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Migration (Western Balkans)

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016

2. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of recent steps to reduce migration to Europe through the western Balkans. (904401)

The Government believe that the EU-Turkey agreement will make a genuine difference to the migration flows into Europe and through the western Balkans. The plan disrupts the smugglers’ business model, and breaks the link between getting into a boat and settling in Europe. We continue to monitor the impact on the ground and help countries in the region to manage the pressures that they currently face.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to help Greece to manage the pressures on its borders and avoid the distressing scenes that we have witnessed in the western Balkans?

Yes. To date, we have allocated more than £19 million to Greece for urgent aid such as food, water and medical assistance. We are also supporting organisations that are helping the Greek Government to build their capacity to manage arrivals and monitor borders. So far this year, for example, we have offered 139 months’ worth of screening and debriefing expertise to Frontex to help it to beef up the capacity of the Greeks to manage the very large number of asylum claims that they will need to process.

I understand that the British Government have also contributed eight judges, but I also understand that the shortfall in expertise amounts to 2,500 staff. What more can the Government do to support the Greeks?

We continue to consider whether there are ways in which we can help further. We are not members of the Schengen group, so under the group’s rules we are barred from providing some forms of assistance. However, the Prime Minister talked to Prime Minister Tsipras very recently about what more we could do, and we continue to discuss with Greece and our other European partners how best we can help to manage the pressures on Greece. It is in all our interests that European countries come together to manage the crisis in the Aegean and ensure that migrants are treated humanely but also fairly, and that if they do not have well-founded asylum claims, they can be returned.

If a migrant claims asylum in Greece and then makes his or her way to the United Kingdom, we are unable to send that individual back to Greece because the Greek asylum system is deemed unfit for purpose. What steps is the Minister taking with his EU counterparts to ensure that Greece brings its asylum and detention systems up to the requisite standard?

Anyone in the circumstances that my hon. Friend describes who was not a Greek national would need a visa to enter the United Kingdom from the countries to which asylum seekers are going from Greece. The whole purpose of the EU-Turkey agreement and of the assistance we are giving to Greece is to manage the situation in the region so that we do not face the pressures he describes.

Thousands of Yazidi women who have been kidnapped, tortured and raped by ISIS cannot come through the Balkans and are unable to access the medical and psychological support they need in the region. Will the right hon. Gentleman encourage our EU partners to follow the example of Germany by admitting some of those women so that they can access the medical support they need? Will he also talk to the Home Office about allowing some of those women access to Britain so that we too can assist them?

Each asylum claim in Greece has to be considered according to international law and judged on that basis. The United Kingdom is giving strong financial and political support to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are bearing the brunt of supporting the very large numbers of refugees coming from Syria, including the Yazidi women about whom the hon. Lady is particularly concerned. She is right to be concerned about those people, but the best way to offer them the help they need is to ensure that the money that was promised at the recent London conference on Syria is provided to give them assistance in the first safe country they get to, rather than encouraging them to make a perilous journey across the Aegean sea in the hands of the people smugglers.