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Refugee Crisis

Volume 600: debated on Monday 12 October 2015

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 7 September, the Government will expand existing resettlement schemes to resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection. In the past few weeks, we have established a cross-departmental operations centre for Syrian refugees, based in the Home Office, and we look forward to welcoming refugees in a well-organised way in the months and years to come.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but one further practical step that the Government could take would be to expand the family reunion criteria, which, as he will know, are currently restricted to spouses and dependent children. Will the Government help to keep already traumatised families together by allowing elderly parents and other family members to find temporary protection in the UK, as the Refugee Council and the Red Cross have requested?

The family reunion scheme has been used successfully in the past, and it is still being used. In addition, we have the vulnerability criteria of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which include vulnerable families.

Last week, I visited the jungle camp in Calais. It was clear that the fence and other security measures were making it very difficult for people to get to the UK, but conditions at the camp are desperate and getting worse. Will the Minister tell us what further actions the Government are planning to take in response to this situation?

The Government are working closely with the authorities in Calais to make sure that this does not happen.

16. Oldham and many other areas are under incredible financial pressure at the moment, but we want to do our bit to support refugees. What practical and financial support will be provided by the Government beyond the single-year funding that is currently provided, and will any such support reflect the good practice set out in the UNHCR’s gateway programme, which has shown the long-term benefits of financial front-loading? (901496)

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the year one costs are taken care of, to cover the cost of refugees coming to this country. The Government have looked carefully at covering years two to five, because we are conscious of the fact that local authorities will be incurring extra costs. In the letter that I wrote on 1 October to the chief executives of local councils, it was made clear that the Government would be assisting them with the extra costs incurred.

Does the Minister agree that it ought to be a high priority for the Government to crack down on human traffickers and people smugglers, who profit from the misery of others? What steps are the Government taking to crack down on this evil trade?

The Government are well aware of the point that my hon. Friend has made. I am pleased to report that I went to Portsmouth last Friday to visit the naval base to which the cutters run by Border Force returned from the Mediterranean. During their time in the Mediterranean they apprehended many people smugglers. It is the Government’s policy to ensure, through the taskforce, that that will increase, because this is a serious problem.

Today, The Times and The Guardian have published a statement signed by more than 300 leading lawyers, including 12 retired judges, a former President of the Supreme Court, former Law Lords, 103 Queen’s counsel and prominent academics, calling on the United Kingdom Government to take a

“fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it.”

They say that the UK’s “present offer” to take 20,000 is “deeply inadequate”. Does the Minister and his Home Secretary think they are wrong?

I listened to that interview carefully; the person concerned was asked what they did think was adequate and was not able to answer. I hope that listeners to the programme and people who have read this correspondence will be aware that this Government are doing a lot in the countries around Syria and our expenditure has so far been more than £1 billion to help people in the areas around Syria. In addition, we have our programme to help 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, which I am very proud of and want to see delivered very efficiently.

If the Minister wishes to see the advert—I have a copy here—he will see that it was signed not by a person, but by 342 lawyers. Let me follow up with a second question. The Home Secretary suggested in her conference speech that she wanted to work with other countries

“to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status.”

Is she really wanting to dilute the international protection offered to those at real risk of serious harm or persecution?

My right hon. Friend made it clear in that speech that it was our intention to be able to deal with a lot of fraudulent applications for asylum, so that we can concentrate on those people who really need it. The hon. and learned Lady should be very proud of this Government taking 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees over the course of this Parliament.

I join the Minister in commending the work of the cutters, HMC Protector and HMC Seeker, which this year have rescued 1,650 people and played a part in the apprehension of no fewer than 26 people traffickers. Can he explain to the House why these cutters are being withdrawn from service at this time, given that we are clearly not seeing the drop off in the number of people coming across the Mediterranean that we have seen in previous years around about this time?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the cutters’ return to Portsmouth was part of their planned period in operation, which was agreed with the other countries. Other ships have taken over, and I know that we play a very significant part in the apprehension of people traffickers.