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Mass Migration

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015

1. What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901647)

11. What (a) assessment he has made and (b) discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901657)

15. What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. (901661)

I discussed the migration crisis with my counterparts at the EU Foreign Affairs Council earlier this month. There is rising recognition among EU member states that Europe cannot continue indefinitely to absorb very large numbers of migrants and that a comprehensive approach is needed, with much greater focus on tackling the root causes of migration as the UK has long advocated. On the issue of mass migration within the EU, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are focused on reforming migrant access to welfare to reduce the artificial pull factors that draw migrants to the UK.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the best long-term solution to tackling the migration crisis is to improve the living conditions of people in major source countries and that this Government’s commitment on international aid is a tangible example of our leadership in that area?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There are two distinct groups. There are those who are displaced by war and conflict, and for the period of their displacement we have to ensure they have the resources they need, usually through the United Nations, to feed themselves and to be able to educate their children and to access healthcare. Then there are those who are coming from countries where, frankly, life is very hard, and we have to work with those countries of origin to ensure economic development that gives everybody a chance to do something that gives them an incentive and a reason to want to stay.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, important as it is to address the long-term causes of mass migration from outside the EU, it is equally critical to address the problems of mass migration within the EU caused by the artificial pull factor of our welfare system?

I agree. As I said in my opening response, that is where we are focused—dealing with the very generous access to benefits and public services that acts as a distortion in the labour market, and which encourages people to come to the UK in anticipation of net earnings far higher than the wages they could otherwise earn.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK’s position outside the Schengen area is a great advantage in addressing the causes and consequences of the ongoing migration crisis?

Again, I agree. Being outside the Schengen area has allowed us to stand back from the immediate pressure of this migration crisis and take a slightly more detached view, where we have focused on helping in the upstream areas with very generous humanitarian support to the Syrian region. It is not only being outside the Schengen area; it is having the justice and home affairs opt-out that allows us to say very clearly that we will not share in any compulsory reallocation of migrants within the EU.

How will the Government ensure that the 20,000 refugees they have agreed to take from the region include some of the most vulnerable—children, disabled people, women who may have faced sexual violence—and how many of those refugees does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be here by Christmas?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. This is exactly the Prime Minister’s point: many of the people we see on our television screens walking down railway lines are fit young men coming to Europe to look for work—and that’s fine—but there are also many extraordinarily vulnerable individuals in displaced persons camps who are simply not able to try to make that difficult and dangerous crossing into Europe, and we will take those people, asking the UN to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Some of those fit young men are fleeing the conscription of Assad’s regime because they do not want to kill their own people. Turkey and Lebanon cannot continue indefinitely to absorb the millions of refugees from Syria’s crisis. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do to respond with compassion and competence in the European Union? Will he reconsider his decision not to participate in the resettlement from within the EU, as Ireland and Denmark have done?

No, we will not reconsider that decision. We judge that the best contribution we can make is to take some of the most vulnerable. I am not saying that the fit young men do not have a reason for fleeing. I am saying that we must focus on the most vulnerable people, who do not have the option to flee. While I am on my feet, I would like to pay tribute to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who have borne an extraordinary burden over many years, absorbing refugees and displaced people from Syria.

Why do the Secretary of State and the Government continue to conflate those important but separate issues? The refugee crisis—it is not a migrant crisis—is an exceptional circumstance. Those individuals and families are fleeing the region first and foremost for their own safety, but they want to go home. Does he not agree that a humanitarian plan for long-term peace in Syria would do far more to address the crisis than these short-term measures, which appear to have been designed to curry favour with the right-wing press?

I do not know where the hon. Lady has got that from. Of course we agree that addressing the upstream problem by getting a political settlement in Syria and defeating ISIL so that it cannot carry out its barbarous activities is the right way to go. I also agree with her that, when we come to build the new Syria, post-Assad, we will need those engineers, doctors and teachers who are now being encouraged to resettle in Europe. We have a responsibility to ensure that the new Syria has access to those qualified and educated people.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the first robust piece of research undertaken among refugees in Germany, which shows that 70% of them blame Assad and his barrel bombs for their predicament? The rest blame the murderous ISIL group. Only 8% of them want to remain in Europe, with 92% wanting to return home, which speaks directly to this Government’s policy of focusing on the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and helping people to stay there before they return to their country.

There has been a lot of focus on ISIL, but it is important to remember that it is Assad’s persistent indiscriminate attacks on his own civilian population with chlorine gas and barrel bombs that have been the principal driver of this mass migration.

The Prime Minister said in his conference speech that the problem with the EU was that it was “too big” and “too bossy”. Looking at the refugee crisis, however, we can see that his rhetoric was simply wrong. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the problem for the refugee crisis has not been a European Union that is too strong and overbearing, but rather one that has been too weak, too unco-ordinated and too ready to fall back into the old habit of nationalism? Do not the desperate scenes that we have witnessed all summer demand more co-operation between states rather than a retreat into the use of barbed wire and nationalism and a failure of collective, co-ordinated leadership precisely when it is needed most?

I am happy to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that co-operation between states is the right answer. Unfortunately, however, that is not what happens when competences are ceded to the EU, which results in dictation to states by the European Union. That is a distinction that he would be well advised to study.