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Migration: Trafficking

Volume 762: debated on Monday 1 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they and their international partners have made in deterring the trafficking of migrants and creating safe havens in North Africa and the Middle East.

My Lords, since the extraordinary European Council in April, EU member states have agreed to establish a military CSDP operation to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks. That is a considerable achievement, but we also need to address the root causes of that migration, so we are taking forward initiatives in source and transit countries. The regional development and protection programme in the Middle East is one model that we may be able to develop further.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does not the news that HMS “Bulwark” rescued 741 migrants on Saturday, that more than 4,200 migrants, including young children, were rescued on Friday, that more dead bodies were added to the 1,800 corpses recovered this year, and that new people-smuggling routes are being opened to Greece, underline the scale of this human catastrophe? Against that backdrop, do the Government support the creation of safe havens? Do they support last week’s calls from the European Union for relocation and resettlement plans, and how do we justify the pitiful 187 places provided in the United Kingdom against Germany’s 30,000 places and Lebanon’s 1.2 million? Are we any nearer to ending the causes of this exodus from hellholes such as Libya and Syria, to which the noble Baroness referred a moment ago?

My Lords, there were several crucial questions there, and I know that we will have the opportunity to develop them further in short debates. There has to be no doubt that this is a human catastrophe, caused by those who are making billions out of illegal trafficking and smuggling individuals. It is important that the policies that we adopt deal, first, with the humanitarian approach, which is what HMS “Bulwark” is involved in—and, secondly, break that link between travelling on the boat to get here and the certainty of getting settled. If we can do that, we can break the smugglers’ grip on these people, for whose lives they care nothing. That is the link that we must break. So it is important to provide some humanitarian way in which to give hope to those who are travelling that they can go back, or have safety where they are in north Africa, but let them understand that there will not be settlement here. As I said on Thursday, if we offer settlement to 1,000 people, what do you say to the 1,001st person? Do you say, “No, our door is closed.”?

My Lords, these traffickers and their wicked agents operate with almost complete immunity within sub-Saharan Africa. The EU and AU have a strategic partnership. What steps are being taken within the security, intelligence and law enforcement pillar of that partnership to tackle this problem at source and gain the co-operation of African Governments in a law enforcement measure to protect the people of Africa from this wicked trade? Yes, the terrible scenes that we see on the front pages of our newspapers and in our media are a reproach; they are a reproach to Europe but they are a reproach to African Governments, too.

I agree entirely with the facts and sentiments of the noble Lord. He refers to the Khartoum process, the EU-African Union process, which seeks to provide stability and disrupt these appalling traffickers and smugglers and their networks. We certainly give all our support to that, both in front of and behind the scenes. With regard to the work that we are doing beyond HMS “Bulwark”, joint intelligence activity seeks to find out from those making these hazardous journeys more information that can help us to provide a focused answer to how we disrupt those networks. But disrupting the networks can happen only after we have got agreement with Libya and the United Nations Security Council resolution. It is a priority that we do that.

My Lords, what will become of the refugees and migrants who are trapped in Libya? Since neighbouring countries have closed their borders and current plans are to sink the boats that are smuggling people from Libya, are these refugees and migrants simply consigned to certain abuse and death? Can we do nothing at all to help them?

My Lords, it is clear that we must focus our work on being able to provide some form of humanitarian effort. As I said in my original Answer, we are seeing whether we can use the example of the systems that we have in place in Syria to be able to provide that kind of haven—not a haven from which people then move across the Mediterranean, on that hazardous journey, with an uncertain future, but one where perhaps they can have some education and training towards employment, so that they can have a future, which is what all of us deserve.

Order! I think that we are still getting used to taking turns now that we are in a new Parliament and we are sitting in different places. May I suggest that my noble friend Lord Marlesford has an opportunity to ask a question on this occasion?

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is more efficient and practical to assess the claims of would-be migrants, whether on the grounds of asylum, refugee status, economic migration or merely, understandably, that of wanting a better life, before they arrive in Europe? Assessing claims and then removing those who have no valid claim is almost impossible once they have arrived in Europe, which therefore means that those who have the greatest claim do not get permission to stay. Would it not therefore be better that those who are rightly rescued from peril on the sea are returned to the mainland from which they came?

My Lords, it is a matter of fact that asylum claims may only be processed and granted once people have reached the United Kingdom. That is how our legislation lies. There is a danger that if one has processing areas—I hate the word “processing”, but noble Lords know what I mean —for asylum across the north African shore, say, those areas would act as a magnet in persuading people to go there. The most important thing is to disrupt the smuggling and trafficking networks to get at this business model which has no moral authority.