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Illegal Migration

Volume 596: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 80,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea already this year. Some are fleeing conflict, such as that in Syria, or persecution elsewhere; others are economic migrants searching for a better life. Addressing the root causes, not just the symptoms, involves bringing peace and stability, good governance, development and jobs to their countries of origin.

My right hon. Friend will have seen the terrible suffering in the Mediterranean as people are being trafficked from Libya to Lampedusa. What concrete steps is her Department taking to help the Libyan coastguard to police its ports better?

My hon. Friend will know that this is an international problem that requires an international co-ordinated solution, not least from the EU, and the UK is part of that. Getting a stable Government in Libya is a crucial part of how we can start to clamp down on the traffickers who trade in human misery, and I assure him that both DFID and the Foreign Office are a part of that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Wrong choice!”] You made the right choice.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is right, in that 92% of the 170,000 who have travelled from north Africa to Italy came through Libya. The Khartoum process is clearly not working, and the humanitarian crisis starts in north Africa, goes to Italy and will end in Calais. What further steps can we take to help the people of north Africa?

There are several steps, one being immediately to make sure that the Khartoum process does deliver. It is crucial because it brings together destination countries, transit countries and countries of origin to work more collaboratively. The other key thing is to work upstream, as the situation shows that we cannot simply assume that countries that are not developing and do not have prospects for their young people will deal with the problem. People see the better lives being led in countries such as ours and want to have the same thing for themselves. In the long term, the only real solution is development.

Is not part of the problem that a lot of people are moving up from central Africa? Does the Secretary of State have any plans to apply more of her overseas aid budget to helping people stay in their own countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and over the past couple of years DFID has dramatically increased the amount of our work that is going on, including on economic development and creating jobs and livelihoods. A World Bank report in 2013 estimated that 600 million jobs will be required over the next 15 years for young people entering the labour market, many of whom are in Africa. It makes sense, and it is crucial, that we provide opportunity for them to fulfil their potential there.

What implications are there for the UK as a result of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference on 29 May in Bangkok?

The hon. Lady rightly points out that while we in Europe grapple with the challenges we face on migration, comparable challenges are being faced by other countries. It is absolutely right that Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are now working far more carefully together, and the UK will be playing its role to support them in doing that.

Can we see illegal migrants to Europe first and foremost as human beings and give them all the dignity, care and respect we can, especially by ensuring the availability of rescue facilities as they cross the Mediterranean?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to see the people behind many of the statistics that we read in the paper. That is one reason why we sent HMS Bulwark and Merlin helicopters—so that this country can play our role in providing search and rescue services to help those people. They are literally putting their lives on the line to get a better life, and we should never forget the stories of the people behind those terrible numbers.

May I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State back to her post and welcoming the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to his new post? We look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State in this very important year for development.

We welcome the reintroduction of search and rescue in the Mediterranean—it was a shameful decision to withdraw it, and the Prime Minister was right to make a U-turn—but we know that the most vulnerable Syrian migrants will not make it to a boat, or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp. Given that the whole world community has come together to relocate those most vulnerable people through the UN, why does the Secretary of State insist on running her own scheme?

We are working collaboratively with the UNHCR. In fact, we have helped just under 200 people through that scheme. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, through the asylum system, we have received 4,000 asylum applications from Syrians. Critically, what this all shows is that we need to support people where they are. Some 99% of the refugees from the Syrian crisis are still in the countries that border Syria, and the UK has put £800 million into helping them build their lives there and educating their children.