I beg to move,
That this House is deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing refugees across the globe; has considered the secondary effects of the covid-19 pandemic on refugees and displaced persons in fragile or low-income states; and calls on the Government to provide urgent support to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries and communities as they deal with the covid-19 pandemic.
I am incredibly grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this important debate, to its co-sponsor my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), and to cross-party colleagues who supported the call for it.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are interconnected as a global village. We breathe the same air, drink the same water and enjoy a shared humanity that transcends borders. In that spirit, this debate addresses the plight of the world’s refugees in the face of coronavirus, and calls on the Government to do more to help.
This is not just a crisis across Asia, Africa and the middle east; it also affects Europe and the UK, as we have seen desperate people make perilous voyages across the English channel this summer and the terrible tragedy of refugees drowning at sea. These are desperate people exploited by criminal gangs and failed utterly by the international community.
As the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, I can claim some connection to the word “refugee”.
It was originally coined by the French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution after 1685, many of whom came to Spitalfields in my constituency and left their mark on the east end’s streets, architecture and heritage.
The east end was home to many thousands of Jewish refugees in the 1880s. Jewish refugees from Portugal gave us fish and chips, and much else, of course. After 1881, Jews fleeing pogroms in the Russian empire came to the UK, and in the 1930s they came fleeing the Nazis; they included my hon. Friend from the other House, Lord Dubs, who escaped in the Kindertransport train. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all that he has done, and continues to do, to fight for refugee children. It is a great shame that our Government have not taken up his powerful case for our hosting refugee children.
We have accepted refugees who have fled civil war and conflict in many parts of the world, including the Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, and people from eastern Europe, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq. As a nation at our best, we provided them with a welcome home, and a chance to succeed. We have benefited, of course, from their contribution to our politics, culture, economy and much else, which has added new dimensions to our Britishness. Of course, there are also the incredible contributions of many great figures, such as Karl Marx. There have been contributions to our business community, too—the founder of the Tesco family came from my constituency—and to many other fields.
The landing has not always been soft. There have always been bigots putting up barriers, and blaming and stigmatising refugees, but they have thankfully been in a minority. The UK can be proud of welcoming refugees, and of its global contribution to protecting them, for example through the role that Clement Atlee and Ernest Bevin played in the 1950s in founding the United Nations and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was also, under the Labour Government, the establishment of the Department for International Development, which this Government have sadly abolished in the middle of a global pandemic. I know the Minister will say that it is business as usual, despite the merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; I hope so, when it comes to protecting the poorest in the world, who need our support.
Today, the refugee crisis is on a scale that none of us could have foreseen. Nearly 80 million people—more than the entire British population—have been forced out of their home by conflict and persecution. Among them, nearly 26 million are classed as refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. These children and young people have been uprooted and displaced at the most important time in their life. Millions of stateless people have been denied nationality and citizenship; access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, and employment; and freedom of movement. They are often crowded into unsanitary camps, in which, despite the efforts of global non-governmental organisations, national Governments and the international community, there are huge issues in accessing healthcare. Life expectancy is incredibly low and infectious disease is widespread in them—and this is before we take into account the impact of coronavirus.
Over half of those affected by the Syrian refugee crisis have been displaced into refugee settlements. There are camps in Chad housing Sudanese refugees; camps on the Tunisian-Libyan border; the Kakuma camp in Kenya, one of the largest in the world; and camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Yemen. Of course, millions of Syrian refugees are being hosted by Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many other countries. One of the biggest camps in the world, in Bangladesh, is for the Rohingya people fleeing murderous violence and what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing; there is an International Court of Justice case on genocide committed by the Myanmar military and Government. Millions of people are living in that camp in temporary accommodation. I saw at first hand the impact on people, the vast majority of them children and women, of the unimaginable violence and genocide committed by the Burmese military. These people cannot work, and are traumatised by what has happened, having lost everything. Homes and villages were burned down; their mothers were raped in front of them, and their fathers and the young men in their family were murdered. Those were the testimonies that I heard when I visited those camps in 2018.
There is also the Syrian crisis, which we have been witnessing for many years. I visited the Beqaa Valley in 2013, at the beginning of the crisis, and saw the impact of that conflict on the children in particular, but also on the men and women. The situation persists, and the international community has failed to force the Syrian Government to end the war. Many have argued, including the president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, that the camps should be closed down, with refugees being allowed to integrate into communities and to work. We also need to do more to enable the right of return for refugees, which means that much more action is required of the international community to look at ways of dealing with the root causes of the conflicts that have often led to people being forced out of countries—whether it be Syria, Myanmar or elsewhere.
The tragedy is that the huge financial commitment required to host the sudden influx of refugees is placed on the shoulders of the countries that are least able to afford it. Eighty four per cent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries, and seven out of the top 10 developing countries hosting refugees are considered fragile states in the OECD’s fragility framework.
Although many countries suspended their refugee resettlement schemes due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of them have now resumed, but not here in the UK. The Government have also cruelly voted down the Dubs amendment, which would have guaranteed family reunion rights for child refugees after our withdrawal from the EU. I call on the Minister today to think again and work with his colleagues in the Home Office to make that happen. If there is one way to pay tribute to the courage and determination of Lord Dubs, who was a child refugee himself, this would be the way to do it, and I hope the Minister will take that on. The UK has accepted only a small number of refugees and asylum seekers, amounting to about 0.25% of the UK’s total population. Let us compare that with what some of the poorest countries are doing in hosting hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million, refugees.
This year, on top of all the problems facing refugees, we have seen the impact of the pandemic. We know that covid-19 thrives in crowded, cramped conditions where people cannot wash their hands frequently and where medical assistance is extremely limited. We know also that the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is one of the biggest in Europe, desperately needs assistance. CAFOD is warning about the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, saying that the concern for the large refugee populations is that social distancing, self-isolation and frequent handwashing are nearly impossible in the communities in which they live. This problem is widespread—whether we look at Syria, Lebanon, Bangladesh or elsewhere.
From the Greek islands to Gaza and from Bangladesh to Botswana, the pandemic is set to sweep through the world’s refugee camps, and we need to do more. The United Nations Secretary-General has said that the covid-19 pandemic
“is menacing the whole of humanity–and so the whole of humanity must fight back,”
That is surely the right approach. In early April, more than 200 Members of Parliament signed a letter to the Prime Minister, which I co-ordinated, calling for urgent support. Those calls remain necessary. Our call was for the UK Government to support the UN’s $2 billion global humanitarian response to covid, to scale up the public health response, to support refugees who need help, to deliver personal protective equipment, to work with international partners, the World Bank and the IMF to cope with the impact of covid in middle income countries, and, of course, to support the UN General-Secretary’s call for a global ceasefire, including any UN Security Council resolution for a global ceasefire, to de-escalate conflicts in many of the parts of the world that are giving rise to the forced displacement of people.
The Government have gone some way to provide humanitarian assistance, but we call on the Government to do more on this particular agenda—on ending conflicts, holding to account certain Governments who are not doing enough, and also working with the international community to provide the much-needed funding.
For many years, I have campaigned with colleagues from across the House on the Rohingya crisis, so I want to focus my final remarks on the plight of the Rohingya people who have faced, as I said earlier, incomprehensible atrocities, killings, torture, executions, mass deportations, the razing of villages, and women and girls enduring gang rape and other forms of horrific sexual violence. I heard their testimonies at first hand when I went to Rakhine state in 2013 and then in 2017 and then to Cox’s Bazar, which hosts a million refugees from Myanmar who have been persecuted.
We have just recently marked the third anniversary of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to Bangladesh to escape the genocide, but the genocidal violence against the Rohingya in the summer of 2017 did not come out of the blue. It came from a combination of decades of persecution, systematic discrimination and the denial of citizenship and basic human rights. In Myanmar, there has been and continues to be a significant escalation of violence, and the UN continues to document violence against children, including killings, maiming and sexual violence. The recent clearance operation was among the worst, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims who live in Burma continue to be vulnerable.
Earlier this year, The Gambia lodged a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice. Canada and the Netherlands have formally joined the case. As penholder for Burma in the UN Security Council, the UK should follow suit, and I have called the UK Government to do so time and again, as have others. I hope the Minister will be able to take that on and follow the lead of The Gambia, the Netherlands, Canada and a number of other countries in the prevention of genocide. This particular case is so important, because it will prevent the Burmese military from committing further atrocities and prevent people from having to take their lives in their hands once again. That is why it is so important that our Government support that move.
In terms of what we do next and how we provide support to those who desperately need it, I draw attention to the calls by former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who has said of the refugee crisis:
“This is not a problem in far-off lands that rich countries can ignore”.
There is growing demand that the Governments of the developed world, including our own, shoulder more of the responsibility. It is in our interest. That means we need to provide funding. I know the British Government are doing some of that, but we need to go further. We need to lead the way, working with the new US Administration. We need to act to try to ensure that there is a proper global health and economic recovery plan for those countries, because that is what will stem the rise in conflict, the increase in refugees and people being forced out of their homes, and it will help to reduce conflict.
We need to double funding to the World Bank for emergency aid. We need to provide more support to the International Monetary Fund to help those countries, so that they do not end up being desperate and the economic troubles do not cause further conflict and division, thereby causing more people to suffer and end up as refugees. We also need to do more to tackle climate change, which will create more refugees. In Bangladesh, 30 million people are likely to become climate refugees, so there is a great deal that we need to do going forward.
I hope our Government will take a stronger role in the international arena. If global Britain means anything, it means our responsibility to help the poorest in the world, because it is in our interests to do so. If we do not, those refugees out of desperation will want to flee and come to the shores of Europe, and we have seen the shameful experience over recent years where we have not been able to respond as generously as some of the poorest countries have.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she agree that we must do our part in the UK, particularly when, as we did just after I was elected in 2015, this House voted to bomb Syria? I did not vote for that, but none the less, a majority of Members did. Where we are bombing countries, we need to be taking responsibility when people are displaced from those conflicts.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that many conflicts have been caused by failures of the international community, so we bear a responsibility, whether it is Iraq, Libya or Syria. We need to act. We need to provide refuge to those who end up being displaced, and also we need to take action at the international level to bring an end to the conflicts that continue to rage.
In conclusion, we need our Government to take action, not only to provide the humanitarian assistance, but to work hard to hold to account Governments who are causing persecution, Governments who are failing to protect their populations and Governments who are actively responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide in countries such as Myanmar. We also need to take a stronger role in mobilising support in the international community to provide more assistance to those countries; refugees are among the most vulnerable in the world, and covid has exposed them to even graver danger. We must protect them against the virus. We must press the world’s Governments to step up aid programmes, end conflicts, tackle poverty and prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of displaced people around the world. If we are to tackle this pandemic, in the words of the United Nations Secretary General,
“we are only as strong as the weakest”.
This is not just a matter of humanitarianism; it is also a matter of self-interest.
May I ask Members to be mindful that we have not only the call list for this debate, but another debate to follow? Both debates are on important subjects, but it all has to finish by 5 o’clock, so please be mindful as to the length of your contributions.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing this debate and for her speech, which demonstrated her own commitment to this agenda. As she said, she represents a part of London that demonstrates the proud history of this country in welcoming some of the poorest people from around their world to make their home here and make an enormous contribution to our national life. I pay tribute to her and I agree with much of what she said.
In this crisis, as a country we have turned inward somewhat; we have looked to our own problems and challenges. We have discovered our neighbourhoods and lived more locally. We have discovered, in many ways, that we are citizens of somewhere, each of us in our local lives, yet we are also citizens of the world. As the hon. Lady said, we know that the poorest people are most at risk and most vulnerable to the effects of the global pandemic. I am incredibly proud of the UK’s record this year. The Government have committed significant sums—£750 million—to the global fight against covid-19, much of it for the poorest countries in the world, with £300 million alone to be spent in the region of Syria this year.
Beyond the immediate response to the crisis, we have a very proud recent record of contributions to the imperative of building up the global economy and the economies of the poorest countries in the world. I wish to draw attention to a remark made by the World Bank last month, which observed:
“With the notable exception of the UK, which has been an absolute leader, the contributions by governments have been…flat or declining”.
It is talking about the contributions we made of nearly $4 billion to support the poorest economies in the world, which were more than those of the United States, Japan, France and many other leading countries.
Much more can be done, and I recognise many of the points made by the hon. Lady, but I wish to focus on what we here in the UK are doing for refugees, where we still have major responsibilities to fulfil. She mentioned unaccompanied children, so I wish quickly to make the point that I regret that Opposition Members persist in pretending that this Government are somehow hostile to family reunion for refugee children—that is patently untrue and it would be political madness if it were true. Their making that point is irresponsible, as it causes fear and anxiety where none is needed. The Government are absolutely committed to creating reciprocal arrangements with the EU to ensure that unaccompanied children can continue to be reunited with their families, and I have confidence that that will happen. There will be a review of the routes that unaccompanied children can take, which will be presented to Parliament and be accountable to this House.
Another area where we need more progress is on refugee resettlement more generally. I hope the House will acknowledge that the UK’s record in recent years, simply in terms of the numbers of refugees resettled here, is the best in Europe and one of the best in the world. For understandable reasons, the resettlement programme has been halted this year. I entirely understand why—the host countries have restrictions on access and travel and our local authorities are hard pressed enough as it is—but I urge the Minister to give the House and councils an update on when they expect resettlement to restart and on whether the new UK resettlement scheme, the global programme, will replace the current system for refugees from the middle east. I know that my council in Wiltshire is keen to know the plan and is looking forward to clarity.
Perhaps a more significant question than how many refugees we can receive in this country is the question of how we receive them and what sort of help we can give them. As I have said, I think our Government are generous, but they are only as generous as a Government can be. They can only give out money and give people rights to services. That is what Governments do. Refugees get free accommodation, free healthcare and free education. They also get their council tax and utility bills paid and they get a weekly cash allowance, but that is all the Government can do. We can argue that they could give more cash, but they cannot provide more than money. Human beings need more than money, especially if they are new to a country or an area.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman probably means well, but his characterisation of the UK system certainly does not chime with the constituents I see coming to my surgery week in, week out. In particular, he talks about what this Government can do, saying that all they can do is give cash, but I disagree with that in the strongest possible terms. In Scotland, as I will set out in my contribution, we set up a scheme where Syrian doctors, nurses and health professionals have been able to retrain and come to Scotland, and they are now at the forefront of fighting the covid-19 pandemic. I am sorry, but I do not buy what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Surely he and his Government must recognise, as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) said in her speech, that so much more can and should be done.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I absolutely agree that there is more that can be done than giving out money, but it is not just the responsibility of Government to do that. That is the point I want to make. We need more than welfare, and more than a roof over our heads. Our needs are higher up the hierarchy of needs than that. We need friends and we need culture. We need agency, responsibility and a sense of purpose and belonging, and we need work to do, as she says. All of this is the responsibility of all of us in society.
I want to end with another tribute to the Government, this time for the community sponsorship scheme, which was first introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) when she was at the Home Office. It was inspired by the way in which refugees in Canada have been resettled over many decades. It is an inspirational model whereby refugees—individuals and families—are received into a community by a local community group working with the local authority and the public services. They provide so much more than a house and welfare. They provide English language support and employment and training support, and they provide friends and opportunities to access local social networks, faith communities and so on.
There are two such groups operating in Wiltshire, and they are doing a tremendous job. They have supported families to integrate properly into our communities in a way that the council on its own would never have been able to do. For example, we have a tailor that we did not have before in Wiltshire, working away; we have a painter and decorator; and we have people working for the council. We also have a whole range of new volunteers making a tremendous contribution to our community. These are the new Huguenots that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow referenced. They are enriching our county and our country, and they are welcomed by local people. This is the model we need much more. These community-sponsored refugees are in addition to the 5,000 a year commitment, but I think it should be the basic model by which we receive and welcome refugee families into our country. This is the model; this is the way we will build a more integrated community and fulfil our obligations to the world.
I am extremely grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate on covid-19 and its effect on refugee communities, and I would like to place on record my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) on leading the charge. At its core, this is about the injustice of millions being forced from their homes by genocide, hunger and war, and the injustice that 85% of refugees find shelter not in the richest nations but in low and middle-income countries where healthcare systems are already under-resourced and overstretched. It is also about the injustice of the pandemic now threatening the most vulnerable displaced people far from their homes. As David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:
“We know coronavirus doesn’t respect borders and that it hits the vulnerable hardest”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that there are 86.5 million people today who are refugees—stateless, internally displaced or seeking asylum.
Like many hon. and right hon. Members, I recently had the pleasure of visiting a refugee camp, thanks to the efforts of the Yunus Emre Institute. The camp in Gaziantep, on Turkey’s border with Syria, is home to thousands fleeing the civil war. Turkey has opened up its heart and borders, providing compassion, shelter and food to Syrian refugees. I met refugees learning new skills and heard about their efforts to find work. One thing that stayed with me is its sheer size and scale, and I think that is true for camps across the world. The Kakuma camp in Kenya has roughly the same population as the city of Oxford. The Tindouf camp in Algeria has the population of Lincoln. The Adjumani camp in Uganda has the population of Durham. Bangladesh, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow mentioned, hosts almost 1 million Rohingya fleeing genocide, over 600,000 of whom are concentrated in the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site—more people than the city of Manchester.
These camps are vast, sprawling settlements filled with people traumatised by violence, malnourished, preyed upon by people-traffickers, and anxious about their future. Camps across the world, from Syria to Jordan, from Bangladesh to Calais, and in and around Yemen, have one thing in common—they are overcrowded and susceptible to infectious disease. In Cox’s Bazar, for example, there are 40 people per 1,000 square metres. In Moria in Greece, there are 204 people per 1,000 square metres—a situation made worse after terrible fires there. People are sharing toilets and showers, unable to socially distance, with no space at all for self-isolation.
When the pandemic first struck earlier this year, many of us were concerned that it would rip through refugee camps, but over the summer, although there were some tragic deaths in camps, the reports from the aid agencies were encouraging. Through isolating, enhanced sanitation and other measures, the scale of disaster that we feared was averted. Come November, that has changed, and all for the worse. The aid agencies, non-governmental agencies and people living in the camps are warning that we are on the brink of disaster. In September, The Guardian reported:
“Numbers of infections in camps across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have risen sharply throughout September.”
Similar reports are coming in from camps on the Greek island of Chios, from Mahama in Rwanda, from Ethiopia and Somalia, and from elsewhere. It is clear that we need an immediate programme of emergency aid—PPE, hand sanitiser, screens, soap, disinfectant, thermometers, oxygen hoods and other medical equipment, especially ventilators. We need doctors, nurses and paramedics on the ground. We need to maintain supplies of water and food to keep people healthy.
We need a UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that responds swiftly to the challenge. Many of us believe that it was an unforced error to merge DFID and the FCO. Now is the first major opportunity for Ministers to prove us wrong by the ambition and scale of their response to this crisis.
We should be cautiously optimistic about the prospects of a vaccine announced this week. Perhaps we have indeed turned a corner, but the vaccine will not come in time for thousands corralled in refugee camps. A cold winter is coming, and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. The Minister must tell the House today what concrete plans Her Majesty’s Government are making to reach across oceans and borders to help our sisters and brothers and to save lives.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) for his contribution, which I think reflected a high degree of consensus on many of these issues across the Chamber, and was certainly seeking consensus on those issues where we all very much agree. I would like to spend my time focusing in particular on the impact that covid has had on three groups of vulnerable people for whom we have a particular responsibility. Those are people who have a no recourse to public funds status attached to their presence in the United Kingdom, refugee children and the people who are waiting for the recommencement—or perhaps hoping in the future for the commencement—of the new global resettlement schemes that we know are in progress at the moment.
Starting with those with no recourse to public funds, this has been the subject of a good deal of debate in Westminster recently. While there is a high degree of recognition that the NRPF status is an answer to retaining public confidence that people are not coming to the United Kingdom simply to access benefits and welfare support, in a time when there is a national crisis, as there is at the moment, it presents some particular challenges. When we begin to look beneath the surface of how the policy is operating in practice, we see the suggestion that it may be time for a reconsideration of the way we apply that policy.
We heard from the Minister during a Westminster Hall debate on this topic that, on average, 90% of requests to remove NRPF status are agreed by the Home Office and that they are agreed very quickly—generally, within a period of 28 days. I recognise that the NRPF status is complicated. For example, many people come to the UK on working visas with NRPF as a part of that. People who come as investors can be very wealthy individuals who are unlikely to face destitution, but the fact is that in the event that people face destitution, local authorities have a duty to step in and to provide financial support. Clearly, we are kidding ourselves in this place if we think that NRPF status means that there is no cost to the British taxpayer in providing that support, and we need to consider whether it is in the interests of the welfare of families who may be facing destitution as a result of that status to allow time for a reconsideration in line with what the day-to-day real practice of the Home Office has been in supporting this particular group.
Moving on to the question of refugee children, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes is absolutely spot-on in identifying that the UK has a very honourable and long-standing record when it comes to supporting refugee children. Since 2015, the numbers coming into the care of local authorities in England has, on average, doubled. There has been a very significant rise. A lot of the political debate has focused on those referred to in the Dubs amendment, but of course the practical experience of local authorities that have been accommodating young people is that that status, clearly defined as it appears to be in the Westminster political debate, is often illusory. Young people are brought to the United Kingdom on the basis that they have a family connection here, but if that individual is not in a position to take parental responsibility under the terms of the Children Act 1989, we are moving that child from the care system of one country into the care system of the United Kingdom, so it is not in practice a process that is largely about family reunion. That is less than one in 10 of the children who are affected.
The point the hon. Gentleman makes about taking children from one care system to another seems slightly inappropriate—more than slightly inappropriate—given that we are talking about countries, by and large, that are war-torn and do not even have the basic structures of health and social care, never mind a childcare system. I think it is important that we focus on the reality of the many families who are displaced and what they are leaving, and the fact that they are not necessarily coming to the UK or other western countries out of choice, but out of desperation.
The hon. Member makes a very good point about the context of many refugee children who come to the United Kingdom, but of course it is not a point that is relevant in the context of Dubs, which is what I was speaking about. The point of the Dubs amendment is that it committed the Government of the UK to go to other countries in Europe and identify children in those countries who are unaccompanied and bring them into our care. They were already, in the terms of the Dublin agreement, in a country that was defined as safe, whatever the circumstances that may have pertained before they left the country that they had been in before that had led to their becoming a refugee.
I would like, however, to highlight a particular concern. The UK’s response in respect of refugee children, commendably, has been the national transfer scheme. We recognise that, under the Children Act 1989, a child who is unaccompanied in the UK, by operation of law, becomes the responsibility of the local authority where they are. Local authorities such as Kent, my local authority of Hillingdon and Harrow next door have taken in significant numbers of children, and other local authorities around the country have stepped up to say that they would be willing to offer places to support those young people as well.
There has been a good deal of debate about the remarks made by some concerning activist lawyers, but it has been brought to my attention that a number of those young people awaiting transfer to other local authorities that are willing to take them in order to create more capacity for the United Kingdom to support refugee children are being advised—legally speaking this is absolutely correct—that they are within their rights to refuse to move. It would be really helpful if Ministers gave some attention to how we can ensure that the national transfer scheme can do its job effectively.
Additional funding has been provided so that young people can be supported by local authorities that are not the ports of entry, but if young people are being told that they should refuse to co-operate with the process, the system will gum up and we will lose the capacity we have to provide that support. That is a genuine concern. Those lawyers are acting entirely within their rights, but none the less it calls into question our ability to provide the most effective support we can and increase our capacity to take in more refugee children.
On the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and where it goes next as a global relocation scheme, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes made the robust point that many of us are waiting to hear what the new scheme will look like when it comes into operation. I heard an announcement that we were beginning plans to resume the VPRS—the Syrian resettlement scheme—because there are already a number of families identified for that safe, legal route to come to the United Kingdom who, because of covid, have not been able to make the journey here. I very much welcome the news that we will see those moves resuming. The UNHCR describes that resettlement scheme as the global “gold standard”, and two former Prime Ministers and the current one do deserve credit for maintaining a life-changing route into the United Kingdom that satisfies that standard of being safe and legal.
While the UK remains the biggest donor outside the United States on resettlement and aid efforts, access to that safe and legal route is incredibly important. Therefore, like my hon. Friend, I would welcome hearing from the Minister when we might expect that programme to commence to ensure that we continue our commendable and honourable efforts on refugee resettlement in the global covid crisis.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) on securing this important debate. As she said at the outset, we are united in our common humanity in terms of how we treat refugees and asylum seekers, and we should always remember that refugees are people first. That should be the context for our policies and how we behave towards refugees. They are people who have lived through unimaginable horrors—stuff that many of us have absolutely no comprehension or understanding of. Quite frankly, who would uproot themselves, their lives and often their families and make perilous journeys across land and sea unless they had no other choice?
I have listened to some of my constituents, and quite frankly I do not know how they have survived what they have been through. When I hear some of the less positive things said about refugees and asylum seekers, it really strikes home how important it is that we all stand up, make these points and put them on the record. Among the Government’s catalogue of cock-ups this year, their response to the refugee crisis, particularly with respect to those involved in the channel crossings, was one of their finest. Not only was it wholly incompetent, but it was devoid of compassion. I repeat what I have just said: I ask all of us to try to put ourselves in the shoes of a refugee or asylum seeker before passing judgment.
UNHCR estimates that there are nearly 80 million people displaced across the world, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) has already mentioned. The key drivers of displacement—conflict, famine and climate change—have continued during the pandemic. The importance of the international community, including the UK, working together to tackle these drivers cannot be understated. I hope that the Minister can provide reassurances that the assimilation of the Department for International Development into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will not lead, now or in the future, to international development and peace making being less of a priority than they need to be. Again, my hon. Friend also mentioned that.
The hon. Lady cites a figure of 80 million refugees. Having dealt with refugees and worked for the UNHCR myself, I know that there is a difference between a refugee and a displaced person. Does that 80 million include the category of displaced persons, which by definition means people who have been chucked out of their home or village but remain in the country? That is quite an important distinction. I wonder whether the 80 million includes displaced persons. If it does not, there are a damn sight more than 80 million.
Contrary to some of the disgusting racist rhetoric about refugees on social media platforms, most displaced people find refuge in countries neighbouring their homes. We know—it has already been said—that it is the poorest countries, including Aruba, Pakistan, Uganda and Sudan, that provide refuge for the majority of asylum seekers, hosting more than 90% worldwide.
Having fled their country and claimed asylum, refugees often end up in the densely packed camps that we have heard about. Of course, by its very nature, covid thrives in those environments. These displaced peoples, the world’s most vulnerable, are forced to shelter with little in the way of healthcare or access to water, let alone PPE. At the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where 76,000 Syrian refugees shelter, Médecins Sans Frontières has reported a covid outbreak in recent weeks. The head of mission there said that it is clear that the densely populated refugee camp can make it
“very difficult for people to follow simple preventive measures such as handwashing, wearing a mask and physical distancing.”
Self-isolation is another matter. In this country, we are rightly told to cover up, to wash our hands and to make space, but that simply is not possible for many refugees, at home and abroad. As I said, self-isolation is near impossible in the conditions in which many live.
At home, in response to the covid pandemic, the Government decided to pause the refugee resettlement scheme in March. I was interested in the comments made by the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) on this matter. We know that other countries—France, Spain, Italy and Germany—have already had reinstated their schemes, so I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why we have not yet done so and when he expects us to.
In lieu of safe routes, we have seen thousands attempt the extraordinarily dangerous channel crossing—a crossing that recently claimed the lives of five members of an Iranian-Kurdish family. Without any form of safe route, more will attempt that dangerous journey. The Government say that most of these crossings are facilitated by criminal gangs seeking to exploit vulnerable migrants trying to reach the UK. According to the Immigration Minister, so far this year 24 people have been convicted and jailed for facilitating illegal immigration. I applaud that, but, again, without the implementation of safe routes to the UK, more people will make these journeys and risk their lives in an attempt to seek safety. As well as covid-19 having devastating impacts on refugee communities abroad, in our own country refugees are also suffering. My constituency is home to a number of refugee families, and I have had casework where those seeking asylum have had their asylum applications delayed as a result of the pandemic. My experience of the length of asylum applications is certainly not that it is the six months that the Government say it is; it is closer to two years, and I have some asylum seekers for whom it is stretching into years after that.
To add to this hiatus—this pause in people’s lives; they cannot get on with living their lives—by having it extended by the pandemic must feel like purgatory, and it has had a huge emotional impact on the families involved. For asylum seekers in a house in multiple occupation, not only is it difficult to socially distance, but with £5.39 a day to cover everything, buying PPE and hand sanitiser cuts deeply into their allowance—although I know some food banks, including my own in Oldham, have been providing them. In this environment, it is understandable that for many asylum seekers poor mental health is made even worse.
Other people have raised the difficulties they have faced after asylum has been granted. Many support services have been closed and some refugees do not have access to the internet or phones. Local authorities, as throughout this pandemic, have felt the brunt of the pandemic and faced difficulties in housing residents. I have had reports of refugees becoming homeless after receiving their legal status, as the Home Office has continued to remove people from Serco housing with nowhere left for them to go. One woman took 53 days to receive accommodation after being given leave to remain, relying on the kindness of strangers when the Government withdrew support without her having any accommodation whatsoever.
I know these hardships faced by my constituents will be replicated across the country. Refugee Action has spoken of the impact this has had on the physical and mental wellbeing of refugees. It has also highlighted its frustration about the ability for organisations to operate, citing difficulties with the co-ordination of services, remote learning and maintaining contact with those they are supporting. In Oldham, I have seen first-hand the extraordinary work performed by the food bank and other charities, such as the British Red Cross, Revive and the Boaz Trust in Manchester, who have supported the most vulnerable people in society throughout the pandemic, many of whom are from the refugee community. It has struck me throughout this pandemic that it is those who have the least who are doing the most, and I urge people: if you have the opportunity, please do participate. Before the covid pandemic, these charities used to organise meetings and I also urge that, where possible, these meetings be reinstated.
Asylum seekers and refugees want to work—they want to contribute—but we have a system that does not afford refugees the dignity and respect they deserve, and the pandemic has exposed these glaring issues. I know of medical professionals from Syria who want to work but who are not being allowed to, and I again urge the Minister to speak with his counterparts in the Home Office.
It was fantastic news at the beginning of the week when we heard about the success of the covid vaccine trials from the Pfizer and BioNTech partnership, but that provides a salutary lesson: it is a German couple who started out life as Turkish children and became migrants who have managed to do this. This is a fantastic good news story, and we should learn from it. The Government must help all people to use their abilities and to flourish in this great country of ours, including our refugees and asylum seekers.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) on securing this important debate.
This year, especially during the first covid lockdown period, much has been said and written about people attempting to reach our UK shores by boat. That treacherous crossing covers 18 miles of water between mainland Europe and Dover. We have heard the comments from pundits and politicians who want to build walls, either physical brick barriers as favoured by a former President or floating marine fencing ideas, allegedly investigated by our own Government.
Whether through increasing patrols of our waters, putting people in cages, prison cells or detention centres indefinitely, or leaving them statusless and unable to work, join family or simply make a home, the narrative is clear: they are unwanted and unwelcome here. They are detained, locked up, cut off and encamped in muddy, disease-ridden, ramshackle, makeshift and flimsy canvas or cardboard shelters that are not fit for purpose, and not fit for families, for children and for pregnant women—not even for animals.
To everyone who has ever shared anti-immigrant hatred and fear on social media, I would like to say, “Imagine it was you. Imagine it was your family. Imagine that you knew that staying in their place of birth was so dangerous that it was better, safer and a little less horrifying to attempt to cross an incredibly lethal stretch of water in an unsafe boat—overcrowded, ill-equipped and with the chance of drowning a very real possibility.”
In countries such as ours, we seek thrills and recreate fear by taking up certain pursuits. We set ourselves challenges and push ourselves to the limits of our endurance. We leave our comfort zones and get up off our sofas, run marathons and fling ourselves out of helicopters, mostly to raise money for those we want to help, those less fortunate than ourselves. Refugees are, of course, much less fortunate, and they do not get to go back to their sofas after an adrenalin rush as we can. Every hour of every day lived in a war-torn country, those dangerous thrills that we seek are an unavoidable way of life. Dodging bombs and bullets, persecution, torture, prison or death sentences are real-life everyday scenarios. Every single day, someone may not return home safely from school or work. Every day can simply be a fight to stay alive.
When those people—having spent months, decades or a lifetime living with everyday danger and risks as well as death, fear, terror, pain and loss—decide that they cannot endure another day of that and step up the danger to unimaginable next levels by seeking to trust a stranger who they have heard might help them to get out, how can we blame them? They sell what they can, get hold of whatever money they can and put their lives and their families’ lives in the hands of anyone offering a route out.
The Government rightly talk about the vile practices and lack of humanity of people traffickers, the criminals and gangs seeking to profit from people’s suffering, but what is the alternative for those desperate enough to risk their lives? When they do, what awaits them if they survive the journey here? The covid pandemic has greatly increased an already significant backlog in processing asylum applications. Charities such as the excellent Kent Refugee Action Network, or KRAN, do their best to support young, mostly unaccompanied asylum seekers. Kent County Council is struggling to meet the housing needs of those needing urgent accommodation as there is not enough affordable housing across east Kent. This is a particular problem for young people when they reach the age of 21. Young people are isolated, facing the lack of a college place, often of any decent accommodation at all and of any help with language, and they have no way to connect online to learn or access services or to find missing family members.
With the proper support, young refugees can and will contribute much to our society. They want desperately to work, become British citizens, pay taxes and raise families like several generations before them. We have many examples of those who have come to Britain seeking asylum, fleeing terror or war. To name just two, one of the best of people, as we have heard before, is Lord Alf Dubs, an incredible man who has dedicated his life to the safety of children who, like him, had to escape to a new place; and Gulwali Passarlay, a former asylum seeker, is the author of “The Lightless Sky”.
I urge the Government to pledge directly to help those countries in dire need of aid so that we create fewer refugees, fewer homeless and displaced desperate people, and less of a food, insecurity and climate emergency, and to allow the still relatively tiny numbers of the most desperate people to seek asylum here and a safe new start.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who is active in her community in supporting those groups that, in turn, support refugees. In certain counties such as Kent, more is asked of some of our coastal communities, and it is wonderful to see the help that comes forward, as she said, from many disadvantaged people, who perhaps see in those images on television something of their own past.
At a recent event in my constituency, to which I invited Lord Dubs, the audience were asked, “Who here has an experience of a refugee?” Nearly everybody put up their hand. Many of my constituents are either children of refugees or have a real heart for refugees.
As my hon. Friend said, a tiny number of people who migrate to the UK are refugees, which is why we must redouble our efforts to stamp out the terribly cruel scenes that we see on our television scenes. One such example is the tragic death of Mercy Baguma, a refugee woman who died on her own, apart from her young baby, who was found a day later, crying and malnourished. Tragically, that is how this woman was found, in a flat, which had been provided by the Home Office.
I am sure a lot of this comes down to the fact that covid has made people so much more isolated. Had this woman had someone to reach out to her and had there been a visitor, perhaps a member of a faith community from a church, mosque or temple, who popped in to see her, we would have known about her. In my constituency, the Muswell Hill Methodist church refugee group is being hampered in its efforts to keep up the visiting and a phone call just is not the same.
I pay tribute to the Centre for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma and the Helen Bamber Foundation, which look forensically at the various physical and mental tortures that individuals have experienced in their journey as refugees or in their war-torn countries. Those are the sensitive situations that people come from, which make them terribly lonely when they arrive in the UK.
I want briefly to mention the important work of the British Red Cross for those who seek family reunion. We are very aware that there is a safety issue for people seeking to regularise their status and join family here in the UK. Some people have to travel for days to have their paperwork stamped. Will the Home Office, together with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, look urgently at that, particularly when people are unsuccessful? They have often made a big, expensive and unsafe journey, perhaps with small children and other family members, only to be unsuccessful in their request for asylum or refugee status. I am sure that we can find an easier way, in this day and age, with the technology that we have, such that the recommendations from the British Red Cross could be urgently adopted, without further ado.
I want briefly to highlight two fantastic civic society campaigns, which have certainly seen the light of day here in the Commons, but which are definitely worth mentioning in the context of the debate. The first is Lift the Ban, which is about lifting the ban on asylum seekers working. Once people have requested asylum, they then have six months. The campaign requests that, in the period after that, people can apply for work. We in this House know that many refugees are over-qualified. Some of those who have had to escape are perhaps architects, university professors or engineers, and they bring a special skillset. Of course, those skills often are not recognised, but we are all aware of the wonderful refugee whose name escapes me, but who ended up as a cleaner in the NHS. He speaks like a BBC presenter; he is wonderful. He reminds us of the contribution to the NHS that so many refugees have made.
The amendment tabled by our own Lord Dubs has been the subject of discussion today. The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) rightly mentioned the burden that falls on local authorities and the fact that they must be paid adequately to look after refugees. There is no point doing these programmes on the cheap, especially for younger refugees, who have particular mental health trauma. They need proper services and proper support. I hope that in his concluding remarks, the Minister will give us a response, even if just to confirm that he will speak to the Home Office about lifting the ban on asylum seekers working. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) said, it is terrible that people have applied for work but are sitting around lonely, unable to work. Lifting the ban on asylum seekers working would not only assist our job market but assist those refugees to integrate much quicker, wherever they find themselves.
As we debate the new arrangements for refugees following Brexit, bearing in mind that they are a very small part of the total number who migrate to the UK each year, I hope we will look carefully at how we could implement the Lord Dubs amendment in a way that is fair and recognises the important work of local government, but provides for those who are most affected by war in their countries and have family members here. There is a way forward, and we must do it properly, in conjunction with local authorities and best practice.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), who speaks passionately and eloquently about this issue. I echo her request for clarification on the ability of asylum seekers and refugees to work. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing this much-needed debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting us the time to speak on this vital issue.
The world is undergoing a global pandemic, and although the measures are often not perfect and support does not always go far enough, for those with a roof over their head, support from covid economic packages sometimes means that there is a lifeline. We must remember that at the end of 2019, there were almost 80 million people displaced from their homes, of whom 40% were children, many fleeing bombs, bullets and persecution. For them, the pandemic is much more severe.
No mother or father ever dreams of fleeing bombs with their children, trying their utmost to ensure that their children can see another day, but that is the reality for so many refugee families. In recent times, we have seen the direct results of this from the Syrian crisis and those fleeing Burma, Sudan, Palestine and many other countries. I mention that because, when speaking about refugees, some have deliberately or ignorantly ignored the tragic reality of their background. Tragically, many have perpetuated rhetoric towards refugees that is not only misleading but hugely dangerous. It is important that we not only stand up to the hatred that is unfairly directed towards refugees but ensure that we provide them with clarity, support and kindness.
I hope that those who have been misled by racist stereotypes suggesting that refugees are some kind of uncivilised invaders of the west, coming here to steal their railway jobs, will take their time and listen to this debate. The reality is that 90% of refugees are not hosted in Europe or the United Kingdom. Nearly 90% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries, which often struggle to provide basic services. The UK does not even come in the top 10 countries that host refugees. Additionally, according to the United Nations, there are more than 25 million refugees in camps around the world who are currently facing particularly acute obstacles in the fight against covid-19.
Refugees are not travelling on expensive airlines for a new role as expats in a new land. They are fleeing war. They are making perilous journeys across dangerous land and sea, often dying on the way. Just a few weeks ago, Rasoul Iran-Nejad, his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, and their two children Anita, nine years old, and Armin, six, drowned as they tried to reach Britain by boat—an entire family gone. Can we even begin to imagine the trauma, stress and fear for parents fleeing and taking such a dangerous journey? If we cannot extend to them the support they desperately need, the very least we can do is show some compassion and kindness and stop the dangerous anti-migrant rhetoric.
I am sorry to say that that goes for the Government too. In recent years, the Government have stepped up their anti-migrant rhetoric. This summer, the Home Secretary suggested that Navy warships should be deployed to tackle the rise in people crossing the English channel. Just over a month ago, news broke that Home Office officials had debated whether wave machines should be used to push back dinghies to France, and that the Home Secretary had considered relocating refugees to Ascension Island or St Helena—remote islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Those plans were condemned by the UK’s representative to the UN.
Added to this, the Home Secretary lashed out at “activist lawyers” giving legal support to those seeking asylum and refugee status in the UK, and attacked “do-gooders” advocating reform of the asylum process. Lord Dubs has already been mentioned today, as he came to the UK as a six-year-old refugee fleeing Nazi Germany. He has said that the comments made by the Home Secretary were
“so hostile and quite unworthy of a British home secretary.”
If we are going to be sincere in truly helping refugees, we have to challenge the hate-filled rhetoric about refugees that is unfortunately peddled. Sadly, this Government need to take a real, hard look at how they are adding fuel to the fire. As human beings, we should consider how we would like to be treated if we were one of the families desperately fleeing death.
At the height of this pandemic, the effects on refugees have been exacerbated. In my constituency of Bradford West and across the country, we have experienced refugees and asylum seekers in crisis over the covid-19 pandemic. The reality is that pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing destitution and poverty among the refugee and asylum seeker community. Internationally, conditions are much worse, so morally, the UK should play its part.
On 22 July, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs tried to avoid parliamentary scrutiny by quietly announcing up to £2.9 billion of cuts to the aid budget as Parliament headed into recess. Given the scale of need for refugees, will the Minister confirm that the UK will not turn its back on people fleeing persecution, and outline whether his Department plans to cut funding for refugees in the 2020-2021 financial year?
I am very proud to come from Bradford, the city of sanctuary. I thank those who work hard to support asylum seekers and refugees across Bradford. Of course, the reality of the situation is not always tragic. From bringing fish and chips to the UK, to the chairman of my local synagogue in Bradford, Rudi Leavor—who published the memoirs of his own journey to the UK only a few weeks ago—the cultural contributions made by refugees here in the UK and around the world enhance our lives, and are to be remembered, celebrated and welcomed.
I thank everyone for their contributions. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for initiating the debate and setting the scene so well. This issue is vitally important. As we have heard today, refugee communities are some of the most vulnerable groups in the world. That has also been highlighted in a number of debates over the last fortnight or three weeks in both the Chamber and Westminster Hall. Today is an opportunity to make that very point to the Minister in the main Chamber.
These refugees have lost their homes and their livelihoods, often due to horrific violence, and they face countless overwhelming challenges such as finding sources of income, adequate shelter, and healthcare and treatment, all of which are exacerbated by the global pandemic. Last week, there was a debate in the Chamber about the vaccine. At that stage we did not know that there was going to be an announcement, but we were asking whether the vaccine would be available across the world. The last people to get any vaccines or any help throughout covid-19 are the refugees. It is those people who are at the end of the queue; very often, they are so far back that they are at the end of the end of the queue. As Refugees International has stated:
“For refugees, COVID-19 is a health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and a protection crisis.”
To illustrate the incredibly stressful economic problem faced by refugees, let me quote Tearfund’s country director for Jordan and Lebanon, Karen Soerensen, who said:
“Many of the refugees we work with rely on cash in hand for informal work day-to-day.”
I am old enough to remember back to the ’60s, when money was not plentiful, and—let’s be honest—many of us lived hand to mouth. That was the way it was, because money was not available in the way that perhaps it is now. I can understand when people have to live day to day, and have to work to buy food for their family for the next day. These people can only buy a day’s food at a time and they do not have savings to fall back on. People are stuck indoors in cramped conditions. Deliveries of bread, water, gas and medicine are permitted but unaffordable. When I hear those prices on TV programmes and read about them in the papers, I find it impossible to believe that anybody can afford those things. The consequences of the restrictions people now face are overwhelming. Without work, their families will not be able to eat. It is a terrible situation for people who have already suffered so much. Our thoughts and prayers should be with all those families.
In addition to those challenges, many marginalised communities in countries around the world have faced intensified discrimination since the outbreak of covid-19. The UN Secretary-General has described this phenomenon as a “tsunami” of xenophobia. Refugees and migrants often already face significant stigmatisation from host communities, and this has been exacerbated by the covid-19 crisis. According to the UNHCR:
“Even though it has no scientific basis”—
but that does not stop people saying it—
“refugees and asylum seekers are held responsible for spreading the virus in many countries during the pandemic.”
That is absolutely outrageous and untrue, but when people are fearful they do and say things that are untrue.
That is also the case with certain Governments, who are using the virus to advance policies that harm refugee and migrant communities, under the banner of protecting public health. For example, Uganda has announced the suspension of reception of all new refugees and asylum seekers, which harms the rights and safety of those individuals. Compassion is sadly missing.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) referred to Lord Dubs and the work he has done for refugees, particularly the Kindertransport children. My constituency of Strangford and my council area of Ards were recipients of some of the Kindertransport children back in the late ’30s and early ’40s. I never fail to be struck by the poignancy of TV programmes that show those children, who were separated from their parents, coming across and resettling in England, Northern Ireland and, in this particular case, Millisle and Carrowdore in my constituency. Many of them stayed and never went home. Our relationship and historical ties with Germany are very important.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief. I am very pleased to see the co-chair, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), sitting on the Opposition Front Bench as the shadow Minister, and I know she will register some of our concerns as well.
I want to discuss the plight of the Rohingya Muslims. I said in a Westminster Hall debate last week that Rohingya Muslim refugees, who have already suffered extraordinary violence, are now suffering again in camps in Bangladesh due to covid-19. I put on the record my thanks to Bangladesh for what it is doing, but, while we can only do so much, we cannot abandon those people. The restrictions placed on humanitarian agencies by the Bangladeshi Government are isolating Rohingya refugees and having a devastating impact on their wellbeing. Those restrictions range from humanitarian organisations being permitted to do only certain types of work, or to do it in a certain way, to them being allowed into the camps for only a set number of hours or, in some cases, not being allowed in at all. Therefore, they do not even have the data about the help that people need.
The impact of the restrictions has been so great that in June many Rohingya perceived the secondary impacts of covid-19 containment measures to be a greater threat to their overall wellbeing than covid-19 itself. That shows the extreme conditions that some people are living under. While many acknowledge that covid-19 is a risk, it is seen as secondary to more immediate risks such as shelters collapsing, having safe and accessible toilets and being able to feed their families, which they are unable to do without the support of humanitarian agencies and, indeed, the NGOs.
Finally, although this does not just affect refugees, I want to make a point that I do not think has ever been made here before. I was thinking about it beforehand and want to put it on the record, because I do not think we can overlook this issue and right hon. and hon. Members may well not be aware of it. It would be remiss of this House if we failed to express our concern about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of African migrants who are being forcibly detained in horrifying covid-19 prisons in Saudi Arabia. According to a recent investigation by The Sunday Telegraph, the Saudi Arabian Government are keeping potentially thousands of African migrants in “heinous conditions” as part of a drive to stop the spread of the virus. Again, there is this perception of the virus where people think, “They’ve got the virus”. Well, no, they do not. What are you doing to help them? Absolutely nothing. Sorry, I am not talking about you there, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am talking about the Saudi Government.
These poor prisoners are kept in squalid, disease-ridden and dehumanising camps, in intense heat, with limited access to food, water and sanitation. They are often subject to beatings and ridicule from prison guards. The conditions are so terrible that at least one young boy, who had not even had a chance to see life, took his own life to escape the torment. Others have died from heatstroke and other afflictions. There is simply no reason for a country with the wealth and resources of Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, to treat people this way, especially people who have committed no crimes and whose labour Saudi Arabia has used and depended on for years.
I know the Minister may not be able to give me an answer on this today, but I would appreciate it if he would give me an answer in the near future, if at all possible. I urge him to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency, and I request an update about any discussions he may have or be able to have with his Saudi counterparts. I also urge him to do everything in his power to work with the international community to ensure that refugees are not forgotten in this time of crisis and that they have all the support they need.
It is truly tragic that these people, who have suffered unimaginably, more than we can ever have in our minds, are yet again facing such a severe threat. It is our duty in this House to speak up and speak out for all those people and do what we can to protect them.
Madam Deputy Speaker,
“With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm, And those that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here.”
That quote is from the pilot episode of “The West Wing”, which I have been re-watching for inspiration and, in these strange and difficult times, comfort. They are the words of the poetic and prophetic writer Aaron Sorkin, as said by President Josiah Bartlet in the series. They sum up so well the plight and experience of so many refugees, which we have heard about in spades today.
Before covid-19, the plight of refugees across the world was of epic and catastrophic proportions. What they are now experiencing has, as we have heard, only exacerbated that horrific situation. So I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) on securing this debate and pay tribute to her for such a fantastic and passionate speech, because it is vital that we shine a light on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, now and always. I have a fear that the media saturation about what is happening domestically with covid-19 means we will lose sight of their plight.
I think often of the book “In Extremis” by Lindsey Hilsum, which was about the life of Marie Colvin, who was killed in Homs, in Syria. The hon. Lady talked about bearing witness, and how she has gone to Burma and to Syria, as Members of this place and journalists should, to bear witness to the experiences, report back and come home to do what is possible to make their lives better. We can all imagine that the restrictions on journalists travelling mean that we are not hearing the stories and experiences of those at the forefront of the refugee crisis and the covid-19 crisis, as we would like to.
I pay tribute to all the Members who have spoken today. I wish to share some reflections from my childhood. I grew up in Livingston, in West Lothian, and my mother had a friend who was Chilean. He had escaped the Pinochet regime in Chile on the underside of a lorry, with literally the clothes on his back, because his name had been added to a list of those targeted to disappear. My early experience as a child was of hearing those stories and experiences, but I would imagine that they are very different from the level of the experiences we have heard today of asylum seekers and refugees, who are having to fight for not only their lives, but their health.
As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, we are an interconnected and global village. She spoke of the history of refugees coming to the UK, what they have brought and how they have enriched our society. She spoke of the Rohingya refugees and the way that the Myanmar Government and military have treated them, and I absolutely echo the concerns that she raises in that regard.
I may not have agreed with the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) on everything that he spoke about, but he did say that we are all global citizens. The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) said that we know that covid does not respect borders, but urgent supplies are needed and the FCDO response is not enough. He also referenced the merging of DFID and the FCO, which is a major error. Many of us have raised concerns and would agree with that.
The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) spoke of the responsibility that local authorities feel and the resource that is needed. Again, I may not have agreed with everything he said, but he made a fair point.
We have heard about the £1 billion that the UK pledged to respond to covid-19. It includes support specifically targeted at forcibly displaced populations. Donating money to the situation is of course admirable, but as we have heard time and again, the UK is not taking its fair number and doing its bit in that regard. The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) summed that up when she said that the UK does not even come in the top 10 countries that accept refugees. She also spoke about the insidious and discriminatory immigration policies, Ascension Island and the concerns about the language being used by those in the UK Government around “activist lawyers”. We are in a very dangerous place as a family of nations in the UK when the Government of the day in the UK talk about those who uphold the rule of law and fight for people who are marginalised as “activist lawyers”, rather than as people who are trained and trying to do their best to hold the Government to account and make sure that the rule of law is adhered to. I would caution the Government and I ask the Minister to set the record straight on that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the vaccine and his concerns about that, which I share. I have a company in my constituency, Valneva, that has received UK Government funding, which I advocated for strongly. I was very pleased to hear that the UK Government were not going to put all their eggs in one basket. This is something that I discussed with the company when it was awarded that funding. It is making huge progress, but refugees are some of the most vulnerable, if not the most vulnerable, people in the world and we have to make sure that they are at the forefront of getting those vaccinations. Of course, everybody will need to get one and they will be prioritised appropriately, but it concerns me and the hon. Member that the people who are most hard to reach and most vulnerable will potentially be at the end of the queue.
I was shocked by what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) said. I had a line in my speech about the experience of refugees and of asylum seekers—that we in this country have a host of programmes where very privileged folk are put through their paces in survival skills, such as “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!” I mean no ill will to the programme or those endeavours, but there is something—I do not know what the words are—that does not sit well with me that we make those kinds of programmes when refugees are literally fighting for their lives to get across the world. It was Gandhi, was it not, who said that the measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members, but refugees and asylum seekers are not weak. Arguably, they are some of the most tenacious, resilient, stoic folk on the planet, and I think there is an irony in the fact that these TV programmes are made.
It would not be a surprise to Scots that our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the UK Government
“can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me.”
That was in reference to the Home Secretary admitting to exploring plans to incarcerate refugees on an island off the west coast of Scotland while they were being “processed”. The inhumane language used by this Government is an absolute international disgrace. I do not know about anybody else, but when this Government’s policies start looking and sounding like a dystopian TV series that I think many of us have watched, then we have huge problems.
In Scotland, we have pursued a programme called the guardianship scheme, which one of my MSP colleagues, Angela Constance, has spoken about passionately and had a debate on just last week. For the past 10 years, Scotland has proudly run the guardianship service in conjunction with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Aberlour Child Care Trust. In those 10 years, 700 children from 38 countries, speaking 40 different languages, have been supported to rebuild their lives in Scotland across 29 local authority areas the length and breadth of Scotland.
The hon. Member for Bradford West talked, as did others, about the contribution that refugees make. In closing, I want to highlight the scheme that we have developed in Scotland that means refugees can come to work in our NHS and are literally at the forefront. We must remember, as another Member said, that we are all human beings, and refugees and asylum seekers have faced some of the worst conditions, but many have skills and want to come here and contribute. That this Government stop them doing that is a shambles and shames us all. So I call on this UK Government to put fairness, decency and humanity at the heart of their immigration policy, because at present it stands as an international disgrace.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for her perseverance in securing this important debate and her continued commitment and passion to ensure the voices of the most vulnerable and marginalised in this country and around the world are heard. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed today: the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). They all made excellent speeches highlighting not just the plight of refugees, but their vital contribution not just here in the UK, but across the world.
What this debate and the numerous ones in recent weeks —whether on Rohingya, Syria or equitable access to covid-19-related tools—show is the depth of feeling and support for development from across this House. I am proud to be standing here and responding as the shadow Secretary of State for International Development. The importance of the International Development Committee in ensuring these topics continue to be highlighted cannot be overstated. Does the Minister agree with me and Members from across this House that a distinct Select Committee focused on the Government’s development work and use of UK official development assistance is vital to ensure that these important issues are raised and that constructive scrutiny, which actually all Governments should welcome and encourage, remains in place?
In the last decade, at least 100 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to insecurity either outside or within their country’s borders. They have fled conflict, famine, environmental disasters and persecution. Some 18 million people remained displaced in 2019, nearly double the number in 2010. That is more than 1% of the world’s population. Despite the scare stories that this Government and their allies have been known to tell, the overwhelming majority of those people forced to flee their homes and countries are hosted by poorer countries. I know Members also raised this, but almost three quarters of all refugees remain in a country neighbouring their own.
The reality of why people flee their homes is heartbreaking, and we should never allow the statistics to let us forget the stories behind each number. In 2018, I met a young boy in northern Uganda in a child-friendly space providing children with psychosocial, welfare and emotional wellbeing support. He had seen his father killed in front of him at only 12 years old, and had no knowledge of where his mother was. He took his four younger siblings and fled from South Sudan to safety in Uganda, making that journey on foot. People do not choose to flee their homes unless there is no alternative for them.
As the poet Warsan Shire put it in her moving poem, Home,
“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well”.
The story of the boy from South Sudan is just one of myriad devastating situations that force people to flee their home.
Over the coming decades, we are likely to see a huge increase in climate refugees. The UN has estimated that there will be 200 million people fleeing environmental disasters by 2050. Those disasters include the cyclones that we have all seen, but also droughts, floods, land degradation, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, which directly and indirectly impact lives and livelihoods. Despite that, over the past decade, the UK Government have directed billions of pounds of public money into fossil fuel projects around the world, through UK Export Finance and the aid budget, including CDC investments.
Some 90% of the £2 billion invested in energy deals after the UK-Africa investment summit last year went on fossil fuel projects, and the Minister’s Government are funding fossil fuel projects in Mozambique using more than $1 billion of public funds. COP26 has been delayed for a year; we are looking to build back better, and ensure a safer, fairer world after the pandemic, and there are still opportunities for the Government to act and show clear leadership before they host that meeting. Will the Minister today commit to ending support for fossil fuel projects overseas, both from the aid budget, including the CDC investments, and from UK Export Finance, as a matter of urgency?
It is not only climate change that impacts migration; so, too, does the destruction of the environment and biodiversity, which affects people’s lives and livelihoods. From the Amazon to Borneo, habitats are being destroyed by legal and illegal deforestation and degradation, forest fires, over-grazing and cultivation. As well as working with those countries, we need to consider the impact that we have here. That is why I ask the Minister to support the amendment on due diligence that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has tabled to the Environment Bill.
On food insecurity, more than 250 million people face extreme hunger—a situation that coronavirus has made even worse. Of those, about 30 million adults and children could be tipped into facing famine unless there is urgent additional support. No child should face growing up with famine or malnutrition, so can the Minister explain when his Government will make a pledge to the Nutrition for Growth summit?
Those are just a few of the drivers behind people fleeing their home. We have heard about a number of others today. When people flee, we have to make efforts to support them, especially in the interim before they can safely return home. That support includes immediate humanitarian assistance, and measures to ensure that they can live full, prosperous lives—measures on providing education, healthcare and job opportunities, so we are not faced with a lost generation of children in many refugee camps. Of course, in order to do this, we need access to those living in camps, and to those who are internally displaced.
During the global coronavirus crisis, the situation for people who have already lost so much has got even worse. Many live in camps where even basic amenities, such as soap, clean water and basic medical supplies, are often in short supply. Can the Minister explain what recent steps his Government have taken to support refugees’ access to basic sanitation? In Syria, we have seen failure after failure to open up borders, or even retain existing border access. Can the Minister explain the UK Government’s strategy for dealing with the veto by Russia and China at the Security Council on this issue?
The UK has a long, proud history of standing with refugees. We helped people fleeing Slobodan Milošević’s genocide in the 1990s, and we helped 10,000 children flee the Nazis on the Kindertransport before world war two, enabling them to build new lives in our country. Despite the Government retreating from that proud history, today communities right across Britain have shown, by helping refugees from countries such as Syria, that their commitment continues to run deep. I am lucky to have met a number of them who have started a new life in Birmingham, including one—her name is Nour—who came to Parliament last year to listen to a debate that I secured on English for speakers of other languages.
Refugees do not want to leave their homes. Their stories are tragic: leaving behind their homes and livelihoods and embarking on a journey of uncertainty. That is why the work that we do here, and with the multilateral institutions, is something of which we should all be immensely proud. It is something that should motivate us to support those who are seeking refuge and a safe place to call home. With the strategic direction and the size and shape of his Department still to be determined, will the Minister recommit his Government to supporting those who seek safety and sanctuary in another place or country, and can he tell the House what the overall overseas development assistance spend towards supporting refugee communities was in 2019 and the projected spend in 2020 and 2021?
Finally, as we have seen during the pandemic, when given the opportunity, refugees have made an enormous contribution in the effort to tackle the coronavirus crisis, including in our NHS in its hour of need. Will the Minister ensure that talk of the importance of helping refugees and displaced people to become productive equal partners in their communities is recognised and acted upon across the whole of Government?
It is good to be back at the Dispatch Box. We all worry about our own personal health and that of other families around us, so it is good to come together to discuss the health and fragility of people and refugees from around the world, most of whom, as the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) said, are outside this country, although the ones with whom we are more familiar as constituency MPs are within this country.
I thank the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing this debate. Her regular parliamentary questions come from her travel throughout the area and from her advocacy. I recommend to the House her article in “Politics Home” entitled “Poor conditions in refugee camps make them a ticking time bomb for Covid”. Although a small contribution by volume, it covers all of the major points.
Although, party politically, we always go backwards and forwards on these issues, I genuinely believe that we have more in common here than we disagree on. That is not to say that we should not debate the periphery rigorously, but the broad thrust of what we want to do is the same. I always like to distil things down into a few words, but the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) distilled this issue down into two words: people first. It is very easy to talk about internally displaced people, refugees, acronyms and numbers of 80 million, but this all boils down to one person, one family. As the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) said, we get up off the sofa to do ridiculous things by way of sport or endurance, but we are talking here about the lives of people who do not have any homes to go back to. Covid has made that situation a lot more complex.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have been deeply concerned about the impact specifically on refugees and forcibly displaced populations, and so it is hugely welcome to discuss this as an issue. The latest figure quoted is 80 million and that includes internally and externally displaced people and refugees—people who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. As many Members have said in different ways, one does not leave one’s home or flee across the border unless things are pretty dire. More people are internally displaced within their own countries. That is often less talked about. In fact, just to put a different number on it, one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds around the world, and that has happened for many, many years, rather than it being a temporary matter. In total, more than 1% of the world’s population at any given time is forcibly displaced, which is clearly shocking and serves as a stark reminder of the derailment of normal humanitarian hopes and aspirations, and that is further magnified by covid.
Mention was made of the promises of money. We have diverted £1.3 billion of aid to covid-specific issues, a proportion of which is specifically to assist those in the most vulnerable areas. We should be proud as a House and as a country to be spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid. The good news that GDP has come up a bit faster domestically will have an impact on what we are able to spend in the international community going forwards. That is good news not just for the UK economy, but for what we can do in terms of international development.
The impact of covid is massively amplified for vulnerable and marginalised groups such as refugees and other displaced people. There are currently 28,000 reported cases of covid across 100 countries that UN refugee agencies have as people of concern. That gives a broad number, and I hope to put a little bit of context around that as I continue.
Many find themselves living in close quarters without access to healthcare or shelter. They are in crowded camps in urban settings, where social distancing and basic handwashing are a challenge, as is isolation, and the idea of shielding is just for the birds; it is unrealistic. Even the aspiration we have in terms of density is three times greater than the density in Sao Paolo, which is one of the most populated towns in the world. Even if we get the density we aspire to in camps, it is still very close quarters.
Refugees also have the problem of not being able to access essential services, whether those are linguistic or legal, or to have basic information. We are all concerned about the secondary impacts of covid around the world, and those are just as important for refugees, and potentially more important relative to the impacts on the UK. There is less opportunity to learn, earn a living, save money and access basic assistance, and they are much more likely to face eviction and school closures. They are much more likely to be blamed for covid. There is rising xenophobia, to paraphrase the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and other risks. That can lead to all sorts of additional problems.
We know that around the world there will be greater gender inequality. Girls’ education in particular will be derailed. There is increased domestic violence and the risk of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. That again, sadly, is particularly the case for refugees. There will be marginalisation, social exclusion and stigma, which may mean that health services are not prioritised for those most in need.
The areas where people are refugees are predominantly to be found in neighbouring countries, which already have weaker health systems, weaker water systems and weaker sanitation systems. They are already very much under pressure, so our aid budget is aiming to assist on covid overall, but British expertise is also working to stop the spread of covid.
Members mentioned vaccines, which we are delivering through Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The Prime Minister was clear earlier this week that world leaders have a moral duty to ensure that vaccines, treatments and tests are truly available to all, and that will be the best defence to enable collective security and reduce the risk of outbreaks. It is in those people’s interests, but also in the national interest.
May I briefly press the Minister on the question of the paperwork that needs to be done for certain people trying to reunite with family members in the UK? Given the covid restrictions across various parts of the world, will his Department look at eliminating the need for travelling to those places in person and do those things online, as per the request of the British Red Cross?
We work very closely with the British Red Cross and fund a number of those pieces of work. The issue the hon. Member describes is not simple and is largely one for the Home Office team, but I will discuss it with them. Our ambassadors work closely with the Home Office in post. I recognise the difficulty. The reality is that very few people are travelling at all across the developing world, and that is probably right, because infection rates are higher in some of the countries where they would be going. We should reflect on that in terms of how we provide humanitarian support through local people and local mechanisms, rather than having people getting on planes and potentially spreading the virus.
Mention was made of providing ventilators. Often the most effective aid is very, very basic—providing water and soap, countering communications around covid and providing very basic PPE. We are not talking about full bodysuits, but a basic mask that people can use when they are getting out and about. That tends to be where we are focusing as an international community.
Theoretically yes, but in reality no, on the basis that most places also need oxygen; it is more complicated. I am conscious of the time, so with the permission of the House I will not take any more interventions and will rattle through some key points.
I was going to go through a number of examples on the African continent, which I deal with, but sadly I cannot. I will say, in response to the hon. Member for Strangford, that Uganda is one of the best countries at taking in refugees. I have seen how it provides land and building materials. Clearly something is happening short term there, but I give credit for that.
We also have a crisis within a crisis, because there is the normal crisis of food, famine and drought, particularly in South Sudan, Yemen, north-east Nigeria and Burkina Faso. I recently travelled to South Sudan, where, sadly, there were many stories like that of the boy whom the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) met. That trip is an example of our not keeping up our development expertise—business as usual—but doing better than business as usual. I was able to go to Jonglei, meet the governor, see people and the agencies and then go back and do the political role, which is where the solution is long term. The World Food Programme has been in Jonglei state since 1963 in various ways, year after year, so in 2020 we must look back and say, “If we are still feeding people, what are we doing wrong?” What we have been doing wrong is not supporting the politicians, giving that FCO help alongside the DFID help. That is a good example of where we are being joined up. I am sure I will be held to account at the Dispatch Box in other areas where we are doing less well.
Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh were mentioned several times. I will not repeat the million figures and the nuance of that, but as of 10 November there were 345 cases among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar set against 5,000 cases in the wider host community. Owing to limitations in testing and information, there are solid suggestions that covid is worse in refugee camps than elsewhere. We are concerned about that trajectory. Early on in the developing countries, covid cases were largely in the diplomatic and economic districts from people coming back off flights, but there is an increased contagion that we should be worried about. While the formal data does not support it, there is some anecdotal data about deaths over and above the averages.
On the broader point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) said, in defending the Government’s position, we are among the largest resettlers, specifically of unaccompanied children. The UK does more to support unaccompanied children than any EU member state. Last year we saw asylum claims from unaccompanied children accounting for about 20% of all claims made in the UK and EU. In the year to June, 5,800 vulnerable children came, and 44,000 children—both unaccompanied and accompanied—have come since 2010. As hon. Members consistently said, most refugees are in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced persons.
This has been an eclectic debate, from “The West Wing” to praying in aid Karl Marx and the Tesco brothers for different reasons. It shows the power of the House. Madam Deputy Speaker, you have been very good—as ever I would love to go on, but I have already overrun.
I am grateful to my hon. Friends and hon. Members across the House for their powerful speeches and to the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), and the Minister for their responses. Although the debate has exposed that we have much in common, we also have differences of emphasis. I hope that, if we can focus on one thing, we can build common cause in forging a much more positive narrative about how we speak of refugees and asylum seekers in our own country and elsewhere.
Too often in recent years, the rhetoric—particularly in our political narrative—has been so cruel and so intolerant that it has been deeply painful to observe. That vicious rhetoric, which sometimes, sadly, has been encouraged by certain political figures, has dehumanised refugees and asylum seekers. The othering of refugees and asylum seekers, from wherever it comes—whether it is in sections of the media or in our political discourse—has to stop. I hope that we can all work on that together, to try to build a more positive image and narrative of the contributions of refugees in our country and elsewhere.
During this pandemic, we have all been exposed to the fragility of life by seeing people in our own communities and among our families and friends get sick and some, sadly, die. I hope that we remember not only that refugees have to deal with the spectre of coronavirus, but that many have endured conflict and, as we heard, have seen family members killed and experienced rape and torture. In many conflicts, rape has been used as a weapon of war against women. We also heard about the mental trauma suffered by all refugees, but particularly refugee children and women.
As others have said, it is imperative that we work together to tackle some of these issues. We have all highlighted what can be done domestically on the “no recourse to public funds” issue, on protecting refugees in our country, on allowing them to work in order to make a living and make a contribution, and on protecting children and revisiting the Dubs proposals. We also need greater ambition in our Government to look at the global challenge—to look at leadership together—and to invest what will be in the trillions to help economies recover and to protect the millions of refugees around the world. As others have said, we also need a proper, fair way of distributing the vaccine, which is a great source of optimism for us all.
Finally, the Minister did not address a couple of points that I felt he should have addressed and on which I hope he will work with his colleagues. One was my request for the UK Government to join the Netherlands and Canada on the Gambia case in the International Court of Justice—the genocide prevention case—so that we can redouble our efforts to prevent further atrocities and the further prosecution of genocide by the Myanmar Government.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House is deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing refugees across the globe; has considered the secondary effects of the covid-19 pandemic on refugees and displaced persons in fragile or low-income states; and calls on the Government to provide urgent support to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries and communities as they deal with the covid-19 pandemic.