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Petitions

Volume 601: debated on Friday 30 October 2015

Petition

Friday 30 October 2015

Observations

Home Department

Refugee crisis

The petition of residents of Kingston upon Hull,

Declãares that there is a global refugee crisis; notes that the UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts; further declares that the petitioners believe that the UK should not allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe; and that Britain must do its fair share to help.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls on the Government urgently to increase its support for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Diana Johnson, Official Report, 09 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 510.]

[P001542]

Observations from The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire):

The Government accept they have a moral responsibility to assist those who are suffering as a result of conflict in the world. We are proud of the UK’s tradition of providing protection to genuine refugees but it is also important that we maintain a clear distinction between asylum and illegal migration for economic reasons.

The Government’s priorities are to continue to provide humanitarian aid to those most in need in crisis regions and to actively seek an end to conflicts that displace people from their homes. We believe this approach is the best way to ensure that the UK’s help has the greatest impact for the majority of refugees who remain in the region and for the countries that are hosting them.

The UK has already committed over £1 billion in humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis—more than any other country in the world except the United States. Furthermore, we are one of only a few EU countries to fulfil a commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) to international aid.

By the end of June 2015, UK support had delivered over 20 million food rations, each of which feeds one person for one month, shelter for over 416,000 people, relief items for 4.6 million people, resulted in over 7.2 million instances when people benefited from sanitation and hygiene activities, provided access to clean water for 1.6 million people in Syria and over 980,000 people in neighbouring countries (peak month), and over 2.5 million medical consultations in Syria and the region.

The Government support the EU’s proposals for sustainable protection in North and East Africa under EU Regional Development and Protection Programmes (RDPPs). RDPPs aim to improve the conditions for refugees seeking protection in their region of origin until they are able to return to their homes, and to help support their host communities. The UK is already participating in the Middle East RDPP, which is supporting a sustainable approach to protection for those who have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the Syrian crisis, and we have pledged €500,000 to that programme. We support the proposals for new RDPPs in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. The Government believe enhanced, safer and more sustainable regional protection is key to protecting those in genuine need of refuge, and preventing dangerous journeys to Europe.

The Government believe resettlement of refugees to countries like the UK can make a real difference to the lives of those who can benefit from it. Through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme, the UK is helping some of the most vulnerable refugees who cannot be supported effectively in the region by offering them protection in the UK. The scheme prioritises women and children at risk, survivors of torture and violence and people in severe need of medical care. The scheme has been operating since early 2014.

The Prime Minister announced on 7 September the Government will now expand the Syrian VPR scheme to resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection during this Parliament. This is in addition to the thousands who receive protection in the UK under normal asylum procedures. Since the crisis began in 2011 the UK has granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrian nationals and their dependants through normal asylum procedures.

In addition to the VPR scheme, the UK operates two other resettlement programmes, Gateway and Mandate. Gateway is one of the largest and oldest resettlement programmes in the EU, and has resettled over 6,300 refugees since it was established in 2004. It resettles 750 UNHCR-recognised refugees each year in protracted refugee situations, where there is little prospect of being able to return home, from a number of targeted locations internationally. Mandate resettles individual refugees from anywhere in the world who are recognised as refugees and judged to be in need of resettlement by UNHCR, and have a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them. Overall, the UK is among those EU member states offering the highest numbers of resettlement places, resettling around 1,000 people a year, even before the announcement to take 20,000 Syrians.

The Government, however, have made it very clear that resettlement schemes are best decided at a national level and it will not sign up to a compulsory EU quota. We believe that we can make the greatest contribution by focusing assistance on the most vulnerable people, rather than subscribing to a quota scheme. The Government view of the relocation of refugees within the EU has also been clear—it is the wrong response and risks exacerbating the problem by encouraging migrants to make dangerous journeys to reach Europe.

The Government will instead continue to work with,EU partners to solve the immediate issues, and to implement the wider plan. This includes providing assistance in affected crisis regions and providing practical assistance to member states facing particular pressures. We have already provided more resource to European Asylum Support Office (EASO) co-ordinated support missions to countries such as Italy and Greece than any other member state and stand ready to provide more.