[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered migration into the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. When I stood in this place last year and said that I thought that Germany was bonkers to give permanent residency to all the migrants arriving on the shores of Europe, that was met largely with derision. I stressed the importance of refraining from doing what made us collectively feel better at a time of appalling images of young children drowning on north African beaches and instead supporting pragmatic and moral solutions that represented the views of the British public, but also effectively served the needs of genuine refugees. I stressed that the message that Europe needed to give should be much clearer that those making the journey will not automatically get the right to stay in Europe if they arrive in Europe, and that if we did not break that link, we would have potentially hundreds of millions of people on the move. Within 3,000 km of the Mediterranean, which is four or five days’ drive away, nearly 1 billion people live. If I came from a poorer or less stable country, I might well make what would be a rational decision for my family and myself to move to a more peaceable area such as Europe to settle. However, we have not managed to break that link—that message has not gone out there in the world—and the drowning and the chaos continue. I believe that collectively we in Europe play a part in that, because we have not yet made it clear that if people arrive in Europe, they will not end up staying in Europe. The only people who have really profited from that chaos are the people smugglers.
Since that debate, we have seen the near-collapse of the Schengen agreement as countries opt for razor wire —some of them—over the open borders of the European Union. Sweden is the first casualty as a country that has failed both those whom it was trying to help and its population. With a proud history of taking in refugees from across the globe during the past century, its Government tried to do the right thing, in their view, by taking 200,000 refugees last year, but they have now had to admit that they do not have the financial means to assimilate such numbers and more importantly they have lost the backing of their population. Indeed, this is the great tragedy that seems to be playing out right across Europe. Governments such as those of Germany and Sweden have created a great backlash against even the most deserving people who require support, as a result of what in my view has been incredibly misguided altruism.
Following the debate last September, some newspapers mocked me for a “bizarre rant” in relation to a comment that I had made about a haircut. That only went to strengthen my point that any talk of what we actually do in response to the migrant crisis is almost politically toxic. Only recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was accused of using offensive language when making reference to a swarm of migrants in Calais. In my view, the Prime Minister—I am not known for toadying to him—actually has been ahead of the game on this and has realised that, if there is fallout from countries such as Syria, we get the most bang for our buck in terms of aid if we look after people in the region. The Prime Minister has also been very clear, which many of us have not been, that there is a very clear difference between a refugee and an economic migrant. It is fair to say that he understands the difference between a refugee and an economic migrant.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. We must talk about these issues. He will be aware that in The Times and YouGov poll in January 2016—it was very recent—six out of 10 people put immigration and asylum as one of the top three troubling factors facing the country today, so if we do not talk about that as politicians in this place, we are letting our country down.
Absolutely. I read an excellent piece in The Guardian, I think, by Nick Cohen, who said that if we really want to help people who find themselves in difficulties, we have to understand that there is a difference between economic migrants and asylum seekers. Indeed, the vast majority of people who come to live in this country are the former. A friend told me earlier that 90% are economic migrants and 8% are asylum seekers.
To go back to the haircut point, the fact remains that people who have successfully claimed asylum in the UK do indeed go back to places that they claimed asylum from. I would like to thank those members of the public who, after the September debate, sent me emails with many examples that they had known in their own lives. I sense that much of the media and much of the political class are rather out of sync with what the British public think about this issue.
Years ago, I lived covertly in the Sangatte Red Cross camp in Calais. I remember arguing with one of the producers when I was editing the piece, because my experience in the Sangatte camp was that most of the people—99%—were fit young men who had paid people smugglers to make that very long journey and were indeed economic migrants, not desperate refugees. I remember having an argument, when we were going to voice the documentary, about the use of the word “refugee” or “economic migrant”.
During the September debate, one hon. Member accused me of being out of step with what the British public feel about accepting large numbers of refugees, but that does not stack up. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK would resettle 20,000 Syrians, a YouGov poll found that 49% of those asked believed that Britain should be accepting fewer or no refugees, which was a 22 percentage point increase from the month before—my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) pointed that out. I was also derided for “blurring” the boundaries between what a refugee is and what a migrant is, but I think that that point is finally beginning to be taken on board, even by Mr Juncker in the European Commission. I argue that not recognising the difference between migrants and refugees has done more damage to the case of genuine refugees, in terms of public opinion, than any ghastly things that have happened in Paris or may have happened in Cologne. Of course, there is an appetite among Europeans to help people, but there is a limit, and that limit comes in earlier when we fail to recognise that distinction. That really helps no one.
Do not get me wrong. As I have said already, economic migrants make rational choices for themselves and their families, and all of us would do the same, but either we are a nation state or we are not and either we decide who comes into our country or we do not, and at the moment it strikes me that we are not doing that in Europe and we are not doing it in the UK, either.
Absolutely. That was a great bit of foresight, so I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
Some years ago, as a television reporter, I experienced the plight of refugees—as opposed to the economic migrants whom I met in the Sangatte camp—when I was covering the wars in the former Yugoslavia and I lived undercover as a deaf and dumb Bosnian Muslim in Serb territory. I joined Bosnian Muslims and Croats being ethnically cleansed by Serb forces, and we ended up in a refugee camp in, I think, Slovenia—actually, I ended up in prison in Austria, but that is another story. Those people really were refugees. They travelled en masse as families with their possessions over the border into a neighbouring safe country—very different from many young men who travel to a country of their personal choice.
It is hard to swallow the UN figure that 62% of migrants who arrive into Europe must be genuine refugees purely because they come from Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria. Frustratingly, these people continue to be muddled with genuine refugees, and there needs to be a clear distinction. Since September, the enormous number of migrants has continued with some 55,000 making the crossing last month alone, 244 of whom, I regret to say, drowned or are missing. The breakdown of Schengen and the rise of nationalism have been two predictable results of the mismanagement of the crisis by the European Commission. The only encouraging sign is that the Commission has finally admitted that there needs to be some distinction between the treatment of economic migrants and the treatment of refugees.
Last week, it was announced that 40% of migrants, most of whom are Syrian, require international protection. That is a stupendous revelation following much fudging of the figures but it comes too late to stem the millions who are currently en route for Europe. However, despite that realisation, there is still a bit of a gulf between the beliefs of Eurocrats and those of the ordinary man or woman in European cities, including those in Britain. Juncker and many of the political classes are still pushing the view that the Cologne attacks were a public order problem and nothing to do with migrants from different cultures.
The EU has become emblematic of slow growth and rising unemployment. Unemployment across the continent is currently at almost 10% and youth unemployment is almost double that at 20%. Greece and Spain are suffering from youth unemployment rates of nearly 50% and I believe that Italy’s youth unemployment rate is almost 40%. Unemployment is destroying the prospects of a whole generation of young Europeans and the impact of new arrivals can only have a detrimental effect.
The British Government suggested that immigration should be brought down to tens of thousands—incidentally, a YouGov poll found that 78% of the population thought that that was a good idea—but despite the best efforts of my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, it simply has not happened. It is estimated that more than 1 million migrants will end up in Europe this year, and immigration figures for the year ending June 2015 show total net migration of 336,000 into the UK, of whom nearly 200,000 are non-EU migrants. Under the high net migration assumption of 265,000, the population will grow by 12.2 million over the next 25 years.
The European Commission has proved to be inept at dealing with the crisis and continues implicitly to encourage more people to make the dangerous maritime crossing instead of staying in safe countries. The epic mismanagement of the crisis has been politically destabilising for all concerned. The British Government need to push for what I think the previous Government referred to as extraterritorial processing centres—reception centres in safe countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which surround the conflict zones. At the same time, we must stop the boats that are endangering lives and reducing the security along European borders.
European countries should indeed do more—as the Prime Minister has been trying to do—to support countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting huge numbers of refugees in proportion to their resident populations. Britain is already the second-biggest bilateral donor supporting Syrian refugees but, of course, more can be done. I read in The Economist that the amount of money spent by the international community on looking after refugees in the region is the same as the amount that German citizens spent on chocolate last year, so there is quite a lot more we can do.
Many Syrian families arriving in places such as Germany are professional, educated people—precisely the sort of people Syria will need in the post-conflict environment. Having hundreds of thousands of its most skilled and educated people relocated in Europe will not be very helpful when things improve. Recent refugees from Syria are more skilled than other groups and those who came, for example, during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. Those skilled, middle-class workers will urgently be required when rebuilding Syria, and they will not be a lot of use if they are living in Germany.
The decent and humane response is in a systematic manner to process and differentiate genuine refugees from economic migrants, to repatriate those who fail the asylum process and, overall, to try to keep people in their home regions. It is immoral to send out messages to people that if they arrive in Europe, they can stay in Europe. We have to accept some culpability for the deaths of men, women and children in the Mediterranean. As I said in a previous debate, the moral conclusion is that, frankly, we should build a great big bridge from Africa because at the moment we are encouraging people to drown at the hands of smugglers.
The Prime Minister’s recent attempts at renegotiation have shown that the EU is pretty unwilling to change. We go cap in hand and get almost nothing. The British Government currently have a raft of legal constraints. Any one of the people arriving in Europe in a year or two would be able to come to live in the UK. It is self-evident that, as a nation state, we no longer have any meaningful control of our borders. While Britain remains in Europe, it will be impossible to control our borders—a point that was described by William Hague in 2008.
Europe lacks a collective voice and has had no greater tragedy than in Syria, where the EU has been pretty ineffective over the past few years. A failure to offer real solutions in regional geopolitics and to understand that conflicts sometimes only finish when agreements are made with some pretty unpleasant people has not helped the untold suffering for millions of people in Syria and on its borders. The resulting exodus to Europe and the ensuing mismanagement by the EU has highlighted that the whole European project is destined to fail.
With each of the 28 member states having its own economic limitations, historical memory and political culture, it is impossible to reach an agreement on almost anything bar trade and logistics. The varying attitudes and experiences that each country brings have shown that they cannot be homogenised because there is no political will in each country for the EU’s ultimate political goal, and there lies the problem. The migrant crisis has exposed the unsustainability of the undemocratic and bureaucratic EU.
The suppression of the fervent nationalism that contributed to the second world war was the noble aim of the EU’s founding fathers. Through the EU’s failure to create a robust and systematic way of coping with the migrant influx in a fair way whereby genuine refugees are differentiated from economic migrants, it has destroyed its founding principle. Through epic mismanagement and failure to agree on anything between the 28 member states, Schengen is in ruins as countries rapidly get on with their own solutions. With hundreds of millions of people in the borderlands of Europe suffering oppression or wanting a better life for their families, this tide of migrants will continue until drastic action is taken. For a country such as Britain, that can only happen outside the EU.
The migrant crisis, like nothing else, has tragically exposed the limitations of the European project. Undemocratically elected politicians in Brussels talking of the redistribution of hundreds of thousands of migrants across willing Governments only strengthens the vast gulf between the political classes and the people they are elected to serve. That has had disastrous results for countries such as Sweden. Either we are a nation state, or we are not. Either we are serious about helping the many millions of people affected by war and oppression, or we are not. We—not the German Government, the people smugglers or the EU—need to decide who comes into this country. Britain needs to take firm action, but that can only take place out of the European Union.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Rosindell.
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) has just said, we are facing a refugee crisis in Europe, not a crisis involving economic migrants. I will particularly address the plight of women and child refugees. The First Minister of Scotland has said that we should be in no doubt that what we are witnessing is a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in Europe since the second world war. Most of the people travelling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to try to get to western Europe are doing so because they are desperate. The images of their suffering will continue to haunt our consciences and the reputation of this union of nations for many generations to come if we do not do more collectively to help them.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about public opinion. In so far as I can judge public opinion in my constituency of Edinburgh South West, the vast majority of emails that I have received—many hundreds have come in batches and waves since September—have been asking this Parliament to encourage the Government to do more for the refugees in Europe, as opposed to doing nothing or less.
I recognise that the UK Government are making a substantial contribution to humanitarian initiatives on the ground in some of the countries that refugees are coming from, and I recognise the significant financial contributions that have been made to aid. I also recognise the United Kingdom’s commitment to take 20,000 vulnerable refugees over the next five years, but I regret to say that I do not believe those initiatives are enough. We, as a union of nations, are required to do more, and we are required to encourage the European Union to have a better co-ordinated response. We also need greater international effort through the United Nations.
I often hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the moral argument—that if we encourage people to come, we are simply throwing them into the arms of people smugglers and encouraging them to take their life in their hands. If one looks at the situation in the round, these refugees have not been met with a particularly welcoming attitude in Europe—certainly our union of nations has not been welcoming to them—yet they are continuing to come, so I feel that that moral argument falls down somewhat.
The majority of these people are refugees, not economic migrants. They are, of course, seeking a better life, but their main reason for doing that and leaving their countries is that those countries have been destroyed or deeply compromised by conflict. It is particularly inappropriate for the United Kingdom to wash its hands of taking any of the people who are now in Europe given that we have joined in with those conflicts. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, and there were respectable arguments on both sides, as a Parliament we took the view that we would join those conflicts and interfere in other countries’ civil wars by dropping bombs, which is all the more reason for not washing our hands of responsibility for some of the refugees who are coming to Europe.
I strongly believe that the United Kingdom should take a fair and proportionate share of the refugees who are now in Europe. How we go about doing that, and how we address the situation, is complex, but it is fundamentally morally wrong—I use the word “morally” advisedly on Ash Wednesday—for us to say that we will do nothing for these people who are so desperate. I recognise that we are helping them in their own countries and on the ground, but people are coming to Europe in droves. We see their suffering on the news every night, and it is wrong for a relatively wealthy union of nations such as ours to do nothing about it.
I see where the hon. and learned Lady is coming from, and I appreciate the great good will that she shows to all these people, but in law they are not refugees. Someone is a refugee until they find refuge in a safe country, and at that point, although apparently they can later be designated as a refugee, they are an economic migrant.
My other point is that just because someone comes from, say, Afghanistan, it does not necessarily mean that they are fleeing violence. I met a guy from Afghanistan the other day in the “jungle” camp in Calais who comes from a part of the country where there is no fighting. We need to wise up.
As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I am a lawyer, but in this situation the niceties of whether these people are refugees in law matters not. We did not bother ourselves unduly in the United Kingdom about the legal position of the Jewish children when we took them in on the Kindertransport, or about the legal position of the Ugandan refugees. Even the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was persuaded to take some of the Vietnamese boat people. So this is not a debate about legalities; it is a debate about the correct humanitarian response, the responsibility of the world’s relatively wealthy nations to take responsibility for people who are suffering greatly and our particular responsibility to do that when we have chosen to become involved in the conflicts that are creating refugees. I hasten to add that I make no comment about the rights or wrongs of that, but we are involved now, so we have to recognise the implications of our involvement.
The position of the Scottish Government has been clear. We will take a fair share of a proportionate number coming to the United Kingdom. Indeed, some Syrian asylum seekers and vulnerable refugees have already been resettled in my constituency of Edinburgh South West.
I am not at liberty to reveal the precise figure. It is not a large number, because the United Kingdom Government do not permit us to take a large number, and it is a reserved matter, so our hands are tied. Our First Minister has made it clear that we are willing to take a fair and proportionate share. How that is done has to be decided at a higher level even than the UK, which is why European Union co-operation is so important.
I want to say something about the plight of women and child refugees, because earlier this month, about a week or so ago, UNICEF reported that for the first time since the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe started, there are more women and children on the move than adult males, and that children and women now make up nearly 60% of the refugees and migrants crossing the border from Greece to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Children now account for 36%—that is more than a third—of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Turkey and Greece. The figure of 330 having drowned in the past five months has often been mentioned on the Floor of the House. UNICEF has emphasised that children should be prioritised at every stop of the way. Particularly when they get to Europe, they need to be informed of their right to claim asylum and their right to family reunification.
It is important not to forget the terrible conditions from which many women and children are fleeing. It has been well documented that women in Iraq and Syria are the targets of brutal oppression and sexual attacks perpetrated by Daesh. Rape is considered useful by Daesh as it traumatises individuals and undermines their sense of autonomy, control and safety. Rape is always an issue in war, but it is a particular issue in these wars. The former UN assistant commissioner for the protection of refugees said last year that
“Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war…destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities”.
Female and child survivors of such sexual crimes are often shunned by their own communities, which is all the more reason why they come to Europe seeking refuge. When those people come, it is essential that they are treated with dignity and respect and that their particular vulnerabilities are recognised.
Save the Children has called on the UK to take 3,000 of the unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, and there is a moral imperative for us to consider that carefully—I am aware that the Government are considering it at present. I appeal for recognition of the reality of the desperateness of the situation and of the vulnerability of so many of these refugees, particularly female and child refugees. There should be recognition of the reality of sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, which many women and children are fleeing, and of our moral obligation as a wealthy first-world nation to take our fair share of the burden.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. She is making an eloquent speech, but there is something that I do not quite understand. The thesis of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) is that while hundreds of thousands have already come to Europe, if we offer a home to millions there will be an almost inexhaustible supply of further people who will then want to come, and that is surely unsustainable. I do not understand how she is really addressing my hon. Friend’s main thesis.
I am coming at this from a different angle. These are not straightforward matters, but my point is that we cannot wash our hands of these people. It is not right for the United Kingdom to say that we will take nobody from Europe. We need to get together with our European partners and talk about how to address the complex issues that arise as a result of this massive refugee crisis—or massive migration, depending on the language that people wish to use. It is really tragic that the United Kingdom is abdicating its responsibility to lead at such talks and discussions when we look back at the United Kingdom’s proud history of taking in refugees at other times when countries washed their hands of them—I am thinking of the Kindertransport in particular.
I would be foolish to deny that there is a potential issue in considering how many people may come and the sustainability of that process, but at the moment there is space for the people who are here. There are some estimates that there are 20,000 unaccompanied children in Europe at the moment. Is it really this country’s position that we will not take any of them? We seem to be moving in the right direction on that issue, but it should not stop at unaccompanied children. Sure, there are strong young men who manage to make it as far as Calais, but there are also very vulnerable people. The point of my speech today is an appeal for a humanitarian response to the crisis rather than a purely utilitarian response.
Thank you, Mr Rosindell, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.
This debate should focus on immigration and not necessarily on refugee status, because we are talking about people who wish to make a home in our country and not necessarily those who are fleeing persecution. I will therefore confine my remarks more to immigration than to refugees. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) that I would not base my views simply on what turns up in my postbag. Many surveys carried out regularly by reputable companies have shown that migration and population control is an important concern of the British public.
No, I will not. The hon. and learned Lady had 10 minutes, and there are many people wishing to speak.
We should be talking about immigration, which includes some people with refugee status but also a large number of people who come to this country either because of our membership of the EU or because they are coming here as economic migrants. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) made a powerful and well informed set of comments, based on having been in the camps, not just on people writing to him in his postbag.
If this issue was not such a concern to the British public, I do not believe that even now our Prime Minister would be trying to thrash out some deal that allays the fears of the British public about our loss of control over immigration into this country as a result of our membership of the EU.
It is telling that Mr Manuel Barroso said last night in an interview that what we are trying to achieve is a form of control on immigration through benefits packages, and that his view is that that will make no difference whatsoever. I share that view, because I do not believe that people necessarily come here because they have been lured by benefits. I believe that many people come here because they wish to work. They wish to take advantage of the opportunities that this country offers and of a better economic future for themselves and their family, and there is better healthcare here, and indeed better package as a whole. Whether we can afford for a large number of people to come into this country—a number that the British public would like to see reduced—is a different debate, but I do not believe that the benefits package that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might achieve by 18 February, however well secured, will make a jot of difference to immigration. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration responds to this debate, I would like to hear whether he thinks such a package will make a jot of difference.
It is interesting that England—not the UK—is the second most crowded country in the European Union, if we exclude the island state of Malta, and the ninth most crowded country in the world when the city and island states are excluded. That contributes to the British public’s perception of whether, and how much, immigration into the UK is a good or bad thing.
I speak as someone with a highly desirable constituency that is surrounded by green-belt land, although it does have areas of multiple deprivation. I can assure the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West that how many houses are built to accommodate newly formed households is a source of concern, and we should look it straight in the face. These are not separate issues, they are all interlinked.
Government household projections show that in England—not Scotland, obviously—we will need to build enough housing to accommodate the additional 273,000 households a year between 2012 and 2037, which is a total of five million homes. That is a vast number of houses and it means sacrifices of things such as the green belt, which many of us have to consider as constituency MPs. It also means that there are huge pressures on jobs in certain areas, and it is no good whingeing about jobs not being available to British workers. I seem to remember Her Majesty’s Opposition saying, “British jobs for British workers”, and the reason they say such things is that they know the British public are concerned about these things.
Currently, there are 2.1—
Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the great strengths of this country has been its ability to absorb and to integrate hundreds of thousands of people over the centuries? They have included who have come here to work, my family being one of them. Those people came here to work, paid their taxes, raised their children, fought for this country and died for this country.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady, but it should be up to this country to decide the numbers. I do not disagree at all with what she has said; she is absolutely right. However, the British public tell me that they wish to be in control of those numbers. They also say that to many opinion pollsters, and I believe it is why the Prime Minister is currently negotiating. If they wish to make those numbers even greater, that is the decision of the British public; it should not be a decision imposed by an unelected bureaucrat in Brussels.
In total, 41.5% of the 5 million workers here who were not born in the UK were born in the EU, and most were originally from outside the EU, so some people do cross the EU and come through that route. There are currently 2.1 million EU-born workers in Britain. That accounts for a large number of people who are working and paying their taxes in this country.
British workers say that they are worried about their jobs. It is estimated that only 982,000 of the jobs that have been created recently have been for British workers. We are creating jobs and making opportunities, and that is why immigration is a big pull to our country—we are not the basket case that some EU economies are. They have not got the jobs to offer. I do not blame people for looking for jobs, but the British public expect us to discuss this issue robustly.
What number of people can we accommodate in housing? Where are we going to plan the additional housing that is needed to support and house those workers? House prices are rising because of supply and demand. In areas such as mine, which are near enough to London to commute to it, it is not a surprise that house prices are exorbitantly high, with an average house price of nearly £500,000. It is because of the pressures on getting on the housing ladder.
We are really being unfair to the British public if we do not look at the two sides of the same coin. Overall we are a prosperous country—although some areas of the country are struggling, there are no two ways about it—that offers opportunities to people in less fortunate situations. However, if those people are attracted to our country to take up the jobs that are being created as a result of our prosperity and the Government’s long-term economic plan, we have to accept that they will need housing, services and all that comes with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham is absolutely right to have secured this debate, but we are tinkering around the edges of the issue if we are looking at red cards and a benefits-based policy. I do not suspect at all that migrants are drawn to this country because they wish to claim a few pounds in benefits. I believe that they want to come for the opportunities that I have described, and it is up to us—as it is to countries such as Australia—to decide at what pace that immigration takes place, how we can accommodate it and the numbers involved in that immigration. We can do that only when we regain control of our borders, which of course we can do only when we leave the European Union and all the constraints that it brings with it.
It is a pleasure to speak on this matter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on bringing this important issue to the House. It is important to debate these issues and to get everyone’s point of view on the best way forward. I suppose we would all agree—well, maybe not entirely agree—that we should get the balance of the debate right. We should take the level of refugees and migrants to a number that is achievable and sustainable, but at the same time, as elected representatives we cannot fail to be moved by the distressing images of the people on the boats who have drowned. One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by that, and I think everyone in Westminster Hall today would be of that opinion. At the end of the day, we also need to be compassionate and able to integrate the refugees and migrants who wish to come here for the right reasons.
I want to put some statistics on the record. The European Commission’s chief spokesperson admitted that the majority of people moving across Europe are in fact economic migrants, and we need to ensure that we use similar approaches to the English lessons offered in Northern Ireland. I mentioned that in the debate at 9.30 am, which was on a slightly different issue. The Minister who responded to that debate is here again. There will be another debate at 4.30 pm, and through those three debates we will touch on many of the same issues.
When it comes to integrating refugees in Northern Ireland, through the Assembly we have initiated language lessons. The money is coming directly from Westminster. That is an effective way of integrating refugees and migrants into society by enabling them to speak and understand the language and be part of it. Their cultures and ethos can be integrated, but how do we do that? We have got to work at the system, but we also have to put a limit on the numbers that are coming. We have to be careful about that.
We need a system where only those in genuine need can avail themselves of services and where we can discourage those not in as desperate need from making the perilous and often fatal journey to Europe—when we see the images, it is difficult not to have a tear in our eye. Of course, it is not just about protecting those coming in. The public are concerned about levels of immigration and have been for many years, so it is no wonder that the subject has been such a hotbed of debate. This debate has shown some of that. We need to ensure that we have a responsible immigration policy at home, especially given that we are outside Schengen. We technically control our external borders with the EU, although it may not always seem like that to many of us in this country.
Without doubt, one of the most defining issues of 2015 was the migrant crisis. It is hard to find a member of the public who will not say it is near impossible to avoid the issue. Whether it is the negative consequences we have seen in Cologne or the success stories of relocated refugees settling into their new society, it is a major issue that will take some time to resolve. I attended a meeting today that was chaired by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). The discussion was a Syrian delegation debrief on the humanitarian situation. Several Syrians were there, as were some learned people from Jordan and Lebanon.
We cannot ignore the fact that of the 4.2 million who have been displaced from Syria, 600,000 are Christians. Nor can we ignore the impact it is having on them. In the next week or two, I will have the opportunity to visit Lebanon and Jordan and perhaps see at first-hand how those two countries are dealing with the refugee crisis, because they are feeling it directly. One thing that the Jordanians are seeing is that many of the Syrians coming into their country want to find employment, and why not? That, however, has a knock-on effect on the Jordanians, who are then unable to get employment for themselves. There are many implications for those countries, and we have to look at that.
Syrian nationals were only the fourth-largest group of asylum applicants in the year ending September 2015. We need to be careful about the migrant crisis, as it is clear that the plight of Syrian refugees is being capitalised on by some illegal immigrants set on purely economic migration. The figures from the European Commission are clear. Around 60% of the migrants arriving in the bloc are now economic migrants, according to the European Commission’s chief spokesman. That leaves 40% who are genuine refugees and migrants, and we have to look at how we can help them in whatever way we can.
One thing that came out of that meeting earlier today—the Syria delegation had a chance to debrief us and tell us about the situation—was that they said that the solution for the Syrian crisis is in Syria, and I do not think anyone in the Chamber would disagree with that. If we want to address the issue of refugees and migrants coming, we have to address the issue in Syria. Perhaps peace in Syria will happen, but there is a question over what the demarcation lines will be. The Russians and the Syrian army together have, over the past few weeks, taken more land and are restoring some semblance of peace in Syria, whatever that might be, but those are things that we have to look at.
Regardless of the approach we take, we need to ensure that refugees are processed correctly. We need to give genuine refugees the dignity they deserve and to root out potential criminal elements or security threats. Those are some of the things that we need to look at. Sweden has been mentioned by other Members, and there have been social instruction classes there, particularly around how to treat women. Those classes have been fairly successful in helping to educate refugees and migrants from the middle east on how to behave appropriately in western society.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned the Kindertransport in the second world war. I can proudly say that my constituency as it was then—the boundaries have changed—brought many of the Kindertransport children into our area during the second world war. That was long before I was born, but in Millisle and Newtownards they integrated well, and many of them are still there. Sometimes when there is crisis we have to reach out. We cannot ignore that, and it is important that we do not. We could learn from that innovative approach. Without doubt, it would go some way to improving integration and ensuring that we do not have another Cologne.
My contribution is about getting the balance right with the different opinions in the Chamber. There will of course always be debate on the numbers of immigrants, migrants or refugees we should take and the quality of them, how we control that, how we adapt as a society to accommodate them and whether it should be down to the new arrival to adapt to their host society. There is an integration period and an accommodation period that has to be given, and it needs both sides to look at that. It is a debate that will continue for the foreseeable future and it needs to be discussed in a respectful and rational manner.
We all know of the crisis developing in Aleppo as the Russians and the Syrian army tighten their hold on that part of the country. Many have moved out to the Turkish border. Turkey has said, “No more refugees,” and that is understandable. It has some 1 million-plus refugees on its borders, as do Jordan and Lebanon, so the squeeze is on. Over the next few months, we will be looking at an even greater push from those who want to get out and get away. If we can solve the issue in Syria, many of them will wish to return to their country and move back to the place that they love.
In conclusion, the debate has always been there, but given the threats from Daesh, which stated that it intends to use the migrant crisis to “flood Europe with jihadis”, we can surely all agree that there needs to be a screening process and security checks for new arrivals. That is of paramount importance for our national security as well as for the safety of our citizens at this time of great uncertainty and unease.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate. As always, it is a pleasure to speak after the thoughtful and well-considered comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
In this debate, we have touched on the European Union. One thing I said before I became an MP was that I would not talk about the EU in debates unless it was absolutely necessary, but it is necessary in the context of this debate. As we often find with debates on the EU, polarised viewpoints have been put across today, but the point is that whether or not we are in the European Union, the world as a whole—Britain, the EU and the world—is facing a forced migration crisis, the like of which has not been seen for a generation.
Of course a legitimate discussion can be had about whether membership of the European Union is beneficial in tackling the crisis and the humanitarian challenges that it throws up; but it would be simplistic and wrong to say that not being a member of the EU would make the crisis go away for Britain. We need to be clear about that, because sometimes in these discussions it appears that some of my colleagues think that it would be a magic wand to make the problem go away. The problem is not fundamentally about membership of the European Union; it is about a number of push factors that are due to the humanitarian situation in a number of countries in Africa and the middle east. That is clear from the evidence.
The countries where the majority of migrants come from—particularly when we look at Italy and Greece, the two countries on the frontier of the EU that receive the greatest number of migrants—are Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Greece. Those are the main sources of migrants going into the countries in question. Many of the countries that the migrants come from have serious humanitarian issues or are in war-torn areas. As the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) pointed out, because of terrible domestic circumstances in those countries a large number of people legitimately and rightly come to claim asylum. We have a proud tradition in this country and in the European Union generally of granting asylum to people in genuine need.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the horrific humanitarian crisis. I am pleased to say that in Woking we have, under the Prime Minister’s scheme, taken families from the Syrian camps. My hon. Friend talked about push factors; but surely there are also important pull factors at large. If the German Chancellor says she will take 1 million people and the EU also says it will allow people to stay in Europe, is not that a potential pull factor for economic migrants as well as genuine refugees?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about what the Government are rightly doing in Woking, in Suffolk and elsewhere, in accepting 20,000 refugees during the lifetime of the Parliament, and in their commitment to deal with the tragic circumstances of child refugees. We should be proud of that. It is a good thing that the Government and those local authorities are doing.
On the point that my hon. Friend raised—also an important one—it would clearly be a pull factor to accept migrants into the European Union unconditionally. It is not my understanding that other EU countries—or indeed Britain—are accepting migration unconditionally. However, there is acceptance that we have an international duty to respond to humanitarian crisis. That is why we are accepting 20,000 refugees. We have a proud tradition of doing that, which we have heard about, going back to the second world war, Uganda, the Vietnamese boat people and the Kosovan and other conflicts. We should be proud because this country has always been a home for people in genuine need fleeing persecution. We should never shirk that, and the Government’s current response to the crisis is the right one.
However, we should also make the distinction that others have made during the debate, that, while we have a humanitarian responsibility to people seeking asylum from persecution, we clearly cannot have an open door to mass migration. The country’s infrastructure would not accept that. At the same time, when people have settled in the UK migration has almost always been hugely beneficial to our country. We are very proud of the multicultural NHS that we have, where 40% of the workforce are from outside the UK. In my part of the country, migrant workers come across for the summer period to work in the agriculture sector. Agriculture needs those workers to support the picking of crops, and do other essential work. It would be wrong to lump all migration together as a bad thing, because it has so often been beneficial to the British economy, and if people want to come here and work it can be a very good thing. The NHS would not function today if it were not for migrant workers who have come from Australia, New Zealand and all over the world, as well as the EU, to support it.
I want finally to highlight some possible solutions. Whatever the rights and wrongs, and the terrible record of the Gaddafi Government in Libya, agreement was reached in 2010 with the Libyan regime to work to reduce the flow of migration through that country and across the Mediterranean. Clearly, there is war and a terrible situation in the country. A process is going on at the moment in Algiers to bring the two sides together and I hope a resolution to the conflict can be found. That would be to the benefit of the people of Libya, and it might also make it possible as part of the reconstruction to reinstate an agreement and look at the migrant flow through Libya, as has happened in the past—when it worked to reduce migration.
There are issues involved that we cannot deal with just as Britain. At the EU-wide level, benefits are gained from working together and from supporting Italy and Greece and other frontier states in tackling the problem. That is something that the British Government support, and put money towards, rightly. Both unilaterally and with our European partners we must continue to take in genuine asylum seekers and refugees, and do our best to mitigate the push factors by providing support in the form of humanitarian aid in Syria and elsewhere. We should be proud of the Government and what we are doing on the issue, and of our past and present humanitarian record.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I think I have only three minutes, so I shall be short and sharp.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on securing the debate. He is straight talking and forthright and, although I fundamentally disagree with him on a number of points, I thank him for giving us the further chance to discuss what is undoubtedly the defining issue of this Parliament.
I want to speak briefly about the argument, which is often put, that we should seek to support refugees near the conflict zone, rather than protecting them within Europe. Who would disagree with that, on paper? I do not think anyone would; but the plain fact is that it is almost impossible for all refugees from countries racked by several years of conflict to be supported in that way. Those countries have neither the resources nor the capacity to cope. It is a challenge, indeed, but it is not unsustainable for Europe to offer protection to more refugees. What is unsustainable is to take the approach of not offering shelter for further refugees.
For millions of Syrians in neighbouring countries there have been years of living in tents with no prospect of education or work. For many, life as a refugee in neighbouring countries is grave. Lebanon, a country the size of Devon and Cornwall with a population of under 5 million, already hosts 2 million refugees. Amnesty International’s report “I Want a Safe Place” notes that Syrian refugee women face the risk of serious human rights violations and abuse in Lebanon, including gender-based violence and exploitation. Jordan, a country of 6 million people, has taken in 1 million since the Syrian war in 2011, but has now blocked access because, it says, international donors have provided only one third of the funding needed to support those already there. Syrian refugees in Jordan also face huge challenges. More than half are children and although legally they can attend school, they rarely do, because most work 12 hours a day in jobs such as scrap metal collection or construction. More than one in four Syrian refugee women in Jordan, as elsewhere, head households alone, struggling for money while suffering isolation and a fear of sexual violence.
We should bear in mind that, although Turkey ratified the refugee convention, it did so with a geographic limitation. It recognises only refugees originating from Europe, so Syrians receive only a restricted form of temporary protection, with limited rights. Its record on respecting refugees is far from unblemished. Asylum seekers’ access to adequate housing, health services and work is limited and bureaucratic problems prevent refugee children from getting access to secondary education.
On Monday, the Secretary of State for International Development said:
“If we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel that they have no choice other than to make perilous journeys to Europe.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 1320.]
Again, implicit in that is a recognition that many have felt and continue to feel that they have no choice but to make that journey. The question remains the one that I asked on Monday: what happens with the million that are already in Europe and the other million that will come before the measures announced on Monday are put in place? The only possible answer is the sharing of responsibility throughout the EU, as proposed by the Commission. It is time for this Government and Governments on the continent to step up to that challenge.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), a colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, on securing this debate. He will be surprised to hear that I agree with him on the need to differentiate between refugees and immigrants. I was very pleased that he made that distinction in his comments, but that is the only common ground that we have. However, I congratulate him on securing the debate and on speaking about the subject so forthrightly. It is an issue that we sincerely need to discuss, and we have had a good debate with some good contributions.
I want to briefly touch on immigration since other hon. Members have touched on it today. I hope the hon. Member for Gravesham will forgive me for doing so, given the comments that have already been made. Immigration is a good thing for the United Kingdom. It has been a good thing for a long time past. Huge contributions have been made by immigrants and refugees to all of our communities the length and breadth of the country. Similarly, within the European context, freedom of movement is a good thing. It is good for our economy and it is good socially. I am somebody who has benefited. There is a great myth that somehow it is only the United Kingdom that bears the brunt of freedom of movement, whereas the reality is that UK citizens benefit from freedom of movement as much as EU citizens benefit.
The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) was keen to highlight the English challenges, which I am sure there are. She made a sensible case for devolution of immigration because it is something that the Scottish Government have looked for. It would benefit the Scottish economy, so we want more immigration. I know that the agriculture sector in my own constituency benefits, as it does in the constituency of the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who also highlighted that the NHS benefits hugely from immigration. We in Scotland are keen to see more. The hon. Member for St Albans made her case on behalf of her constituents and I respect that, but there is a case to be made for devolving immigration. In fact, in countries such as Australia, different states already take responsibility for immigration.
On refugees, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) made an impassioned case. The hon. Member for Gravesham talked about how many we should take. We should certainly take a lot more than the 0.25% we currently take. The EU is looking to relocate 160,000 refugees, and that goes to the heart of the points he makes. I hope the Minister will give a thorough explanation about why the UK Government are not opting into the project. The United Kingdom has taken 400—0.25%—of those 160,000 refugees. That is a disgrace. Ireland, our neighbours to the west, have an opt-out, as has the UK, and Ireland has decided not to use it. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why the Irish have decided not to use their opt-out but the UK has. I am sure he will cover that.
Furthermore, I hope the Minister will touch on why the Government are not taking up offers of support from the Scottish Government. They have offered to help the UK Government and to take more than our fair share. Some 40% of the refugees who arrive are going to Scotland—the first batch went to Scotland. The Scottish Government have put their money where their mouth is. We are not just talking about this; we are doing it and we are taking action. Will the Minister touch upon the Scottish Government’s offers of help?
On the issue of refugees, we are talking about people fleeing conflict and failed states such as Libya. The United Kingdom had a hand in its becoming a failed state. We spent £320 million bombing Libya and then £25 million on reconstructing it. I believe we have a responsibility in such areas.
We also have the dreadful civil war in Syria. I was fortunate enough to spend time in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. I met one person who did not want to go back to their country. The only reason he did not want to go back was because he could receive the medical treatment for his wounds from the conflict only in Sweden, where the last remaining members of his family lived. We need to remember who is holding the front line on this—countries such as Macedonia, Croatia, Italy and Greece—and we have an obligation to show a little bit of European solidarity. I hope the Minister addresses that point.
As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) ably pointed out, immigration has a huge impact, but it is a positive one. I noted his remarks about the Kindertransport children in his own constituency. We also have to remind ourselves of the challenges that refugees face. There are 2.5 million refugees in Turkey, and one in four people in Lebanon are refugees. The challenges are huge. That was something that my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned. I hope the Minister addresses those issues.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I, too, thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate. It is really important to discuss these issues, even if there are deep divides between us on the right way forward. The challenge of migration into the EU is clearly a huge one. Last year it was the biggest challenge in a generation. All the forecasts are that migration into the EU is likely to be greater this year than last year, so there is no doubt as to the nature and scale of the challenge.
Syria has been discussed this afternoon. When we look at the size of the challenge, it is worth reminding ourselves of the figures in relation to those fleeing Syria: 13.5 million of the population of 22 million are in dire need and 6.6 million are displaced, of whom 4.3 million have fled abroad. That is a huge issue that will be even bigger this year. Last year, nearly 1 million of those fleeing from Syria claimed asylum somewhere in the EU.
It is important to reflect on the causes of migration into the EU, which are predominantly persecution; gross human rights abuses; extreme poverty; and climate change. We can find all those causes reflected in any refugee camp in Europe. I was in Calais, which the hon. Member for Gravesham mentioned, and Dunkirk at the beginning of January. In Dunkirk there are many families. One of the men spoke to me and explained that he had fled from Kurdistan as a result of ISIS taking over his town, and he ended up in Dunkirk. There are lots of different reasons why people are on the move in the numbers that they are.
The first imperative in dealing with the challenge is joint international work upstream to try to reduce the conflicts that cause so many people to leave in the first place. I concur with the comments about how the vast majority of people from Syria would very much prefer to be back in Syria at the first opportunity. We must have upstream work to de-escalate conflict, and we must work with our international partners wherever we can to reduce the likelihood of people having to flee their home country.
There is also the question of people smuggling. Our Government and various Departments are working jointly with partners in Europe and beyond to deal with people smuggling, not only in Europe but upstream. My staff in the Crown Prosecution Service were involved in that when I was the Director of Public Prosecutions. Again, that is work that needs to be done upstream.
As for our contribution to rescuing those who are desperate and at risk of losing their lives, I thought it was a wrong turn when we withdrew some support for the rescue operations. I am glad that we are now fully engaged in those exercises on the Mediterranean again. Assuming that all that work is carried out, we then have to consider how to process individuals quickly when they get to Europe.
I have been pressing for some time on the issue of family reunification. There are rules, such as the Dublin III agreement, on family reunification and the rights of some of the people who are currently in Europe to reunite with family here. In some of the camps, such as Calais and Dunkirk, it is absolutely clear on the ground that those rules are not working in practice. We could do more about the refugee crisis than we are currently doing. Of course it is welcome that we are relocating 20,000 people from the camps outside Syria, but, along with others, I am concerned about the number of unaccompanied children in Europe. It is not only about the number, but the fact that more than 1,000 have disappeared. They are particularly vulnerable, so I urge the Government to do more for unaccompanied children.
We must also address the question of how we support people if and when they arrive in this country. This is the second of three Westminster Hall debates on refugees and migration. We had a debate this morning on the support for asylum seekers when they arrive in this country and how the contracts to provide accommodation are not working as they should.
The central point of this debate was made by the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter): in the light of the scale of the challenge and the reality of the steps that need to be taken, leaving the EU will not help. We need to be playing our part upstream to reduce conflict, playing our part in rescuing those who are desperately in need, and co-ordinating the response to the challenge in Europe. I do not think that there are many Members of this House, or many members of the public, who genuinely think that we should simply step away from Europe, or who think we should recognise the huge numbers of people fleeing into Europe and the desperate conditions from which they are coming and simply say, “It’s not our problem. We will somehow exit from Europe and play no part.”
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, if we exit Europe, unless we become a city state like Singapore—a tax haven on the edge of Europe—and have absolutely no trade agreements with Europe, we will still be subject to all the surcharges on everything we make and export? Unless we do that, we will have to abide by the rules and regulations that apply for all EU member states, along with those states that trade with them, such as Norway and Switzerland. That includes the rules on the free movement of people. Whether we leave or not, it is not going to make any difference to the free movement of people across Europe.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree. I have tried to make a similar point about criminal justice measures. A number of EU criminal justice measures are critical in the UK and used 24/7. Almost all those involved in criminal activity above a certain level operate across borders, and we rely heavily on EU criminal justice measures to combat that activity. By that I mean that we locate our own staff in Europe and are co-ordinating with our partners all the time. Without those measures, we would be at much greater risk in relation to criminal justice.
If we come out of the EU, I accept that there is no rule to prevent us from trying to renegotiate the economic and criminal justice measures, but it would be a very difficult renegotiation that would, in all likelihood, take us back to precisely the same measures. Take, for example, the European arrest warrant. It is extremely unlikely that our European partners would negotiate with us an approach to such warrants that was different from the existing arrest warrant. We would therefore step outside Europe and have to renegotiate the same provisions as we have now, but we would lose all influence. I saw that when I was Director of Public Prosecutions: the moment the Prime Minister suggested that there was going to be an EU referendum, our voice around the table on what future measures should be crafted to deal with crime was reduced in both volume and influence.
There is also a point of principle, touched on by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), as to whether we really want to retreat from the world stage or play our part. We see our role in the world as one in which we will involve ourselves in, for example, the conflict in Syria. The argument that the Prime Minister made to the House before the vote on Syria was premised on our responsibility as a nation state to play our part in combating Daesh. That is the sort of nation that we are: we want to play our part in combating Daesh. I voted against the motion before the House, but not because I disagreed with the principle that we should play our part internationally to resolve the crisis in Syria. So, too, with humanitarian aid—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
[Mr Deputy Speaker in the Chair]
It is a rare privilege to see you in Westminster Hall, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and previously that of Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on securing this wide-ranging debate, which has touched on a number of issues relating to migration into the EU. I thank other hon. Members for their contributions.
It is important to set out the context of the debate, as others have. We are experiencing movements of people into the EU on a scale that has not been seen for generations. Some have sought to liken it to past events, but the situation we are dealing with is very different, given the number of nationalities involved, the nature of the situation and the mix of refugees with those who come to the EU seeking a better way of life, so looking for parallels with past events is challenging.
We can be clear that European member states face an unprecedented number of refugees and migrants, primarily from the middle east and Africa. More than 950,000 refugees and migrants reached the EU last year on the Mediterranean routes. About 800,000 arrived in Greece, the majority of whom were Syrian. Some 150,000 arrived in Italy after making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya. More than 3,500 people drowned, and many more have died or suffered at the hands of smugglers and traffickers en route.
Some Members called today for the Government to provide a humanitarian response. Some, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), even suggested that we were washing our hands of the problem. I would rather characterise it as the Government and the country rolling up our sleeves. We can be proud of the steps that this Government have taken, which reflect our moral approach to such issues. We have considered the problems at hand, dealt with them at source and brought countries together to solve the problems that lie behind the migration crisis into the EU.
It is notable that this debate comes hot on the heels of last week’s London conference, where nations came together to pledge £10 billion. Important though it is, however, this is not just about money; it is about direct assistance for hundreds of thousands of people. Indeed, the conference’s outcomes included the commitments to create 1.1 million jobs for Syrian refugees and host country citizens in the region by 2018, and to ensure that none of the more than 1 million affected children will become part of a lost generation, with assurances about quality education and equal access for girls and boys. The UK has contributed an additional £1.2 billion, raising the money that we have committed to £2.3 billion. We are not “washing our hands”; we are responding appropriately to a huge crisis.
People have asked about our contribution within the EU. The UK has just increased its aid to migrant children in Europe and the Balkans to £46 million, divided among the most affected countries and including specific support of £2.7 million for UNICEF. We have also announced in recent weeks a new £10 million fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in the EU.
Securing the EU’s external borders is a key part of addressing the crisis. Although the UK does not participate in Schengen border arrangements, a well managed external EU border is in our national interest. The Government fully support the European Commission’s hotspots proposal, which is aimed at addressing the continuing failure of some member states quickly to fingerprint and process arrivals and to provide protection to those who need it and return those who do not. It is unfortunate that implementation has been regrettably slow, and we will continue to press the Commission and all member states to act with urgency in establishing processing centres. We will also provide resource and expertise as and when required to ensure that people are processed when they arrive in the Greek islands or elsewhere, and that those in need of support and those not can be identified.
I support my right hon. Friend in that aim. Frontex has shown that more than 1.8 million people have entered Europe illegally, yet only several hundred thousand have been sent back, so there is an obvious need for the additional support that our country has given.
We will provide assistance to the European Asylum Support Office and to Frontex to help with the establishment of processing centres right on the frontline, to help deal with the problem and co-ordinate things on the ground. That is a core priority. We also continue to support Frontex in its mission to rescue people from the sea. I pay tribute to the Border Force officers, Royal Marines and military medics currently on the VOS Grace, which has rescued several thousand people over recent months and will continue its operations, transferring to off the coast of Libya at the end of this month.
The link between organised crime and migration is clear and unprecedented, and has contributed directly to ongoing suffering and loss of life. For that reason, the UK is playing a leading role in tackling people smuggling and is increasing joint intelligence work to target the cruel gangs that exploit human beings for their own gain. The work of the organised immigration crime taskforce is progressing, bringing together 100 officers from the National Crime Agency, the Border Force, immigration enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue and disrupt the organised crime gangs operating across Europe and Africa. We are also harnessing intelligence through Europol, which is proving helpful and fruitful.
I have been challenged about our response in Europe, and I have already identified not only the support that we are providing in the Syrian region but the direct support that we are providing in Europe. Since the crisis began the Government have been clear about our view on relocation: it is the wrong response. It does absolutely nothing to address the underlying causes of the crisis, and it does nothing more than move the problem around Europe. The reality is that it has not even been good at doing that. Commitments have been made over recent months to relocate 160,000 people, but only 497 people have been relocated to date. Instead, we believe that it is most effective to provide support to countries facing particular pressures, and our focus will remain on helping the most vulnerable who remain in the region as part of a comprehensive strategy to end the crisis.
We have clear rules in Europe that those in need of humanitarian protection should claim it at the first opportunity. We have provided aid assistance and expert support within Europe, and we stand ready to commit more to the hotspots initiative, ensuring that those in need of protection can be better identified. In the past fortnight, we announced the £10 million fund that I mentioned earlier, part of which is intended to harness the Dublin regulation by supporting effective identification of children who need to be reunited with their family. Where family reunion under the regulation is achievable, we will help to match things up by having better systems in place. That is about direct assistance.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), is the Minister suggesting that Malta, for example, should deal with the refugees that arrive there on its own without the UK lending a supporting hand?
As I have indicated, the UK is more than lending a hand by dealing with some of the significant factors that push people to cross the sea and with the organised immigration crime that is facilitating that. We are also providing expert support to the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol. The UK is demonstrating, through a broad range of measures, its commitment to solidarity with European partners in dealing with the crisis at hand.
On returns, which some Members have referred to in the debate, the unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe mean that it is more important than ever that each and every EU member states fulfils its responsibilities to process all those arriving, provide refuge to those who need it and return those who do not. As part of those efforts, all member states must have legislation and processes in place to identify and weed out abuse of their asylum system.
Will the Minister praise the work of local councils in stepping up to the plate when it comes to the migrant crisis? For example, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has dealt with a large number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and has become a beacon of best practice in the west midlands.
I commend a number of councils on the support that they have provided in welcoming refugees under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, and I commend my hon. Friend for highlighting his own council. I pay tribute to councils in Scotland that are providing such support, as well as to the charities and other organisations standing behind them. On the work on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, I recognise the pressures in counties such as Kent, and measures in the Immigration Bill, which is currently in the other place, are intended to assist with that.
The Government’s consistent focus has been on finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has continued to emphasise the need for the EU to deal with the root causes of the crisis, not just to respond to the consequences. In Syria that means working with the international community to bring about an end to the brutal conflict there and to defeat Daesh. The UK has been at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Syria and the region. In Libya that means helping to form a Government of national accord who can regain control of Libya’s borders and tackle the smuggling gangs. In Turkey it means working towards comprehensive border management, ensuring a humanitarian response to those reaching that country and disrupting the organised criminal networks that look to profit from the plight of others. The UK is also playing a leading role in Africa.
The migration crisis continues to evolve. The Government maintain a leading role in seeking to join together international partners in the EU and elsewhere. We can be proud of our response, but we remain vigilant. We need to carry on providing support in many different ways, but the UK can look with pride at the steps that have been taken already. We will continue to do our bit.
In summary, we have got to do what is right, what works, what is sustainable and what is moral, not just what makes us feel better about things. A good example of what I am talking about could be the case mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), of someone from Kurdistan in Dunkirk whose town had been taken by ISIS. The rest of Kurdistan is relatively peaceful and, after 18 months, the peshmerga had taken back places such as Sinjar, so there is no reason for someone to move from Kurdistan to Calais to seek safety. There is plenty of safety in other bits of Kurdistan and within the region. The driver in that case is, I think, economic; it is not about security.
When we think about the refugees, we should be helping the many, not the relatively privileged few who have the money to make long journeys. We should be helping people in the region, and helping them properly, as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration have done. We have to send out a firm message to the hundreds of millions of people within only a few days’ drive of the Mediterranean: if they come to Europe, they will not stay in Europe. Until we do so, the crisis will go on and on.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered migration into the EU.