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Forced Displacement in Africa

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 4 July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Tenth Report of the International Development Committee, Forced displacement in Africa: Anchors not walls, HC 1433, and the Government response, HC 2357.

As ever, Mr Evans, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, not least because you serve as a distinguished member of the Select Committee on International Development. In February of this year we released our report on forced displacement, and last month the Government published their response. A year ago we invited submissions on all aspects of this broad issue, and I am grateful to everyone who gave evidence to our inquiry, both in person and in writing. I thank all members of the Select Committee for their participation.

As part of our inquiry, we visited Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to look at first hand at the UK’s support for Governments, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations that are providing shelter and services for those forcibly displaced in east Africa. We were extremely grateful for the assistance, engagement and openness that, as ever, we encountered on that visit. We are also hugely grateful for the hard work of staff from the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office in making the visit a success, and for the broad range of interlocutors from the Governments in the three countries, the United Nations, various multilateral organisations, and of course civil society. In the context of today’s debate, I particularly thank the refugees and host community members who we met as part of those visits for their courage in sharing their stories and experiences with us.

Globally, we are in the midst of the greatest displacement crisis on record. Last month, on World Refugee Day, the latest data was published, showing that 70.8 million people around the world are displaced from their homes—more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. It is an increase of more than 2 million on the previous year, and to compare it with 10 years ago, the figure in 2009 was 43.3 million. Most of the people who are displaced remain within their own country—internally displaced persons, in the jargon. A further 29.5 million are refugees or asylum seekers—in other words, they have crossed an international border. However, we say that regardless of whether those displaced people are still in their own country or have crossed a border, they are among the most vulnerable anywhere in our world, and most at risk of being left behind as the world strives to achieve the sustainable development goals.

More than 20 million of those displaced people live in sub-Saharan Africa; by definition, in some of the poorest countries in the world. Seven of the top 10 countries of origin for refugees and three of the top 10 countries for hosting refugees are in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the African refugee crisis rarely makes the headlines, even compared with other refugee crises in recent years. We were impressed by the generosity that we saw during our visit to east Africa. Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan each host around 1 million refugees and asylum seekers, but we know that generosity alone is not enough. The African Union has declared this year to be the year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

Last December, the United Nations—including the United Kingdom—signed up to a new global compact for refugees, the aim of which is to improve support and share responsibility for hosting displaced people more equitably between the wealthier and poorer countries of the world. That global compact recognises that a number of countries are responsible for hosting most refugees, and that often the countries shouldering the greatest burden are those least able to afford to do so. That is certainly the case in sub-Saharan Africa.

The refugee compact is ambitious and has the potential to make a life-changing difference to millions of refugees around the world. That will require a global effort, which needs to include robust accountability and indicators of progress to ensure that those commitments are translated into practice. As a Committee, we plan to hold the Government to account for the promises they have made, but we also recognise that the UK has an important part to play in pushing for robust accountability at an international level.

Funding, sadly, is woefully insufficient. The recommendations in our report simply cannot be achieved without plugging the gaps in funding to support displaced people. Based on evidence, we identified that the begging-bowl approach to raising international funds—crisis by crisis, annually or every other year—needs to be overhauled in line with the commitments made as part of the refugee compact, recognising that countries hosting refugees are providing a public good.

We also raised concerns that any new mechanism should not encourage low or middle-income host countries to take on yet more debt. Schemes such as the World Bank’s IDA18 regional sub-window for refugees and host communities are getting money through to the countries that need it, which is welcome. However, much of that funding comes in the form of loans, rather than grants. In the context of increasing anxiety about a new African debt crisis, we question the appropriateness of an approach that makes those countries borrow to support refugees. We urge DFID to look again at how it can work with multilateral organisations such as the World Bank to reduce the financial burden that loans undoubtedly place on refugee-hosting countries.

Throughout our inquiry we sought to establish how far DFID is supporting people who have been forcibly displaced, which has not always been a straightforward task. Scrutiny of the Department’s expenditure in that area is challenging because of the way the data is held and published. It has left us unable, for example, to determine the split in spending between support for refugees on one hand, and for IDPs on the other. In the Government’s response, the Department says that its focus is

“on vulnerability rather than status”,

and therefore that

“we cannot necessarily break down that support based on the migratory status of recipients to determine what percentage of beneficiaries are refugees, IDPs,”


“members of a host community”.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having secured the debate. What consideration has the International Development Committee given to displaced people of Christian faith across the whole of the middle east and Africa? I am ever mindful that 1.7 million Christians were displaced in Syria, 1.3 million were displaced in Iraq, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in Nigeria. When it comes to looking at migrants and those who have been displaced, what particular consideration did the Committee give to those of Christian faith who have been persecuted and had to leave?

The focus of this inquiry was east Africa, because we felt that it merited specific attention. However, in the previous Parliament our first report was on the Syrian refugee crisis, and one of the things that we highlighted was that Christians, and indeed some other minorities, faced particular challenges in the context of that crisis. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Nigeria; I will say something about north-east Nigeria in a moment, but he is absolutely right to say that Christians and a number of other minorities face particular challenges when it comes to displacement. It is very important that that is addressed, and I hope the Minister will feel able to respond to the important point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

I get it when DFID says it is determined that support should be based on vulnerability, but we need to be able to assess whether the funding being allocated is enough, particularly to reach the most marginalised internally displaced people. There are around 13 million such people, often living on the fringes of society in some of Africa’s poorest, often conflict-afflicted countries, and the number is going up. In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre recorded more than 8 million new displacements, with more than half of all new conflict displacement taking place in the region, including more than 2.2 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and almost 2 million in South Sudan. I have privately expressed real concern to the Minister—I put it on record today—about reports of what is happening now in north-east Nigeria. More than 825,000 people there are described as being beyond the reach of aid.

IDPs are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, yet they remain largely forgotten in these debates; they do not have the same protections under international law as refugees and they were not included in the refugee compact. Providing support to IDPs, whose care remains the responsibility of their own Governments, is a complex policy challenge. Christian Aid told us that

“75% of IDPs do not live in camps, yet camps receive the majority of funding for IDPs.”

As my hon. Friend knows, I am very much involved with Sudan. We visited northern Darfur last year. One of the problems with the camps in such places is that they have become permanent settlements. That has resulted in conflict with the indigenous population, who do not want a camp on the edge of their town. There is a belief that these people will one day return, but in Darfur they are never going to return, given all the problems in Sudan at the moment. Does he agree that we need to look at the impact of forced urbanisation, because that will be a growing problem?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. I will say something about Sudan a little later in my speech, but he is absolutely right to raise the specific context of Darfur. Similar challenges exist. I will say a bit more in a moment about some of the progressive policies that a number of African Governments, including the Ugandan Government, have pursued. Those tensions often do exist, and it is incredibly important that policies pursued support the host communities and the displaced communities. We have a good example of that with the approach taken in Jordan, but we need to learn lessons from that for other parts of the world, too.

DFID needs to support Governments in Africa to uphold the principles of the Kampala convention, which contains legal protections for IDPs, while encouraging other countries that have not yet signed up to do so.

I will say something about the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls who are refugees or internally displaced. Protection is a critical part of our response to forced displacement. It is important that DFID ensures that the highest standards are applied to safeguarding refugees through its own work and, critically, that of its partners, as well as ensuring that the right mechanisms are in place to support anyone who experiences or feels threatened by sexual abuse and exploitation. As we know, tragically that sometimes includes aid and health workers.

Putting women at the forefront of refugee responses is one way we feel as a Committee that protection could be improved. We took powerful evidence that suggested giving women a much more senior and prominent role in refugee response and humanitarian support for refugees could make a real difference in safeguarding some of the most vulnerable people.

We were alarmed by reports of cases of corruption, mismanagement and other harmful conduct at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That came to light during this inquiry and during our previous inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse. Where such cases arise, the UN must act urgently to put safeguards in place while it investigates to prevent disruption to life-saving operations. DFID, in turn, has a responsibility to react swiftly and proportionately to protect UK aid and, above all, to limit the impact on refugees who rely on the UN’s services.

Despite those extremely serious cases, we found that overall UNHCR does an extraordinary job under incredibly difficult circumstances as the sole agency mandated to protect refugees around the world. Given that its work remains more important than ever, and its challenges greater than ever, its efforts to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world need to be supported by the UK. We received good evidence that DFID is one of the most generous donors in the world in responding to emergency situations, and UNHCR thanked DFID for its support.

DFID is also a leader in supporting refugee education, and I welcome the commitment to prioritise the education of children in crises in the refreshed DFID education policy paper last year. Only half of refugees in low-income countries get even basic access to primary education, compared with a global figure of 90%. Since it was established in 2016, the Education Cannot Wait fund has helped provide education to hundreds of thousands of children and young people. The United Kingdom has been a strong supporter of Education Cannot Wait, and I warmly welcome the Minister’s recent commitment that we will increase our commitment to the fund in its forthcoming replenishment. She will not be surprised that I take another opportunity to urge the Government to make that pledge as soon as possible and to put a higher figure on their commitment. The earlier we make a pledge, as we have demonstrated this week with the Global Fund, the more likely it is that other donors will follow. That will ensure that this excellent fund can play its part to support education in emergencies.

Evidence to our inquiry showed the need for refugees to be integrated wherever possible into national education systems in host countries. I am pleased that the Department agreed with the recommendation that it should work with host Governments and communities wherever possible to facilitate that integration. I hope the Minister can say a bit more about how the Department will provide the technical and financial support needed to achieve that. Throughout our inquiry, we heard about the importance of enabling refugees to be self-reliant, including giving them the right to work and to move freely. Professor Alexander Betts told us:

“If refugees can be self-reliant and achieve autonomy it is better for them, their communities, the host societies, and indeed donor assistance.”

For obvious reasons, I realise that granting refugees unfettered rights to work is challenging for Governments in many parts of the world, but we were impressed by some of the progress we saw. Uganda has arguably the most progressive policy in the region and possibly the world in that regard. Since 2006, refugees living in Uganda have had freedom of movement, subject to some limited restrictions; employment rights; and equal access to services such as health and education. Refugees are granted a plot of land to cultivate. During our visit, Committee members saw at first hand the care and attention that refugees give to those plots of land.

This January, the Parliament of Ethiopia revised its existing refugee laws, making it easier for refugees to obtain work permits, live outside camps and access education. Central to that is the Ethiopian jobs compact, which seeks to create at least 100,000 jobs, including at least 30,000 for refugees. DFID has rightly invested heavily in the jobs compact. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact has been very positive in its assessment of the compact. If we want countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia to continue with policies that are progressive and, let us face it, potentially unpopular in their own countries, we must equip them with the resources and support they deserve.

The UK Government, however, need to look at what example this country is setting through our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers here. Evidence to our inquiry emphasised the importance of donors leading by example, including by allowing asylum seekers in the UK the right to work. We concluded that DFID cannot ask the poorest countries in the world to grant refugees the right to work while the UK Government significantly limits those rights here in our own country. It is extremely disappointing that the Government rejected our recommendation, and I urge them to reassess that policy. Little could carry more weight with our partner Governments in Africa than the UK practising what it preaches.

For the many refugees who cannot return home, integration into their country of asylum is often the most desirable means of rebuilding their lives. That comes at a big financial, logistical and political cost for host countries. Our ability to advocate, as we do, for refugee integration in Africa is hampered by the United Kingdom’s limited commitment to integrate refugees here in the UK through resettlement and asylum.

Lucy Hovil, chair of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, gave evidence to us. She said:

“At the end of the day, this is about political will. Who has the leverage to persuade Governments that are hosting enormous numbers of refugees to begin to offer local integration, without a similar level of commitment?”

Resettlement is a really important option for refugees who cannot return home. Yet at a time when more resettlement places are needed than ever, the number available is sharply in decline, largely because of the policies of the Trump Administration in the United States.

In 2017, the last year of figures, the UNHCR was able to submit only 75,000 refugees for resettlement—a 54% drop from the previous year. In this country, we have policies to be proud of in our resettlement of some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. However, we have been much less open to vulnerable refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, taking in just 448 in 2017-18. Providing those limited resettlement opportunities is a crucial part of the responsibility principle, which is at the heart of the refugee compact.

The UNHCR has said that it would like the UK to increase our total resettlement numbers to 10,000 places a year—almost double the current number. It is not a large number, particularly in contrast to the numbers taken by some of the poorest countries in the world. The Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, George Okoth-Obbo, told us in evidence that that would both

“help people and have an incredible demonstration effect.”

He said:

“The word I would use for that would be ‘tremendous’.”

It would show those countries hosting the lion’s share of refugees that we in the UK are willing to shoulder some of that burden and provide people with alternative opportunities to rebuild their lives in the UK.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he recognise that within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland there are many communities who wish to help, including faith groups, Church groups and community groups? Such organisations could help the Government to do that.

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is for the Government to decide on the numbers, but there is an enthusiasm and commitment in constituencies including his and mine and, I am sure, those of Members across the House, among faith communities, other communities and local authorities. I know that because when Syrian refugees came to Liverpool there was real enthusiasm and positivity. Although 10,000 would be a really significant contribution, it is not a large number of people; it is 30 refugees for each constituency. That is not a large number, and the hon. Gentleman is right to make the point that there would be a moral purpose to which faith communities and others would absolutely sign up.

The Committee, which is cross-party, endorsed the UNHCR’s call to increase resettlement places to 10,000, and we added the rider that we felt that at least a quarter of those places should be for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. We were disappointed but, if I am honest, not surprised that the Home Office, and the Government collectively, rejected that recommendation. The progress that the UK has made with the Syrian vulnerable persons and vulnerable children resettlement schemes shows the capacity to scale up resettlement schemes quickly if the political will is there. Given the severity and urgency of the refugee crisis in Africa, a similar response is required. I hope that the Government will reconsider our recommendation.

I will finish by talking about some broader issues. We were very worried that the Government’s approach to forced displacement is too influenced by the desire to control the number of people coming to Europe. Migration is, perfectly understandably, central to the UK’s strategies on aid and on national security and defence. Both those strategies focus heavily on refugees and migrants travelling to Europe and the implications of that for the UK.

We received evidence expressing concern that the focus on Europe risked detracting from tackling the root causes of displacement—hence “Anchors not walls”. Action Aid said:

“The emphasis on preventing the movement of refugees towards Europe is short-sighted, unlikely to address the symptoms of deep-rooted power imbalances, structural inequalities or underlying drivers of conflict and climate change”.

There is real concern, for example, about the European Union emergency trust fund for Africa, to which the UK contributes both directly and through our contributions to the EU budget and the European development fund. Care International told us:

“EU Trust Funds…were not established with a vision to reduce poverty or meet humanitarian needs or human rights, but to stem migration flows to the EU.”

Programmes funded by UK aid should surely be driven first and foremost by the objective of protecting people on the ground, many of whom are the most vulnerable people in the world. That should surely be reflected in all our work in this area.

We also heard widespread unease about the human rights implications of some of the UK Government’s work on irregular migration, particularly with regard to Libya and the Khartoum process. The 2017 report of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact cited significant concerns about the potential for the UK’s support to the Libyan coastguard to breach the “do no harm” principle. There are serious concerns that the programmes are returning vulnerable migrants and refugees to Libyan detention centres, where Amnesty International have told us that migrants and refugees are

“routinely exposed to torture, extortion and rape.”

ICAI’s follow-up report said that

“DFID has taken action to strengthen analysis and risk management”,

but noted that

“the cross-government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) has more to do in this area.”

The UK’s involvement remains a cause for apprehension. As a Committee, we are very worried that policies pursued by some parts of the UK Government risk conflicting with others. There is a pressing need for a more joined-up approach to migration across Government.

We concluded that the Government need to take a comprehensive look at all their policies on migration and displacement. We called for a national strategy to bring much-needed clarity and transparency, to consolidate the work that DFID is doing with that of other Government Departments to identify and resolve areas of conflict, facilitate better cross-Government working and create a coherent narrative that should reflect the UK’s position as a progressive voice in the debate on displacement and migration.

By chance we visited the Khartoum process in Khartoum, and we were struck that it was nothing to do with Sudan, because they were mainly Ethiopians and Eritreans. I was not sure on what basis those people would be persuaded to go back. It would be useful to know the current status of the Khartoum process, given the state Khartoum is in. Is it an extant programme, or has it stopped?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think the answer is that it is still an ongoing process, but perhaps the Minister can give us a definitive response.

All our migration programmes in Sudan have been suspended in the light of the current political and security situation. We are working with partners including the EU to ensure that all programmes in which the UK has a stake are also suspended. The regional operational centre in Khartoum has been temporarily relocated to Nairobi.

I thank the Minister.

I am conscious of time, so I will draw my remarks to a close. We were disappointed that the Government rejected the recommendation for a coherent cross-Government national UK strategy on displacement and migration. I welcome the fact that the Department has responded positively and has agreed in whole or in part with 31 of the 34 recommendations that directly apply to it, but unless the Government as a whole address the inconsistencies in the policies of different Departments, we are at risk of failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world. It is time for the Government as a whole to practise here in the UK what we preach on the global stage.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Evans.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing this timely debate and for all the work that he and the International Development Committee do to scrutinise the work of the Department. The Committee’s extremely important report, “Anchors not Walls”, shines a light on the lives of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world. I was pleased to see the focus on education, which not only is a right but can help to protect girls from forms of exploitation such as trafficking and child marriage—highly pertinent threats for teenage girls in the region.

Like many hon. Members, I remain distraught by the number of people forcibly displaced. One person or family displaced is tragic, but 20 million is horrendous and intolerable. I feel passionately about the subject as a British-born Nigerian and as a representative of Edmonton, which is a special, vibrant and multicultural place. Many of my constituents come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica, Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Yemen, Uganda or Cyprus—to name just a few. I have not named them all; please do not be offended. Most have ties to countries affected by high levels of displacement.

There are more than 1 million refugees in Uganda, in one of the most progressive arrangements on the planet. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said:

“Given the record numbers of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution and the lack of political solutions to these situations, we urgently need countries to come forward and resettle more refugees”.

CARE International’s report, “Suffering in Silence”, profiled the 10 most under-reported crises around the world, which are due to climate change, conflict and war. They are in North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, Sudan, DRC, Mali, Vietnam, the Lake Chad basin, the Central African Republic and Peru. They have gone on for far too long and it is the poorest and most marginalised civilians who pay the price.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Nigeria, I strongly support the Committee’s report, particularly its assessment that humanitarian crises in Africa are often overlooked. I want to highlight in particular the hidden crisis unfolding in the Lake Chad basin. One of the most severe humanitarian emergencies in the world, it has displaced more than 2.2 million people, half of whom are children. More than 10.8 million people across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger need humanitarian assistance. At times, the crisis seems intractable.

The scourge of violence in Nigeria is under-reported and, sadly, not acted on earnestly by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The crisis in the Lake Chad basin is in its 10th year. Escalating violence, including deliberate targeted attacks on civilians, has characterised the conflict, hindered humanitarian access and rendered any long-term development impossible. Long years of conflict with Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa have perpetuated the humanitarian crisis throughout the four countries of the Lake Chad basin, but the roots of the crisis are long-standing. It is the product of widespread inequality, political marginalisation and competition for scarce resources, particularly water, and other developmental challenges, which have contributed to its severity and complexity.

Boko Haram’s violent conflict, which broke out 10 years ago in north-east Nigeria, has involved a horrific campaign of attacks on civilians and mass abductions—we all remember the Chibok girls. All too often, the words of adolescent girls in fragile and conflict-affected areas go unheard because, unfortunately, politicians and policy makers fail to listen to them. Today, I want to share the words of Kwanye, a 16-year-old girl living in the Lake Chad basin. She said:

“I could not continue my education because girls were being kidnapped from my school. Everyone wanted me to get married but I refused because I wanted to go to school. I had good grades, friends and was happy at school before the crisis. I always thought education would give me a better life. But one night, everything changed. I lost my parents, uncles and siblings in the crisis. I constantly read my old books so that I don’t forget. I can’t go to school when I can barely afford to eat.”

Kwanye’s words are truly harrowing, but that is the situation not just for one girl or for a handful of girls; right now, around the world, 39 million girls like Kwanye have had their education disrupted as a direct result of a humanitarian crisis.

Equally worrying, recent Plan International UK research found that 13 million girls are completely out of school because of conflict, disaster and long-term displacement. The region around the Lake Chad basin is the worst place on earth to be a girl seeking 12 years of quality education. A girl in Niger is 20 times more likely to be a teenage mother than to finish secondary school. The killings and destruction have spread into four countries—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Increasingly, host communities take in as many displaced civilians as possible, but most host families are poor and fear the repercussions of the now-developed violent confrontation engaged in by Boko Haram and the region’s security forces.

In February 2017, the countries of the Lake Chad region—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria—donor governments such as Norway, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, and international organisations gathered for the Oslo humanitarian conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, at which $672 million in financial support was pledged for 2017 and beyond. The humanitarian response in the Lake Chad region was scaled up significantly as a result: more than 6 million people were reached with assistance in 2017 and a famine was averted in north-east Nigeria.

In September 2018, a high-level conference on the region was held in Germany, which built on the achievements, partnerships and commitments of the Oslo conference. It focused on three thematic pillars: humanitarian assistance and protection, crisis prevention and stabilisation, and building resilience for sustainable development. I ask the Minister to explain how the Department plans to mobilise resources to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected by the crisis, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, in 2018, 541,000 new displacements were recorded in Nigeria; 200,000 of them occurred in the middle-belt region and the rest were due to Boko Haram. Almost one in three women report having experienced sexual violence committed by members of Boko Haram, the security forces or the armed forces during the conflict. Violence against men and boys is also prevalent, with many killed, detained or recruited, or otherwise unaccounted for.

The Nigerian Government urgently need to propose action to ensure that security operations identify better ways of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. They must also investigate and challenge abuses and exploitation by authorities, and take concrete steps to ensure that fundamental human rights are respected. When there is evidence that human rights have been violated, those cases must be sent to the International Criminal Court. I ask the Minister, what assistance is the UK offering the Nigerian Government via non-governmental organisations to ensure that all the evidence is being securely collated and documented?

In February, the African Union declared 2019 the year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, so this is the year for us to be proactive, and I urge all UK parliamentarians to act. Will the Minister explain what DFID’s long-term plan is for managing migration and forced displacement sustainably and fairly through the global compact for migration and the global compact for refugees? The UK’s humanitarian work cannot and must not depend only on the ebb and flow of pity and shock. Today, more than ever before, we need international solidarity and respect for international laws and norms. We already have the universal declaration of human rights, which is more than 70 years old, the 1951 refugee convention, and the sustainable development goals.

I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to say that the UK will put refugees at the heart of its foreign policy and uphold human rights around the world. It is imperative that the UK reinforces a collective, multifaceted approach to addressing the crisis and its root causes. I end with the words of Kofi Annan:

“Internal displacement is the great tragedy of our time. The internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family.”

Thank you for chairing this debate, Mr Evans. I congratulate all those who created this report: the Select Committee members, the staff team, and all those who contributed evidence and shared their experience. I think it is an excellent report that is full of detail and has great recommendations. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) made an excellent opening speech, which really did the report justice.

The global refugee compact states:

“Countries that receive and host refugees, often for extended periods, make an immense contribution from their own limited resources to the collective good, and indeed to the cause of humanity.”

The SNP will continue to be an advocate for the most vulnerable. We call on the UK Government to do more. The UK Government have been slow in filling the 480 places they promised for unaccompanied children; only 220 of those places have been filled so far, which means there are 260 unaccompanied children alone out there who could be helped today by the UK Government. It is imperative that they fulfil their commitment—I would prefer it to be more—and ensure that those 260 children are helped.

Education is a long-term challenge, and is easily disrupted by outside events. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) recently led a debate in this Chamber on education for the most vulnerable and marginalised people. The “Send my friend to school” campaign brings to the ears of children in these nations the issues that are faced by those who cannot attend school and do not have access to a good education system. It is amusing because, when we speak to young children in our constituencies, not all of them are all that enthusiastic about going to school, but they really see the benefits of it and believe that everybody should have a right to education. It is great to meet so many young people who are incredibly passionate about ensuring that everybody receives an education. Imagine not being able to learn. Imagine the impact on individuals and communities if children are not able to learn. It is unimaginable that we would allow that for our own children, so we should do everything we can to ensure that children across the world have access to education.

Samara McIntyre, a teacher in Aberdeen, has done everything she can to teach young people in Kittybrewster Primary School about access to education and refugees more widely. When I was brought in to speak to her class, I was given the most intense grilling I have ever received. Those young people were so passionate and they could not believe that we are not doing more. They were absolutely sure that there was more that could be done. They sat me down and said, “You need to do more. What are you going to do?” I am standing here today asking the UK Government to do more.

I want to highlight a few of the things we have been doing in Scotland, particularly on education. The Scottish Government have helped 73,000 Malawian children to stay in school by supporting a feeding programme, and our Pakistan scholarship scheme has helped to support more than 400 women and 1,400 school children to continue their education. We have also started the Livingstone fellowship scheme, which allows doctors from Zambia and Malawi to come to Scotland for specialist training. They take that back to their countries and use their knowledge.

Recommendation 14 in the report is about women and women’s empowerment. I believe that we will not empower women unless we educate them and ensure that they have access to appropriate healthcare and contraceptive choices, so that they can make the choice about what they do with their bodies. Where they desire it, they can choose not to have children and so can escape that poverty trap. That is incredibly important. That is even more vital in post-conflict zones, where there are often a huge number of internally displaced people, and access to medical facilities can be incredibly patchy. Contraception is perhaps not the first thing that people think of when providing medical aid, but it is greatly important for the empowerment and support of women.

I want to flag up an issue that I discovered in a UK Government Home Office paper on trafficked women from Nigeria. It says:

“Trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution”—

wealthy from prostitution!—

“enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return.”

I raised that issue a couple of weeks ago with a Home Office Minister in the Chamber, and the document is still online and has not been changed. I am hugely concerned about that use of language. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) also mentioned it in the Chamber this week. It needs to be changed, because the UK Government should not have that view of women who have been trafficked and used in prostitution.

On the SNP’s support for women, the UN special envoy to Syria invited our First Minister to provide support and training to female peacemakers in negotiation and communication skills. The Scottish Government and the SNP will continue to do all we can to empower women and help them to rebuild their communities.

The report says that the UK must practise what it preaches. We agree that the UK should commit to taking 10,000 people per year after 2020. That represents a meaningful but, we believe, realistic increase over the current commitment. We are playing our part in Scotland—these are not hollow words—and we commit to continuing to do so. We have already taken almost 20% of the Syrian refugees, despite the fact that Scotland has less than 10% of the UK population. We are doing what we can, and we promise to continue doing so, but we need the UK Government to make commitments on that.

On the UK practising what it preaches, the point has been made eloquently that the UK should allow asylum seekers to work. A study from 2016 showed that if 25% of asylum seekers switched to self-sufficiency through work, it would save the equivalent of £46 million in 2017-18 prices. It would not just save money; it would ensure that people are better integrated into our society. It would reduce some of the negative social stigma from other people who are not refugees looking on and saying, “This person is an asylum seeker. They are not working; they are just living on Government handouts,” when many of them are highly trained and really want to work.

We can do more, we should do more and we must do more. We are talking about the most vulnerable people on the planet. Who are we if we do not do everything we can to support them?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Evans. Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) not only for securing the debate, but for the hard work that he did, along with his staff and colleagues on the International Development Committee—let me curry some early favour by acknowledging that that includes you, Mr Evans—to produce this report on forced displacement in Africa and to hold the Government to account on one of the most important crises of our time.

I want to reflect on a few things that my hon. Friend said, because they bear repeating. He mentioned that forced displacement affects a wide range of people—the internally displaced, people in camps and people outside the country but not in camps—but the one thing they have in common is that they are vulnerable. In our drive, as he characterised it, to achieve the sustainable development goals, we will leave those people behind if we do not act to support them and help them rebuild their lives. We must acknowledge every time we have this conversation that displacement happens into the poorest countries. My hon. Friend made the point well that those countries provide an exceptional public good, but those who shoulder the greatest burden are those who are the least able to do so.

I will return to the “begging bowl” approach, but while I am reflecting on what my hon. Friend said, let me mention that I was visited yesterday by a senior colleague in a major aid organisation for a private briefing on Yemen. We talked about Yemen but, as often happens nowadays, we got on to the climate emergency. He rightly said that the climate emergency has already reached the countries we are talking about—certainly those with the very least—so the idea that we have to wait for something to happen and then run around desperately trying to get the funding to tackle it is a nonsense. Regrettably—we really should regret and reflect on this—this is the new normal, so there is no need to wait for it to happen before we act.

Everyone who spoke mentioned the role of women. My colleagues in the shadow international development team, the Leader of the Opposition and I received a delegation of Syrian women politicians, who told us about their experiences. They said in particular that they felt constantly, from the beginning to where they are today, that their roles were gendered for them. In conflict, on the road to reconstruction and everywhere in the middle, women’s roles are gendered for them: they must be peacemakers and care givers, but not leaders. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby made a very strong case for the benefit we would get from female leadership in such situations. I hope the Minister heard that and reflects on it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) started her speech by referring to education. When we think about humanitarian crises and displacement, we think about meeting immediate needs—ensuring that people have shelter and that their healthcare and nutrition needs are met—but education is an exceptional form of immunisation in itself. That is why we want everyone in our communities to have access to it. That was really brought to life by my hon. Friend’s example from Niger: a girl is 20 times more likely to be a teenage mother than to finish school. That really is quite something.

My hon. Friend also made a really important point about the 10 years of experience in the Lake Chad basin, where 2.2 million people have been displaced, half of them children. Incidents such as the Boko Haram abduction become massive global stories but then go away. Although Kwanye was not an abductee, her story—one of lost education and lost opportunities—is just as stark and important. I do not think I can put it better than my hon. Friend did when she said that these people need solidarity, not pity and shock. That is really important as we reflect on how we engage on an ongoing basis. Our pity and shock can be useful at times, but an ongoing, consistent, bankable, reliable sense of solidarity would be a much stronger approach.

The numbers on forced displacement are staggering. Last year, a person was displaced every two seconds, and 68.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes: for every one of us living in our beautiful country, there is a person on the move, without a home of their own. We know that those millions of people fleeing conflict face poverty, persecution and other forms of insecurity. They face incredibly perilous journeys: they can be exploited, raped or attacked on the way, just seeking safety. The majority of them are prevented from getting to a safe point where they can start a new life. Instead, they tend to get stuck in so-called gateway countries such as Libya, where they are locked up and blocked from reaching their safe final destination.

Many of the people who are trapped in a third country, unable to return home or to start a new life somewhere new, face a bleak future. Last week—this sort of thing brings it home—I met campaigners from Western Sahara, who talked about the 50,000 Sahrawi people who fled Moroccan forces in 1975. The majority ended up in refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria. There are now 90,000 people in those camps, many of whom are the original 50,000. That was 45 years ago. I have been walking this planet for 35 years, so they have been there, stuck in stasis, for 10 years longer than I have been around. Time has moved on for the rest of the world—imagine the changes between 1975 and 2019: the world is a completely different place—but not for them. For them, time has stood still. They have spent whole lifetimes without enough food, water, healthcare, housing or education—the things we build our lives on.

As we know, that experience is not restricted to Western Sahara. There are far too many displaced people living a life in limbo in camps across Africa—in Kenya, Uganda, Libya and Tanzania—and beyond, in Jordan, Bangladesh and Lebanon. If we do not act, that will be the future: decades-long stays in camps for millions of people on the move. That is a real stain on our conscience.

The report does so much to keep the light shining on this issue. I am grateful that the Government agreed with many of the Committee’s recommendations—that really ought to be reflected in this discussion—but I want to draw attention to three points. First, no one can do this alone. The global compact on refugees was a huge step towards international co-operation, but if Governments on the frontline of the displacement crisis are to meet their obligations, they need the money to do it.

That brings me back to what the Committee called the “begging bowl” approach, in which Governments have to ask for more every time to help them meet a new challenge. Will the Minister consider again the Committee’s recommendation to set up, with our international partners, new grants and funding mechanisms that would enable long-term, sustainable financing of international responses—again, solidarity rather than shock? Can she tell us any more about how the Government intend to approach the global refugee forum in December and the mooted UN high-level panel on internal displacement to keep up the momentum towards international solutions?

Secondly, DFID can and ought to keep raising the technical standards on international refugee responses. The UK has real influence in the UNHCR, which is a good thing, and we should continue to drive organisational reform there. Refugees must be able to get better information about what is happening in the homes they fled, especially in terms of safety, before they decide whether to go back. When voluntary return is not possible, refugees ought to be offered routes to integrate locally rather than staying indefinitely detained and excluded. I hope the Minister will commit to learning quickly some of the lessons—good and bad—from Jordan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh on voluntary returns and local integration, and to doing more in those areas.

Thirdly, I want to touch on what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby and the Committee characterised as the “practise what we preach” approach, which is about honouring our own obligations here in the UK. The Committee made clear, reasonable and powerful recommendations, for which we heard support in the debate, in particular about easing the restrictions on asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK. Prior to taking up this role, I was on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and that is something we recommended. We should also increase resettlement numbers to 10,000 annually, as recommended by the UNHCR, with a quarter of those places reserved for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa; and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton mentioned, put in place a coherent cross-Government strategy.

There is pressure on global north democracies to try to keep the migration crisis away—out of sight and out of mind—because it is politically difficult. It was politically difficult for generations of colleagues before us. I hope that perhaps in my generation we might get towards having a proper, sensible and honest conversation with our voters about it.

The sticking-plaster approaches of trying to incentivise potential migrants to stay at home or funding coastguards to shut down the Mediterranean will not work. There are those who would push us towards hoping that other countries will do it, without us doing so ourselves, but that will not work. When other countries pander to the far right, we see what that means: people drowning in the Mediterranean; the captain of Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, arrested in Lampedusa because her crew put saving lives before politics; choosing to build walls and put children in cages; and allowing others to drown in the Rio Grande.

We would all reflect on those things and say, “Never here,” but we must understand that no one gets there in one leap. It starts with “Go home” immigration vans, with locking up people who have done nothing but be migrants to this country, and with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender migrants being sent home to face persecution. If we go on that journey, we lose our claim to be part of the solution and become part of the problem. That is what the Government and Parliament must consider: what side of history will we be on? Will we be part of the solution, or will we contribute to the problem?

I look forward to the Minister’s response. I again thank hon. Members for their contributions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby for securing the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, particularly as you are a member of the International Development Committee. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing the debate and thank his Committee, through him, for having written a very good report on an issue that is too often overlooked. The report has shone a strong spotlight on it. The debate allowed us to raise some issues considered in the report and to cover the Government’s response. I was glad that we were able to fully accept 22 of the report’s 34 recommendations and partially accept a further nine. In fact, we disagreed with only three, two of which were for the Home Office, while one was a cross-Government matter. I will try to respond to the range of points made in this wide-ranging debate.

The Government fully recognise the scale of the issue, and I hope in my remarks to outline what we are doing not only in our country but, in terms of my responsibilities, across Africa. As I said when I gave evidence to the Committee, we take a needs-based approach to humanitarian issues, so the difference between refugees and internally displaced people is not one that we formally recognise. Legally, of course, there is a difference when we are evaluating the need, so we stand ready to help both internally displaced people and refugees, as I hope I made clear to the Committee.

The point about sexual exploitation was well made. I reassure hon. Members, as I did earlier this week, that in the light of the allegations made in The Times last week, we have checked and ensured that that was not a DFID-funded programme. However, as that example highlights, there can be no let-up in our work to ensure that the highest standards are maintained by the industry and that we get commitments from all our suppliers.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby keeps tempting me on Education Cannot Wait. I am particularly tempted because I do not know whether I will be able to go to the UN General Assembly later this year—I hope I will. He knows that I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) for the “Send my friend to school” campaign, which connects young people with the right of young people all around the world to go to school. No one could be more committed than I am to the cause of education in emergencies, education for girls and the power of education to make the world a better place in the 21st century. We have announced that we will continue to be one of the leading donors to Education Cannot Wait. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby will know, the amount is not yet finalised or announced.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) also raised the importance of education and girls’ education. Not everyone knows that Boko Haram basically translates to “Western education is evil”, which shows how it is feared and how powerful education is for the cultural reasons that she outlined, as well as for the economic impact it can have. Every year someone spends in school adds 10% to their lifetime earnings.

I assure the hon. Lady that we are doing everything we can to encourage the newly re-elected Nigerian Government to tackle the challenges in north-east Nigeria. It was tempting for them to say in the run-up to the election, “Look, we’ve solved the problem. Everything’s okay.” We all recognise that it is not okay. Our North East Nigeria to Transition to Development programme is our top programme in Nigeria and is worth £85.9 million. I assure her that the problems around the Lake Chad basin are at the forefront of our agenda.

The hon. Lady will know that near Rann, many refugees were chased over the border into northern Cameroon and that there was a process of refoulement to take them back to Nigeria. We were able to intervene with the Cameroonian Government to say, “That is not how you treat refugees.”

That brings me to how refugees are treated. Everyone cited the great example of Uganda, which is exemplary. I want to say for the record, though, that in the UK refugees can work from day one. It is important to make the distinction, however, between refugees and those who seek asylum, which is a route often used by people who come as economic migrants. I hope we can all agree that irregular migration, where people risk their lives and those of their families crossing the Mediterranean, doing incredibly dangerous things and putting themselves in the hands of people smugglers, is not something that we can encourage or incentivise. Global compacts are valuable in outlining our desire to regularise such paths, and asylum seeking is clearly an area where there can be and has been abuse. That is why we are careful that, only once 12 months of delay has occurred—through no fault of the person claiming asylum—can they then work in shortage occupations. The Home Secretary has committed to keep that area under review, but I want to make that distinction because I do not think the general public always understand it.

I hope the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby saw the announcement we made on World Refugee day about our approach post 2020, when we will merge all schemes into a single scheme, which will enable us in the first year to offer 5,000 places to refugees. He will be aware that that number is an increase and that the numbers of people coming in under the schemes are ahead of the commitments we have made. I will give Members an update.

In terms of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the most recent data shows that, against our commitment of 20,000 by 2020, we will be at nearly 16,000 by the end of the first quarter. The gateway protection scheme is for 750 people a year. As of March, 9,427 people have come under that scheme, including 762 this year. The mandate scheme has no specific annual commitment, but as of March 2019, 423 people had been resettled. Some 1,410 have been resettled under the vulnerable children’s settlement scheme, against a commitment of up to 3,000 by 2020, including 687 in the year to March 2019. In total that is 23,000, plus about 750 per financial year. It is important to note that we very much welcome community sponsorship schemes, and the numbers for those can be counted in addition.

I mentioned the latest on Sudan in my earlier intervention, and it was important to get that on the record. Libya was also raised.

I welcome what has been said about resettlement. Can I ask her, as the Minister for Africa, to liaise between the Foreign Office and the Home Office to look at the options for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those with vulnerabilities? One of the strengths of the Syrian scheme was that it recognised that there are certain minorities, for example disabled people, who particularly benefit from the chance to come here. Could we look at something similar for sub-Saharan Africa?

I know that the hon. Gentleman’s recommendation was for a specific quota. From 2020 onwards, rather than focusing on a particular country, that is widened to one global scheme, without specific target numbers for particular areas. That widens things geographically and addresses some of what he is looking for.

On Libya, at the United Nations Security Council yesterday, we tried to get condemnation for the attack on the detention centre, as Members will have seen. I want to say for the record that neither the UK Government nor the European Union fund Libyan detention centres—there is sometimes the allegation that we do. We fund humanitarian programmes, and with humanitarian programmes, the principle of doing no harm is observed. I want to reassure Members that we properly apply risk assessment mitigation and monitoring to all the programming in Libya.

On the debt versus grant point, the vast majority of what we do is through grants, so we do a lot of grant funding. The World Bank programme is additional. It is debt-financing and it is extremely concessional, but it is a welcome additional layer of support, coming on top of the grant funding that we already do.

I pay tribute to the wonderful Scotland-Malawi partnership. It was great to hear about the specific work to help girls to stay in school. When I was in Malawi, I met some of the young women who walk miles every day to go to school, and miles again at the end of the day, who were thoroughly enjoying being able to stay in school for so much longer. I will take back the point that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North raised about the wording on women returning “wealthy from prostitution” on Government websites. I will look into that and see if we can get it erased.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) spoke of how climate change is exacerbating the situation. It is doing so in the Lake Chad basin, which has been dramatically reduced. It is clearly exacerbating the movement between herders and pastoralists in central Nigeria, which has been an area of terrible conflict, and other things across the whole of the Sahel—Darfur was also mentioned. That is why we are stepping up what we are doing not only on climate, but also in the Sahel. There is more that we can do on the use of things we have invented, such as more drought-resistant millet, and there are different interventions with trees that can make a difference. There is always scope for us to scale up what we are doing to tackle these issues.

The Grand Bargain was mentioned. We have committed to do more through medium-term funding and funding that is not earmarked for specific projects, and that is meeting our side of the Grand Bargain.

I cannot say who is going to go in December, but there will be good UK representation. I have also noted down voluntary returns—the UK position will always be that all returns for refugees should be voluntary.

I think I have touched on all the recommendations and on the cases where we did not agree with the recommendations. I hope I have clarified the position on refugees having immediate access to the labour market in the UK, I hope I have highlighted the offer that we have made for the post-2020 refugee resettlement offer, which is an increase, and I hope that we can all agree, as politicians, that this is about balance. Were we to do what the German Chancellor did a few years ago, I think that might very well undermine the welcome that refugees across the UK get as part of this resettlement scheme. There is certainly a really strong welcome across my constituency, and I hope that is the same in other hon. Members’ constituencies. It is about balance and also not creating incentives for people to risk their lives through irregular migration routes.

The overarching strategic framework, which hon. Members asked about, is obviously the sustainable development goals. It is about peace and making sure that we work to resolve conflict. It is about people and making sure that their human capital is developed. It is about making sure that we save our planet. It is about making sure that we work in partnership with all the organisations mentioned, including Education Cannot Wait—I give a shout-out to the global fund for education in emergencies, which is hosted by UNICEF, as we often fund through that as well. It is about prosperity and making sure that the progress that the world has made on reducing extreme poverty continues into the future.

I assure hon. Members that these are important issues that are at the heart of the Department for International Development’s work. Through the global compact for migration and the global compact on refugees, we have a global framework to work together on; it is cohesive and forms a good, forward-leaning framework. The UK can be very proud of what we are doing. We do more than just practise what we preach; we also help others and we can all be very proud of that.

I conclude by thanking the Select Committee for its report; we will get on with implementing the recommendations we accept.

I thank the Minister and everyone who participated in the debate. Let me respond briefly on three points. The first is education, which I think everyone has spoken about. I absolutely echo what the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) said about “Send my friend”, a brilliant campaign that has brought the issue of access to education to the fore of debate in this place, as well as among the wider public.

On resettlement, I need to correct my earlier mental arithmetic. I said that 10,000 divided by 650 was 30, but of course it is not; it is 15—I doubled the figure. So it would only be 15 refugees per constituency, not 30. I welcome what the Minister said. The announcement on World Refugee Day came after the publication of our report. That announcement is progress. I particularly welcome what she said in response to my intervention, because it gives some hope that refugees from sub-Saharan Africa might get a larger proportion of those resettlement places in future. I still encourage us to be a bit more generous and get to the 10,000 figure that UNHCR has recommended. The Minister is right to say that it is a question of balance, but 10,000 is still a very modest number when compared with the numbers coming into countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia.

The focus of our report was east Africa, but we have had a number of contributions—not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor)—on what is happening in the Lake Chad basin and north-east Nigeria. There is clearly a challenging set of issues, which I know the Minister is focused on because we have spoken about it. I hope there might be an opportunity on a future occasion, either in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber, to look in more detail at the Government’s strategy on the Sahel, the Lake Chad basin and Nigeria, because there is a huge challenge there. I was very struck by the figure—I think it is from the UN—of 825,000 people in north-east Nigeria who are beyond the reach of aid; the aid organisations cannot even get to them. I hope that is something we can return to. I thank all Members—including you, Mr Evans, for your chairmanship.

Thank you. It has been a superb debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Tenth Report of the International Development Committee, Forced displacement in Africa: Anchors not walls, HC 1433, and the Government response, HC 2357.

Sitting suspended.