must it be like to be an unaccompanied child, trying to flee war and reach safety in a far-off land? What unimaginable fear must such a terrifying experience present for a youngster?

A few years ago in both Turkey and on the Greek island of Kos, I met a few such refugee children who had embarked on these perilous journeys. Most were Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan but there were those, too, from other places riven by civil war, persecution and human rights abuses.

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Long before arriving in the often-squalid camps where I talked with them, they had seen horrors no-one should ever have to witness such as loved ones killed, raped or tortured or their homes destroyed.

These were the lucky ones, those who had been picked up and looked after by humanitarian organisations, even if their own futures still remained vulnerable and uncertain.

As I know from experience through talking to refugees and as global data confirm, most remain near their country of origin longing to go home. Those that head in the direction of the UK do so for many reasons, among them family links or the perception that Britain is a country with respect for human rights. Some unaccompanied refugee children, of course, have no family here and are among the most vulnerable of all.

While still a member of the EU, the UK is part of the Dublin system that allows for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe to be reunited with family members in Britain. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise this provides a safe and legal route to the UK for vulnerable youngsters, preventing many from falling into the clutches of unscrupulous illegal traffickers.

What then to make of the UK Government’s scrapping of the Dubs Amendment that sought to enable such lone youngsters to come and live safely in the UK?

For no sooner had Boris Johnson won the recent General Election than he ruthlessly stripped the Dubs Amendment from the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

Just this week it was confirmed that government ministers met Lord Alf Dubs, the initiator of the amendment, in attempts to argue that it would weaken the government’s negotiating hand in EU trade talks. Frankly, as cynical political moves go, it doesn’t get much more distasteful than this and speaks volumes about the kind of politicians now running the UK.

The National: Lord Alf DubsLord Alf Dubs

As Labour peer Dubs pointedly observed, it quite simply reveals a government more than happy to “barter unaccompanied child refugees for something else”.

That Dubs remains so passionate about the amendment and vows to fight on as the Lords consider whether to reinstate it provides some hope, but it’s hard to see past the sheer cynicism of Brexit-obsessed Tories on this.

Even if the Lords succeed in reinstating the amendment, when the WAB returns to the Commons, the Government’s majority would enable it to vote it down again and you can bet that’s just what they will do.

As someone who himself was a child refugee rescued by the Kindertransport from the Nazis, Dubs knows full well what’s at stake for these young lives being used as political collateral.

That Boris Johnson took workers’ rights and environmental protection out of the WAB legislation was an early sign of how he intends to govern with his freshly won majority.

But removing legal protections for child refugees marks a real low and again demonstrates what most of us have long identified as the Tories’ callous disregard for the most vulnerable in society.

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In his headlong rush to get the Brexit vote “wrapped up for Christmas”, Johnson displayed the sheer self-serving nature of his political character.

As the charity Christian Aid highlighted, there was a grim irony in Johnson’s decision on the amendment being made a few days before Christmas, when two billion people around the world marked the birth of a Middle Eastern child who became a refugee and found sanctuary abroad.

Perhaps what makes the Government’s moves even more noisome is that the number of unaccompanied refugee children coming to the UK is a tiny proportion of the overall numbers.

The arguments the Government puts forward for denying these rights revolve around an unfounded fear of encouraging dangerous journeys by more children seeking asylum.

But as the findings of a recent joint report entitled Without My Family by the Refugee Council, Save the Children and Amnesty International reveal, nothing in these organisations’ research or wider research into this issue, supports such a contention. What’s more, the legal analysis carried out as part of such research also shows that the UK’s position puts it directly in breach of its obligations to refugee children under both national and international law.

If the Tory Government’s cynical scrapping of the amendment and the lies and harm that accompanies it is what they are capable of in just a few weeks, what more harm will they invoke over the next few years? In one Brexit-fixated moment they have left those children whose rights have been removed with no means of a safe passage in finding their family in the UK.

Instead these youngsters will increasingly have no choice but to rely on the sorts of traffickers who most likely set up and profited from the sea crossing of the unknown Syrian man whose coffin was lowered into the ground at his lonely burial in Izmir this week.

What a shameful, squalid and sickening accomplishment by the UK Government that is.