Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank my noble friends on the Cross Benches for choosing this Motion for debate, along with all noble Lords who will speak today, and the staff of the House of Lords Library for their excellent briefing note.
In returning to a crisis which we briefly addressed in Grand Committee on 18 June, there are three things which I want to address: first, the scale of the challenge; secondly the circumstances which prevail in the countries from which migrants originate; and thirdly, our response.
In 1938, after Kristallnacht, and the attempts of many Jews to flee Nazism, the remarkable Independent Member of Parliament, Eleanor Rathbone, known as the refugees’ MP, and noted for her hostility to appeasement, established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940, in a six-hour debate, she intervened no fewer than 20 times to insist that Britain had a duty of care for the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution, and in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/40; col. 1212.]
We might bear in mind those words as we reflect on the debate that she initiated. She said that those debates,
“always begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
We may no longer be dealing with Jewish refugees, but there are many parallels. Perhaps her hard-headed humanitarianism should form the backdrop to our debate, which is taking place in the context of the largest movement of peoples since World War II.
I turn to the scale of the challenge facing us. At the conclusion of 2014, the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, reported that, worldwide, 54.9 million people were refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced persons, with a further 59.5 million forcibly displaced. The UNHCR says that Africa has 4.6 million refugees and 10 million internally displaced people under its mandate. Darfur alone, where I visited refugee camps, has seen the loss of 300,000 lives, more than 2 million displaced, with 400,000 more IDPs added last year alone.
In Asia, there are 9 million refugees and 15 million internally displaced people. Afghanistan generates the second largest number of refugees worldwide, while Burma is awash with refugees, including thousands of Rohingyas, cast adrift in rickety boats in the Andaman Sea. These new boat people bring to mind the Vietnamese boat people, whose camps I visited as a young MP. I also served as president of Karenaid. Last week the noble Earl confirmed that there are 110,094 Karen refugees in camps, which I visited on the Burmese border. Some have been there for decades. Will the noble Earl say whether we are talking to ASEAN about developing a strategy for that region’s refugees and what practical help we are giving to search, rescue and resettlement?
Of course, much closer to home, destitution and desperation have arrived on our own European doorstep, with half a million more people reported to be in Libya waiting to join the exodus. Some 46% of those making these perilous crossings originate from Eritrea or Syria, where we continue to witness the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time. Human beings are being turned into flotsam and jetsam, with some 3,500 people fished from the sea, dead, with 1,800 corpses reclaimed this year alone. And who can forget the harrowing images of the hundreds who died in April when their fishing boat capsized, or the rescue from “Ezadeen”, a livestock freighter, when 360 Syrian refugees—including 70 children—were seized from the clutches of racketeers?
This year 137,000 migrants, including 6,413 children, 4,063 of whom were unaccompanied, have so far reached southern Europe. Will the noble Earl say—when children, inevitably the most vulnerable, are involved—how we meet our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Is he aware of the call made only yesterday by Save the Children that, as a matter of urgency, the United Kingdom should take 1,500 children immediately, a request that I certainly agree with? Some of those children have been brought to safety by the gallant crew of HMS “Bulwark”; we all pay tribute to their rescuing thousands of migrants. However, its replacement, HMS “Enterprise”, has a much smaller capacity. The Government need to tell us how they expect “Enterprise” to balance rescue operations and the apprehension of smugglers, and to clarify the legal status of those who are rescued by a Royal Navy ship, as asked for on 18 June by my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.
Those fleeing have to raise staggering sums of money, often indebting themselves to the smugglers, leading to exploitation and slave labour. Italian sources say that smuggling is generating revenue for organised crime and terrorist organisations such as ISIS. Will the noble Earl tell us how many of these profiteers have been arrested or prosecuted? Italy has spent some €800 million on rescue operations and in camps such as Lampedusa. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister, rightly describes the EU’s collective response as “largely insufficient”. Italy and Greece are inundated with refugees, and now a land route has opened between Turkey, Macedonia and Serbia, with an estimated 60,000 people illegally entering Hungary in 2015. As recently as Tuesday, 19 died when a smuggler’s boat heading for Greece capsized.
Last week, Hungary indefinitely suspended EU asylum rules and is considering erecting high fences along its borders, in a Europe which once rejoiced in the smashing down of walls. But is that so very different from the high-security fences being erected in Calais, where, in the course of just four hours, 350 stowaways were evicted from British-bound lorries in scenes reminiscent of bedlam? Fifteen people living in makeshift camps in Calais have died in the last 12 months. This week, we heard of a further death of someone on a cross-channel freight train. FRONTEX, the European border agency, says that it is completely overwhelmed, and with Italy also threatening to disregard the Schengen rules it is clear that no one country can deal with this crisis and that it requires careful reflection about free movement. It is a global crisis in need of global solutions.
Those numbing statistics tell only a part of the story. What surely matters most is why people are risking their lives and what our response should be. It is abundantly clear that populations will continue to haemorrhage unless we tackle the reasons for these vast displacements at source. Four of the countries generating the most migrants and refugees are Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. I shall use them to illustrate my point as I argue that the House should carefully consider the connection between our foreign affairs, defence and development policies, and their interplay with mass migration, a crisis that is compounded by climate change. I know that that is something that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who is in his place, is particularly interested in, but if climate change is happening this situation is only going to get worse.
Despotic governments and terrorist organisations have been the major immediate catalysts for conflict and mass migration, but aerial bombardment without a presence on the ground, a post-conflict development strategy, or a new attempt at creating peace will simply generate more refugees. Last week I met a leading figure from a humanitarian group working in Syria and Lebanon. He described the 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon as,
“a demographic bombshell, threatening the stability of that country”.
In the 1980s I visited Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps at Shatila and Sabra; leave people to fester in a refugee camp such as those and you create cannon fodder for terrorists and militias. I wonder whether the new refugees will suffer a similar fate of being in camps 30 years later. In the short term, what we are doing to ensure that bolder steps are taken under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2165 and 2191 to deliver aid securely to Syria for longer periods of time, reaching more civilians in need, might help to stem that flow of refugees. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us what we are doing about that. Ministers have rightly argued that those responsible for Syria’s atrocities should be tried in the International Criminal Court, but have we taken that proposal back to the Security Council, which initially rejected it because of the vetoes of China and Russia?
Today is the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, but there is little to celebrate. At a briefing this morning that my noble friend Lord Sandwich and I attended we were told that conflict there has generated more than 2 million displaced people and half a million refugees, while in the north, 12 July marks five years since Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir had genocide added to the list of crimes he is accused of having committed—the 300,000 deaths in Darfur and 2 million refugees I referred to earlier. Yet, last month, al-Bashir travelled freely to an African Union summit in South Africa. Failure to arrest him was a blow to every refugee forced to flee their home, and to the rule of law. It undermines the authority of the United Nations. What does this culture of impunity say to other despots who we now want to bring before the ICC?
Even while al-Bashir was safely travelling home, the United Nations published the findings of its commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea—my third example of the need to tackle the sources of migration.
The United Nations found that,
“systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the Government”.
The report also says: that it is wrong to describe the drivers fuelling mass migration as purely economic, and:
“Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection”.
Every month around 5,000 people leave Eritrea—more than 350,000 so far—around 10% of the entire population. The UN says that, during their journeys:
“Thousands of Eritreans are killed at sea while attempting to reach European shores. The practice of kidnapping migrating individuals, who are released on ransom after enduring horrible torture or killed, targets Eritreans in particular”.
Noble Lords will have seen reports that some Christian Eritreans who reached Libya have been beheaded by ISIS, which it then publicised, with all its barbarity, on YouTube.
Those Eritrean refugees who have been forced to return have then been arrested, detained and subjected to ill treatment and torture. So refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and Syria, comprising more than half the Mediterranean migrants, represent what we need to do—tackle the problem at source. Then we would turn the tables on mass migration, ending the tsunami of people. However, not all people fleeing their countries are refugees; some are economic migrants. We will not properly address this crisis without some bigger-picture policies aimed at them, which must include the aim of helping Africa become peaceful and prosperous, and therefore more attractive as a permanent home. This is where our development policies interplay with mass migration.
The bigger picture includes a Europe, US and Japan which make it harder for Africa to prosper by propping up murderous, corrupt dictators with our misguided aid and arms sales; dumping our subsidised agricultural surplus on their markets; and laundering money stolen by their elites. We also need to balance the work we have done in using development programmes to train women, which were admirable, when boys and men also need economically useful skills and a sense of purpose, too. They make up the lion’s share of mass migration. In countries where economics drives migration, there should be public information campaigns, highlighting the fate of too many of those who have been lured into embarking on their perilous journeys.
That takes me to my final point: our response. A thoughtful, generous, humane, international strategic response is the only way to address this phenomenal global challenge. The children’s parlour game of pass the parcel had its origins in 1888, when a lighted candle was passed along a row of people. The first recipient says, “Jack’s alive and likely to live. If he dies in your hand, you’ve a forfeit to give”. As nations now argue about who will have to pay the forfeit, and as we hold lives in our hands, we must combat xenophobia and assert humanity’s shared responsibility. Here we should be looking at ideas like that of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and one which I and colleagues flagged up in a letter to the Daily Telegraph on creating safe havens where people can be properly assessed. We must look at “taking our fair share”, as Sir Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative, put it. Sweden has taken 40,000 vulnerable people and Germany has taken 30,000. Although I am not arguing that this country can take everybody or solve all the problems of the world, we must certainly play our part.
As the son of an immigrant whose first language was Irish and who married a demobbed Desert Rat whose brother gave his life in a war against Nazism, I have always loathed racism and xenophobia. In cities like the one I represented in the House of Commons, Liverpool, which calls itself the whole world in one city, I am deeply aware of the extraordinary and rich contribution which many who have arrived here have made to British society. However, I am also clear that the scale of what we currently face has the capacity to undermine community cohesion and destroy good relationships between people of different racial and religious origins. This also means that there are significant security implications in failing to tackle this challenge effectively and humanely.
I began by quoting from Eleanor Rathbone’s speech made in 1940. She concluded that it was,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”,
to tackle these problems head-on. I beg to move.
My Lords, this debate is very much an extension of the excellent one which we had in the Moses Room on 18 June. I concluded my remarks on that occasion by saying that the matter is so important we must have an urgent debate,
“on the Floor of the House at a very early date”.—[Official Report, 18/6/15; col. GC 48.]
I therefore wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and congratulate him on achieving this debate and on his excellent and very comprehensive speech.
This country has had a good record on refugees. I pointed out in the earlier debate that I am now the sole survivor of a Cabinet committee which recommended to the Heath Government back in the 1970s that we should admit the Kenyan Asians who were refugees from Mr Amin. However, the way in which we have reacted to refugee crises has not always been the same. As I also pointed out, we behaved very badly towards refugees when World War II broke out by confiscating all their assets.
Having said that, the issues we are discussing are set out very clearly in the article which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote in the Times of 13 May, in which she put forward a number of proposals which I think we all very much support. However, they all require action. What concerns me is that remarkably little seems to have been done either on our part or in Europe, which is distracted perhaps by the Greek affair, or in the United Nations. It is very important that we should do something positive rather than simply debate the issues. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s reply on that point.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s main theme is that we must do nothing which would encourage more refugees to take the risk involved in crossing the Mediterranean, or which would make the task of the people traffickers easier. In that context, I am somewhat concerned. Of course, it is marvellous, and no one supports more strongly than me the idea that we should maintain the basic principles of rescue at sea. However, I am concerned that we probably need to divide the issue of rescue at sea from that of entry to the European Union.
I tabled a Written Question to the Government regarding the position of British naval vessels, and where they disembark the migrants who are taken on board. I think that the same would apply to the Belgian ship which I saw the other day with a huge number of refugees. I got the following reply:
“Under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the government responsible for the Search and Rescue Region in which assistance to those in distress at sea has occurred has the primary responsibility for ensuring that survivors are disembarked at the most convenient place of safety, with minimum deviation for the rescuing vessel.
The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC) manages all rescues in the Central Mediterranean area of operations. At present, those rescued in the Central Mediterranean are brought to shore in Italy, in ports determined by the IMRCC”.
However, it is clear that that is not consistent with the position the Home Secretary takes, which is that we should do nothing to encourage people to take the risks or help the traffickers. Clearly, people are more likely to take the risks if they think that the ship is not likely to make it all the way to Italy and they will be rescued on the way. Of course, they have to be rescued, but the issue then is where they are disembarked. If it is known that they will then be disembarked at a convenient port in Italy, that achieves their objective and makes it easier for traffickers to sell the proposal to them that they will make it safely. So I think there is a problem here, but this also links up with the whole issue of return.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary also made other proposals—for example, that the European Union should work to establish safe landing sites in Africa. I note an interesting speech by Mr Vaz in the other place recently, in which he suggested alternative sites for such a thing. But I ask my noble friend: is anything at all really being done to establish such a landing area? What is the policy on returning people who turn out not to be refugees but economic migrants? The Government’s policy seems clear but it is not clear that it is being implemented, and it is therefore very important that we establish exactly what the position is.
Similarly, as far as the United Nations is concerned, I am not at all clear. There was originally a proposal that action should be taken to confiscate or destroy the boats of people traffickers, but that would apparently require a UN resolution. Has anything at all been done as far as that matter is concerned? It is very important to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. The two are closely related, but the position of refugees is being jeopardised by all the problems created by economic migrants and their movement through Europe— without barriers between individual states—and the piling up of refugees at Calais. These are areas where we need to know what is being done by our own Government, the European Union and the UN. I hope my noble friend will give us a clear indication of that.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the excellent introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I also congratulate him on his tireless and determined work supporting all those who seek justice, human rights and freedom. It has been my privilege to work with him on a number of challenging issues.
How can we live with the endless stories of the misery and suffering of people who feel that they have no choice but to risk life and limb in order to leave their countries? How can we urgently and effectively address the growing migration crises, when EU member states have absolutely no solution and have failed to agree on migrant resettlement? Every day we hear stories of so many people who risk everything, travelling huge distances in appalling conditions and taking mortal risks on land and, indeed, on sea. We are seeing terrible human suffering at Europe’s borders as thousands of people struggle to reach safety, with little or no assistance. I regret that the European Union, including the UK, continues to renege on its humanitarian duties to put in place adequate and humane policies and practices. Hundreds of thousands of people faced with seemingly hopeless situations, which they feel powerless to change, are now fleeing their countries and seeking refuge and, indeed, a better life.
Human Rights Watch has said that,
“research shows that most of those making the crossing are taking terrible risks because they have to, not because they want to”.
For instance, the Syrians who are seeking to travel to Europe are not after UK welfare benefits, as some would suggest. They are seeking to leave a county experiencing a vicious civil war, in which their children’s schools are attacked by barrel bombs and they live every day in fear of chemical weapons. Does the Minister agree that it would be best if the Home Secretary stopped referring to the “pull factor”, which suggests that these people who head for Europe are taking unimaginable risks because they are making a lifestyle choice? Surely it is more accurate to refer to “push factors”—60% of the people seeking refuge originate from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan. They flee their homes because they have to and because they fear extreme violence, egregious human rights abuses, desperate humanitarian conditions and, of course, the absence of hope.
Our call today has to be for the UK to improve its active response to these tragedies. The Government have sadly already downgraded their contribution to the search-and-rescue mission and now seem to be focused on smuggling networks rather than saving lives. Does the Minister agree that the call for the creation of safe and legal routes should be at the forefront of the UK and EU response to the crises in the Mediterranean? Surely the people who in desperation make perilous journeys across land and sea deserve that. They are taking life-threatening risks because they have to, not because they want to.
Among those compelled to take such risks are the impoverished and persecuted Rohingya, in Rakhine State in Burma, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. They are oppressed by draconian travel restrictions and the denial of education, land rights and healthcare and are widely described as the most persecuted people on earth. More than 140,000 Rohingya have been confined to squalid camps. They are the world’s largest group of stateless people and are effectively banned from citizenship because the Burmese Government have scrapped the Rohingya white identity cards, and the voting rights that go with them, in Rakhine State, where they live in a state of virtual apartheid and dire poverty. Will the UK support the view that the UN Secretary-General should now take the lead in negotiating humanitarian access to Rakhine State?
There are also the gross violations of human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has mentioned, which are the background to the mass exodus of desperate Eritreans, who are fleeing a totalitarian state. Some 5,000 Eritreans embark each month on their journey to escape what the UN has described as “gross human rights violations”. The truth is that the cruelty and oppression of President Isaias Afewerki and his regime is such that all rights and freedoms are being denied to those people. What is the Minister’s assessment of the claims made that, in spite of the deteriorating situation described by the UN rapporteur, the EU is now minded to engage with Eritrea on the basis that, such has been progress, engagement is now appropriate?
Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said:
“European countries must shoulder their fair share in responding to the refugee crisis, at home and abroad”,
“To deny that responsibility is to threaten the very building blocks of the humanitarian system Europe worked so hard to build”.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on initiating this debate and allowing the House to confront the deep tragedy facing the world. We cannot in this country deal with the 54 million migrants whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has spoken about. But we should be coming to terms with the European Union in dealing with those migrants from north Africa who are flooding into Europe. We ought to recognise that other countries in Europe are doing far more than we are to face this tragedy. Since the resolution of the European Union in April, following the death of 800 people, we have given some support to the saving of lives. We have initiated the work of the Navy—HMS “Bulwark” and, later, HMS “Enterprise”. It seems that we need to maintain this at the level which we started at, as the risks are very serious. A UN study indicates that this year 137,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and that migrant deaths amount to almost 2,000. That is a human tragedy of gigantic proportions for which we must take responsibility.
In particular, we must recognise that we need to help the Italians and the Greeks, who are making considerable financial and social efforts to deal with the problem. The Italians have indicated that the majority of the people arriving in Italy by sea are from Syria—42,323 out of 170,000. The second-largest group comes from Eritrea, at 34,329. The UN inquiry into Eritrea demonstrates that, contrary to the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the country’s citizens are suffering greatly from crimes against humanity. There are extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour. Recently the UK Government have indicated that the Eritreans are reducing national service to 18 months but, according to the UN inquiry, there is no evidence of that at all. Forced labour is not something that we should reconcile ourselves to.
We must also recognise that the neighbouring countries of Syria have been burdened almost beyond belief by the high numbers of refugees. One in four people now in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria—25% of the population. Some 2 million people in Turkey are refugees. We have offered 187 places to the Syrians. That is ludicrous and we really must do something about it. On 13 May, the EU Commission issued an interesting and constructive report which advocates an emergency relocation and resettlement system. Unfortunately, we have not responded positively to the decision reached by the EU Council on my birthday, 26 June, that EU leaders should agree to the relocation from Italy and Greece of 40,000 people in need of international protection. We have opted out of this. If we want to take a leadership role in global society, we should work with our partners in Europe to tackle these problems.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on initiating this timely debate and on his characteristically comprehensive and compelling opening speech. It is with a heavy heart that I report the findings from my recent visits to Burma and Sudan, where I met many hundreds of refugees and forcibly displaced people. I focus on these areas as they are largely inaccessible to international aid organisations and are off the radar screen of the international media.
In Sudan, the Government continue with their aerial bombardment of civilians and ground offensives in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, the latter states known as the Two Areas. For example, in May, the South Kordofan Blue Nile Coordination Unit reported that an estimated 180 bombs, including four cluster bombs, and about 300 shells were dropped on civilian locations in the Two Areas, killing and injuring civilians, destroying livestock, and deliberately targeting crops, markets, hospitals and schools. In Sudan, there are an estimated 3.1 million internally displaced persons: 2.5 million in Darfur and more than half a million in the Two Areas. Some 3.7 million people in Sudan face crisis and stressed levels of acute food insecurity, and that number is likely to reach 4.2 million during the July to September so-called peak lean season.
In Burma, I was pleased to report positive developments following a visit to Chin state in February, but a subsequent visit has sadly revealed that military offensives by the Burmese army continue to cause mass displacement and great suffering in Shan and Kachin states, despite ceasefire agreements and peace negotiations. More than half a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 600,000 have been internally displaced. Furthermore, the Government are encouraging unscrupulous mega-developments, including dam-building and mining, creating displacement of local populations without adequate consultation and sometimes with no compensation, causing further large-scale displacement. For example, according to International Rivers, in one project alone, 60,000 people have been forcibly relocated by the Ta Sang-Mongtong dam on the Salween river.
Conditions in the camps for displaced people are dire and worsening. Flooding has recently caused food shortages and the destruction of shelters in the camps for the Rohingya, many of whom, as we know, have risked and lost their lives as they flee from violent attacks on their communities and unbearable conditions in the camps, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. On the Thai-Burma border, in camps for the Shan and Kachin IDPs, problems abound with health risks such as the rise of dengue fever and severe food shortages. For example, the daily allowance for IDPs in Kachin state has been cut to the equivalent of less than 20 US cents a day. It is not possible to live on that, and the Kachin Peace Network claims that only 17% of the basic needs of IDPs are currently being met. We have visited these camps and seen the conditions.
In this context, the decision of the UK Government and DfID to refrain from providing any cross-border aid to civilians trapped behind closed borders in Sudan and to reduce cross-border aid to community-based organisations working across the border in Burma, other than the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, is immensely disturbing. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 50% of IDPs in Burma are in non-government controlled areas and are therefore not receiving any aid from the Burmese Government, aid channels or international NGOs. It has always been the policy of my own small NGO, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—to work with local, community-based organisations which can reach people who are trapped in these situations and which do not withdraw in times of danger and insecurity. We visit them regularly and have seen again and again how these organisations are highly effective at delivering aid to their people in greatest need. We receive comprehensive reports and are continually impressed by their accountability. These CBOs provide food, medical and educational supplies, and they are trusted by the local people. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty’s Government and DfID will reconsider their position on working with such community-based organisations.
In conclusion, perhaps I may highlight three priorities that are essentially similar for both countries and ask the Minister how Her Majesty’s Government are responding or will respond to these challenges. The first is the urgent need to end the impunity with which the army and the Government in both Burma and Sudan continue to perpetrate military offensives and human rights abuses against their own civilians: in Sudan in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan; and in Burma against the Rohingya, Shan and Kachin peoples.
The second priority is the need for the international community to promote political solutions which will bring genuine peace and justice for all civilians. While Her Majesty’s Government are supporting the political process with regard to forthcoming elections in Burma, many ethnic national peoples fear that this will not bring justice for them. In Sudan, too, it is immensely hard for the people suffering there to see any effects of Her Majesty’s Government’s interventions to bring the Sudanese Government to account for their continuing genocidal policies in Darfur and the Two Areas.
The third priority is the need for immediate, urgent short-term interventions to relieve the suffering of these displaced civilians, especially those trapped in areas where their Governments do not allow access to humanitarian aid. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to offer reassurance as to how the United Kingdom will contribute to the international community’s duty to protect these civilians, and provide life-saving humanitarian aid to the refugees and displaced people currently dying at the hands of their own Governments in Sudan and Burma.
My Lords, the House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his continual fight on behalf of refugees. It is a particular privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I believe that there is no more courageous Member of your Lordships’ House.
Migration is a global challenge rather than an EU problem; that must mean that it is dealt with on a global basis. The forces for migration can never be removed until we live in a very different world. Conflict, chaos and persecution are the prime causes of the present migration crisis. We must continue to work on these causes, but underlying them all is the natural desire to migrate for economic benefits. That will not change. Most of the migration from sub-Saharan Africa is economic—especially, of course, from Nigeria, the largest of those countries.
The present crisis of the Mediterranean boat people is largely reinforced by economic migrants. It is simply impossible to process people once they have arrived in Europe in a disorganised way, having either travelled illegally or been rescued because they were at peril on the sea. Once they are in Europe it is hard to sort them out, and still more difficult—and in practice often impossible—to remove them because there is nowhere that they can be sent. There are also serious security implications. With the chaos of the present system, it is hard to believe that Islamist jihadists in dangerous numbers have not been entering Europe through the Med route. Still less will the EU Commission proposals for allocating quotas, totalling 20,000, to each EU country deal with the scale of the challenge facing Italy, Greece and Malta. In the case of the UK, we have, of course, an opt-out from such a quota system.
The criticism that we in the UK have taken only a few hundred refugees from Syria misses the point. We have provided £900 million to help more than 4 million Syrian refugees in third countries. If the whole of that sum were diverted to taking refugees into Britain, it would cover perhaps only 90,000 refugees—on the basis that the cost to the public purse for the care of each refugee in the first year is a minimum of £10,000.
The only solution to the immediate crisis is urgently to set up holding areas outside Europe to which people can be returned for safety, sustenance, care and assessment. However, the last thing we want to do is create more overcrowded refugee camps. That is why I suggest that, through the UN, we seek to create holding areas which could in due course become new countries where there might be hope and, eventually, prosperity and even some form of democracy. I have proposed an initial holding area, probably in north Africa and perhaps somewhere on the coast of Libya. The fact that Libya is in chaos may be a reason for selecting it. The holding area would be established under a UN mandate legitimised by the Security Council. It would have to be negotiated with the Government of Libya, who would need economic and financial inducements to agree it. I envisage it becoming eventually a new world state, which I have suggested could be named Refugia. It would require a military presence to establish, protect and guard it. This, I hope, could be provided by NATO, the only world force of sufficient capability and moral integrity. Again, that would be under the authority of a Security Council resolution.
One great natural resource that such an area would have is sunshine. I have in mind the use of solar power not just for the energy that the community would need but for desalination, so as to make the desert bloom and produce food—as Libya did a couple of thousand years ago when it was a granary for the ancient world. Indeed, it included the most important of all the Greek colonies in Cyrene and Apollonia. The Israelis and the Australians are among those who have the technological expertise and experience to make this happen.
It is axiomatic that the necessary human resources in the form of health and education would be provided from the start. World experience as to how best to do this would be mustered by the UN agencies. In April 2013, I visited a UN school for young Arab boys aged eight to 12 in Bethlehem in the West Bank. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to see their bright eyes sparkling with hope.
An example on a smaller scale, which I have also visited, were the comprehensive facilities provided in Hong Kong for the Vietnamese boat people. More than 200,000 refugees from Vietnam came to Hong Kong in the 25 years from 1975. Two-thirds were resettled round the world and a third were eventually repatriated to Vietnam. Let us remember that Hong Kong was itself established in 1841 under the auspices of the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, in an area which he described as,
“a barren island with hardly a house upon it”.
In authority and power, in some ways Lord Palmerston represented the United Nations of his time.
The cost of Refugia would be a world responsibility and a prime task of the UN mandate. The EU, including the UK, should be expected to make a substantial financial contribution, not least because Refugia would be a location to which illegal immigrants arriving in Europe could be taken. What I have suggested would not be easy. It is an aspiration, but from aspirations can come hope, and from hope happiness.
My Lords, in his excellent speech the noble Lord, Lord Alton, drew attention to the fact that we face the biggest migration crisis in the world since World War II. He gave us the UNHCR figures about the 60 million people who have been forcibly removed from their homes, which is almost the same as the population of this country. Another figure that brings it home even more is that over 40,000 people a day in this world are being removed forcibly from their homes.
However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that this country’s record in receiving and welcoming refugees has been a good one. Since 2008, I think that we have received more refugees in this country than every other European country except for Sweden. That is good and I welcome the fact that, if we look back to the time when we welcomed the east African Asians here, they have made an immense contribution to this nation.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I want to look a little more at longer-term issues, although I do not quite go along with some of the views that he expressed about creating a new nation. But unless we look at and tackle the roots of the problem, we cannot really deal with the question of migration in a proper way. If ever anything brings home to us the fact that this country cannot be an island unto itself, it is this kind of issue. We are wholly interdependent and this very much demonstrates the British interest in being active in the world in dealing with and helping with conflict resolution.
The immediate challenge, for us and Europe of course, brings home the fact that if there was not a European Union, there would have to be a collaboration of European states to devise a policy for approaching this problem. To my mind, the heart of the problem is that 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where dictatorships have created failed states, fragmentation of states, vacuums which are filled by warlords and extremists, sectarian divisions of one kind or another, poverty and despair. It is no wonder that this creates conditions for terrorism, extremism and, of course, migration, which is what we are considering today. We only have to look, as we have seen in the debate so far, to Syria and Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Sudan and South Sudan, Afghanistan, Burma and, as has been mentioned by so many, Libya. I remember, as a former governor of Gibraltar, witnessing the number of Africans who swam across the Straits of Gibraltar from north Africa to Spain and, when some of them drowned, imagining whether I myself would have taken that kind of risk had I lived in the conditions that they lived in.
To my mind, it is the overall strategy that matters in the long term when it comes to tackling this problem. We have to work in a multipolar world and hence internationally and through multilateral bodies such as the European Union and NATO. We have to engage with China, which has 3,200 peacekeepers operating now. We have to engage with Russia. We have to engage much more strongly with the Commonwealth, whose heads of government will be meeting in Malta in November. I hope that they will put migration and conflict resolution at a very high level on their list of priorities.
At the same time, this has to be buttressed by a regional approach to these problems. We cannot find solutions unless there is a regional approach. We have that in Syria and in South Sudan, and we have to build on it. We did it with Indian Ocean piracy, to considerable success. We dealt with Sierra Leone in the early part of the century on that basis, with considerable success.
We also have to remember that most of the refugees remain in their own region. Those from Syria live in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan; 95% of Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. It is the help that we give there that matters more than anything else. I praise the efforts of DfID in giving the support it does and the new focus its aid has on job and growth creation.
I end with two main points for the Minister to comment on. First, it seems to me that we have to have a strategy for stabilising the situation in north Africa in co-operation with north African leaders, especially in Libya. Secondly, we have to pursue very vigorously the idea of establishing multipurpose centres for migrants in transit, as near to the source of the problem as we can conceivably get it. In north Africa, we hear that there are somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million migrants living in Libya, which has not been stabilised since Gaddafi was overthrown. We all know there is rivalry between the internationally recognised Government in Tobruk and the rival Government in Tripoli and that there are rival militias in the northern part of Libya which are destabilising the situation with the help of Daesh. Obviously, it is absolutely essential that we give strong backing to the UN negotiating efforts to get a Government of national unity. It is a British and a European interest to see that and to do our utmost to prevent the situation spilling over from Libya into Tunisia, where we saw the absolute tragedy of the death of 30 British people. Do we and the European Union have a strategy to work with north African leaders for stability, particularly in Libya and in north Africa as a whole?
Lastly, I come to the point about multipurpose centres for migrants. I noticed that A European Agenda on Migration, produced in May, included a proposal for working in partnership with third countries to tackle migration upstream. There were two specific proposals: first, to support countries bearing the brunt of displaced refugees through regional development and protection programmes, starting in north Africa and in the Horn of Africa and building on what we have done in the Middle East; and, secondly, to introduce a pilot multipurpose centre, to be set up in Niger—not Libya—which will provide information, local protection, resettlement opportunities and advice to migrants. I understand there will be a summit conference between the EU and the African Union in Malta to discuss all this. I would be very grateful if the Minister could say what the Government’s policy is on each of these points.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who not only has given us an opportunity to debate the issue but has done excellent work over many years on this problem. My comments follow from what the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Luce, said. I believe that this is not just an African problem but, as the subject of the debate suggests, a problem in Asia as well. It is a global problem and it is not going to go away. It is a global problem because of climate change, state collapse, dictatorships, resource scarcity—whatever. There are a lot of these people, and I do not think it makes any difference whether we call them refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. We should not engage in cheese-paring about what they are and who we will accept. This problem not only is not going to go away but will be with us over the next decade or so. It is a consequence of globalisation. We all accept that capital can move anywhere it likes—why do we not want labour to move anywhere it likes? What is this?
One or two things need to be said. Europe as a whole has gone anti-immigration—it is regrettable, but it has. When new Labour was in power, it had a most generous open-door policy of accepting migrants from the newer members of the European Union. In the last election, not a single party could be found which would actually say something positive about immigration. That is the situation, and we have to have a global solution. That means that the European Union, especially the members who are also permanent members of the Security Council—the UK and France—ought to move the United Nations and everybody else to seek a global solution to the refugee problem.
I will use a 19th century example. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, one-third of the population of Europe moved to America—mainly to North America but also to South America. Some of them were facing persecution, especially those from the Polish borders and so on. There is the very famous episode of Tom Mann, the trade union leader, going to the dockside in London and saying to the incoming people on the ships, “Brothers, you are welcome here, but I wish you had not come”. That is our attitude to migrants.
I believe that the global solution could be as follows, although it is rather Utopian. There are a number of countries in the world that are empty, for example a lot of those in central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan et cetera. The density of population in those places is sometimes fewer than 10 people per square kilometre, whereas ours in Europe is somewhere between 200 and 300 people. It seems to me to be a very good global solution to take people who want to leave their country for whatever reasons to countries that have room for them.
Why should they take them? This is where we must use our resources to give incentives to the recipient countries to accept these people, train them and make them settle there. I know that it is wildly Utopian, but it is a very difficult problem to solve. However, if we could engineer over the next 10 years a transition of people from Africa, Asia or wherever they are to the relatively empty countries of Asia—I do not think that there are many other empty countries left—that could be a solution to this problem.
The people will go on coming; they will not go away. It is quite legitimate that they should have the ambition to leave their poverty-stricken country and go somewhere better. It is not true that a Libyan or a Nigerian wants to stay in Libya or Nigeria for ever. North America would not have been settled if that were the case. So let us admit that people want and are willing to go to where they can get a better life. Our response should be that if we are not going to have them, for whatever reasons, we should find them a home where we can settle them and give resources both to them and the recipient country to make life better for everyone. That is the best I can do in my six minutes.
My Lords, it is always a great tonic to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai.
Alongside conflict, climate change and terrorism, and because of all these things, international migration has become one of the most acute problems of our time. At times, even in this debate, it seems insoluble. First, I acknowledge the extraordinary courage of aid workers and UN staff who work against the odds to bring water, food and sanitation to registered refugees and—this is often forgotten—to many others who are unregistered or displaced around the world. The UNHCR has been given the massive task of receiving these refugees and internally displaced persons—IDPs.
I will provide just one example from Sudan, which was mentioned by my noble friend. As he said, he and I were briefed by Oxfam only this morning on the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, for which we had such hopes. More than 4 million people there face severe food insecurity, largely as a result of the conflict that affects about 40% of this young country’s population. It has already made more than 1.5 million people homeless and caused another 500,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The UNHCR is frequently overwhelmed, as we saw many times in South Sudan last year—and in the north—not just by the numbers but by the UN itself becoming almost a party to the conflict, concealing victims from both sides of a racial and political divide.
Palestine is another country where the UN mandate has made it almost impossible for UNRWA workers to remain independent. It is a paradox that aid workers the world over are trained to be neutral while inevitably they take the side of the victims. In the same spirit, we can imagine the Greek islanders, in the midst of their own economic struggles, opening their doors to thousands of Syrians—sometimes as many as their own population—as well as Eritreans, Somalis and even Afghans alongside their regular tourists and visitors. Most of these people melt away into other EU countries, somehow avoiding all Greek, Italian and FRONTEX reception centres on the mainland, making their way northwards towards healthier economies and prospects of greater security.
It seems that up in the UK we have not yet grasped the urgency and scale of the problem. A large proportion of those crossing the Mediterranean, perhaps one-third, are escaping from conflict in Syria. It has lost 3.9 million people to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, leaving another 12.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We should make a particular effort to shelter more of these refugees in Europe—I know that we are doing a lot in Turkey and other countries—because this is a crisis of exceptional proportions.
To take one example of what we can do, what is happening to the UK’s share of the UNHCR’s resettlement scheme? The Government are already receiving up to 750 refugees from different countries under the Gateway programme. More recently, they committed to providing a safe route for some hundreds of vulnerable Syrian refugees, selected because they are elderly, disabled or in some way victimised, who are given five years’ humanitarian protection status. This seems to be an admirable scheme—yet, as was mentioned, up to March only 183 had been resettled through this route. Perhaps the Minister could give us an up-to-date number and say what will happen next.
The Government are often criticised for their poor response. They protest that more than 4,000 refugees have been granted asylum during the whole crisis and that large sums have been given to refugees in Turkey. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, we do not match the generosity of other EU members such as, in this particular case, Germany and Sweden, and we hide behind the Dublin convention. This dictates that refugees belong in the countries of first asylum such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Is it time for this convention to be reviewed?
The Government have done well to help rescue thousands of migrants from the ocean. Of course, the MoD is playing its part, and at its own expense. However, the Government also need to come out with new policies on migration. The only concern expressed so far is that welfare benefits must not act as a pull factor. That may be understandable: in the first debate today, we heard that the NHS may be unsustainable. Yet, to the extent that we are a healthy economy and a wealthy country, we will always be a pull factor and we also know that our economy benefits from migration. Other EU countries, whether they are in Schengen or not, need to know that we are taking our responsibilities seriously and not dumping them behind barbed wire in Calais.
What about these safe havens? We have heard some Utopian suggestions. Does the Prime Minister still consider that we can receive refugees for processing somewhere offshore—or what exactly is he proposing? We are still very short of ideas, let alone solutions. I am glad that the EU home affairs sub-committee intends to look at migration this year. Perhaps the Government should do some more joined-up research into these problems.
The Minister may remember that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, last week made a telling point about government. He said that we used to separate domestic affairs from foreign affairs but that,
“there are no longer any issues in Britain that are domestic and that do not have an international dimension”.—[Official Report, 2/7/15; col. 2260.]
Of course, there was no answer to that in the debate, but this has serious repercussions for Ministers answering these debates, and it helps to explain why our national response to migration is quite blurred.
My noble friend mentioned dealing with the problem at source, but how can a Foreign Office Minister be expected to deal with issues of international development, defence and immigration that belong to other departments? Do civil servants now groan under the weight of more joined-up cross-departmental meetings? These are the added pressures of foreign policy and accountability, and to help meet them I hope that Ministers will support the proposal for an international affairs committee of this House, which is long overdue.
My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate—most eloquently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is a great champion of human rights—I will concentrate on a special category of young student refugees in England who are denied the chance of further education. Polls show that some 60% of the public accept that international students hugely benefit Britain. Industry needs their skills, they bring in billions to the Treasury and they enrich the quality and income of our universities.
However, there is a relatively small group of young student refugees in England who face despair and injustice. They are those who came to Britain as unaccompanied child refugees, who are denied a chance to go to university even if they do well at school. When unaccompanied child refugees arrive in Britain, they are looked after by local authorities, which support their education and maintenance until they are about to become adults. When they are seventeen and a half, they are asked to reapply for asylum if they were not granted asylum when they first arrived. How can 17 year-olds, who came here without parents at a very young age, prove that they were fugitives from persecution? We rightly protect these young people when they arrive, but wrongly and unreasonably ask them to prove their right to stay years later.
If they are refused asylum, they are in limbo. If they are not granted asylum but granted a lower level of protection—discretionary leave to remain—and if they are bright and win a place at university, they are, since 2011, classified as international students who have to pay huge tuition fees which they cannot possibly afford. They also have to pay for their own maintenance. Before the law was changed in 2011, they were treated as home students, who pay lower tuition fees and have access to loans and possibly bursaries. Indeed, some universities waive tuition fees altogether for poor home students. The change in the law in 2011 means that bright youngsters who win a place at university find that they cannot take it up and are denied the chance to join their friends. The Guardian recently highlighted one heart-breaking case, of which many can be cited. What makes the new rules even more unjust and, indeed, absurd is that in Wales the law did not change, while in Scotland a select number of these students pay no fees at all and have access to the same sort of support as their peers.
I recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill to reclassify students with discretionary leave to remain as home students. It is a short Bill with a very simple objective. If passed, the cost to the Treasury will be virtually nothing because the numbers involved are hundreds per year rather than thousands. Britain will gain because university graduates will provide the skills we desperately need. Talented young people who have gone through a terrible experience on the way here will no longer be denied a fundamental right: the chance to develop their talents through education. In the ballot for Private Members’ Bills, my Bill to rectify this injustice came 43rd out of 44. It has no chance of success without government support. Will the Minister press the Government seriously to consider supporting my Bill? The case for it on the grounds of national interest as well as justice is unanswerable. The cost is nugatory. How can it be justified that only student refugees in England suffer from this injustice? Surely the Government cannot refuse to take this simple step to right this wrong.
My Lords, the potential number of refugees and the practical challenges of dealing with this issue are so huge and daunting that it is all the more important to be clear about the fundamental principles at stake. The principles may be very difficult to implement, but let us at least be clear what they are and remain true to them.
First, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so eloquently argued, the only long-term solution to this problem is to tackle it at its roots. This means the creation of stable Governments and economic prosperity in the countries from which people are fleeing. It is easy to despair about achieving this, but we must continue to do what we can, in co-operation with other Governments, to resolve issues of civil strife, as in South Sudan; to bring about Governments who respect human rights, for example in Eritrea; and, of course, to end the killings in Iraq and Syria.
Secondly, there is a clear practical imperative to do all we can to hunt down the traffickers. We can do this only with the active co-operation of the Governments of the countries in which they are operating. In a country such as Libya, where government has virtually broken down, this is obviously very difficult. Huge sums of money are being made by traffickers. It is vital that we halt an operation that puts so many lives at risk. I am sure the whole House will be very anxious to learn from the Minister what success the Government are having in this regard and whether they are satisfied with the co-operation they are getting from the relevant Governments, including the split power structure in Libya.
Thirdly, there is a clear obligation to help rescue those whose lives are immediately at risk. The importance of the long-term goal—stability in the countries from which people flee—and the intermediate one of halting the traffickers, must not be allowed to obscure what has to be done now. Yesterday, the Minister stressed that we must tackle the root cause, not just the symptoms, but they are not mutually exclusive. If you are in pain you do indeed want to find the reason for it and address its cause, but meanwhile you take pain killers.
As we know, 3,500 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2014, and the number this year could reach 2,000. When people’s lives are immediately at stake, as they are for those crammed into unseaworthy vessels, the moral imperative is to rescue them. We would ask this for ourselves if we were in that situation, and they are asking it of us. We now know that HMS “Bulwark”, which was capable of rescuing 1,000 people, has been replaced by HMS “Enterprise”, a survey ship only one-fifth the size. Furthermore, the task of HMS “Enterprise” will be to gather intelligence on migrant flows to prevent the smugglers’ vessels leaving North Africa in the first place. In addition, two Border Force cutters will continue to take part in EU search and rescue operations. Is the Minister satisfied that the search and rescue operation is large enough, given that HMS “Bulwark” alone saved some 4,000 lives? Of course, as the Government stress, we must break the link between getting a boat, and life in Europe, but this cannot be at the expense of letting people whom we could save drown.
Clearly linked with the imperative to save these people—a good number of them children—from drowning is the need to treat them, once rescued, with humanity. The burden of this irregular immigration is being borne by Italy and Greece. Italy is coping with 56,000 people and Greece with 48,000. The cost to Italy is £800 million a year, but the EU is supplying only £60 million. Sharing responsibilities and burdens is fundamental to not only the whole principle of membership of the European Union but a successful policy on this issue. Does the Minister not believe there is a case for more shared support for Italy and Greece from the European Union?
Fourthly, we have a clear obligation, which as a country we accept, to offer asylum to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution and whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. It is not always easy to distinguish such asylum seekers from economic migrants, who will often, in their desperation, tell whatever story they can in order to find something better than the endemic poverty and insecurity they may have known at home. Clearly, there is a difference of opinion between the Minister, given what he said yesterday, and the view of many others such as Amnesty International, who believe that the majority of those fleeing are not in fact just economic migrants but people fleeing from countries such as Syria and Eritrea where their lives are in danger. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, put it, there is a push factor, not just a pull factor. Even given this disagreement, there is a clear imperative to have a fair legal process in place that is able to assess the claims of those who seek asylum. Is the Minister satisfied that that is the case, and what percentage of those rescued from the Mediterranean have in fact sought and been granted asylum? The Minister is reported as saying that Britain is making the biggest contribution to the joint European asylum processing effort in the front-line states, with more than 1,000 days being contributed by British staff. That is not in fact very much, in terms of people deployed.
Finally, we can do this only with others, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, stressed in relation to Europe and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in relation to regional and international arrangements. The European Commission communication of 13 May, A European Agenda on Migration, sets out what this means in practice. The Government are indeed working closely with EU partners on some aspects of this agenda, but are we bearing our fair share of the burden? We have so far refused to take our share of the 40,000 refugees who are being relocated across Europe. I believe we can and should take more.
My Lords, as so often, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising, in his delicate and charming way, an issue that is perhaps far greater than many of us could understand.
I start on these issues with the advice that I was always given: before trying to determine the future, go back and have a look at the past. That is what I think I intend to do. I went to the Library, for which I have always had great respect—not only when I was on the Information Committee. You get to know the people there who have a particular interest in history, and before you know it they overwhelm you. I was overwhelmed with something like 120 sheets of A3 containing the history of the world, and I asked if I could please have a simpler brief. Now, for the first time in my life, I have an A5 brief in the form of maps.
I begin with the partition of Africa in 1914. In order to determine the future you have to understand the past, and is it wrong sometimes to repeat the past. Your Lordships will know that, in 1914 at the time of the partition of Africa, many countries played an important part, and why should they not yet again be brought together? They were the French, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Spanish and Portuguese. On this little chart we have a map of everything. One of the main objectives of this colonisation, or development, was food and raw materials. With it came the technology from the United Kingdom that led to the production of cotton and to getting things out of mines, and it was a pretty exciting exercise.
The same was true in India, which we have forgotten. In one of my jobs I was one of the economic advisers doing a study for the Government of India on its future trade. I am afraid that I did not really know my way around India. We looked at manganese, iron ore and all sorts of things, including cotton—which seemed to have gone but now comes up again—and those things that you made sacks out of. Sacks, of course, have gone. India, surprisingly enough, turned itself around in a relatively short time to become a major economy in the world, not simply relying upon simple raw materials. The Indian chart shows the growth of British power in India, and shows exactly when everything happened.
We then take my third chart, showing south-east Asia, which again is a major boom area. The question is what we as a nation that understands these countries can do. In order to understand and plan for the future, as I say, we must determine the past, so it is worth looking at what was produced in those territories in those golden years. I turn therefore to one of my favourite topics: Sudan. An old friend of mine, Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker, unwittingly bullied me into taking him to Sudan, only to find that I got fascinated by it. I had forgotten about the Gezira scheme, which grew the best long staple cotton in the world, which could still be redeveloped because the water and land are still there, as are the children of families who knew how it worked.
I had also forgotten about the vast quantities of grain that could be produced there. We created a project called Storex Sudan. We got the Chinese involved—I was going to say that we got into bed with them—because they had suddenly decided that they wanted to do development projects in Africa. The Chinese agreed that they would build a road to the port, bring in ships and unload them. If you have ever watched Chinese unloading things, it is fascinating: they put everything on their head, walk off the ship and unload quicker than one could do it with derricks and everything else. The thought was that in Sudan all we needed was an off-take agreement for the grain—the dura—and one for the cotton, and the same families would be back again in production. In Africa we have the same scenario in countries where this is the norm. If we as a country could just put on a piece of paper, “I promise to buy and pay the bearer on demand the sum of so much per tonne”, it is amazing how very quickly orders would come about.
My thoughts in this debate are that it is an economic debate. We must of course look at the north coast of Africa. Let us think again. Why is everyone leaving when they have potential for development in their own country? Why are they taking a risk at sea when very few of them can swim? Who are these pirates who kidnap people onshore with offers of whatever it is, and why can they not be arrested? After all, this is effectively almost the theft of human souls. I feel very strongly about this and would like to see the United Kingdom play a lead here. We do not want people leaving their own country; we want them encouraged to stay there. We can cure all the problems of diseases and we can train people well. Assisting in effectively exporting modern-day slavery is something that I do not wish to be associated with.
My Lords, I want to add my own words to others who have expressed gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this important matter to our attention.
As usual when I intervene in debates in your Lordships’ House, it is from a rather more flesh-and-blood gritty level that I speak. I remember how many years I spent on the north coast of Haiti, for example, working with communities that I am afraid, unlike the view of the previous speaker, had no alternative resources with which to make another life. They had absolutely nothing, and the despair that I faced in hearing them argue their need to take a boat that would cross the sea to Florida was something that I shall never forget. How many families have I supported after the breadwinner has left? How many families have I seen emaciated by hunger when there was nothing they could turn to in order to alleviate that hunger?
I have come to understand economic migration in terms other than the denigratory way in which it is referred to as an alternative to the seeking of asylum and therefore a less important objective.
People who are hungry are hungry; people who are destitute are destitute; people who are forced to leave their families need all the attention they can get, and their cry should be heard. They should not be categorised, stereotyped, put in a neat box and written out of the equation. We have a world full of people who migrate for those reasons, and in the present emanation of this phenomenon, we have to add to that not just the breadwinner migrating but his wife and children too. This issue will not go away; we have to find a way to face it and deal with it. The dams will burst and the crowds will come, and when it happens, we who have watched it for so long must not cry wolf or say that we had not seen it or heard of it. It will come through the softer underbelly of the eastern sides of Europe as it did when the Goths, Ostrogoths, Huns and Vandals—we are all capable of looking back into history—crashed into the Roman Empire and overthrew mighty Rome itself.
A very interesting, constructive thing is being done by a community with which I have contact. I am a patron of the Waldensian community living in Britain. “Patron” is the kind interpretation of the Italian word—“godfather” would be another. They have had 500 years of persecution. Jean Valdès was in Lyon until he and his followers were forced into Switzerland, across the Alps and into the northern part of Italy, and were eventually allowed to live above a certain level above sea level—and there only—in the mountains. They were only given some kind of official status in 1848, in an Italy just about to be born.
These Waldensians have currently been offered money by the Italian Government to use for their own purposes—which comes from a church tax. The one body of people you could not imagine accepting a church tax would be the Waldensians, for it was the state that persecuted them over the centuries. However, they have decided to do something different with that church tax that will account for the whole of the money they get in that way. They call that project “Mediterranean Hope”; I wish I had time to spell out a few of its details. It has four different planks. The first is an observatory, as they call it, in Lampedusa, because they are very concerned that the narrative that comes out of Lampedusa is favoured by one bias or another, while a narrative that is people-centred, needs-centred and humanitarian needs to be posited as an alternative to the narratives that come via our news media. Therefore in the first instance they seek a good narrative.
Secondly, they have set up a cultural centre on the island of Sicily where they take the women and children from those who have arrived in the way they have—those are vulnerable people, who are identified by the authorities and sent to them. There, with fun, friendship, games and food they are given a chance to integrate in the new community to which they have come and to rediscover themselves on foreign soil. An office has been set up in Rome; incidentally, this has been done by the Waldensians and Methodists, all the Protestant churches in Italy, the Roman Catholics—especially the community of Sant’Egidio—and other bodies from across Europe. In Rome they seek to help people to relocate. Only 20% of those who arrive at Lampedusa want to come to Italy, so Rome is the best place to process the stories, needs and background information and to get access to Italian Government offices, and their office there is in close contact with Sicily. Therefore the relocation desk is there. They have established humanitarian corridors in Morocco, on the other side of the Mediterranean, trying to identify people who may have a legitimate reason for going and help them to come safely to the place where they seek asylum. As I say, there are many more details.
Mention has been made again and again of going back upstream, as a diplomat would put it. I remember going to Eritrea in 1993 as a representative of Christian Aid—I was on the board at the time. Christian Aid had helped the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front with material help—over the border from Sudan, as it happens, as well as from Kenya—during the time when the armed struggle against the Ethiopians was under way. I went to represent that fine body, which had done some rather shady things to get that food in. However, I found myself on the VIP invitation list. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Kinnock here; I was between him and President Gorbachev, because that was where my name fell alphabetically. I was therefore able to oversee the plebiscite that took place in April 1993, which happened in Keren, the second city of Eritrea. A new nation came to birth after all those years of struggle; it had been the football of the international community, kicked from one place to another, before this position had been found for it. Now that same Eritrea, which fought for freedom, decency and dignity for its people, is in gross violation of its responsibilities, and 25% of people who come to Lampedusa are from there. There must be something the international community, which has messed around with Eritrea for too long, can do with that self-contained country to produce better results. The international community could be doing better things; the problems could be alleviated; practical outcomes are possible.
My Lords, I join in the thanks expressed by your Lordships to my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool for securing this extremely important debate. In his opening comments he referred to Eleanor Rathbone, and I hope that he will forgive me a moment of family pride. My father was vice-chair, with Eleanor Rathbone MP, of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. He is always a hard act to follow, I am afraid.
Some of your Lordships will have seen the obituary on 1 July of Sir Nicholas Winton—he may have been mentioned earlier in the debate. This good man saved the lives of 669 children from Prague. Shortly before the Second World War, he had been due to go on a skiing holiday but he decided that he needed to go to Prague. He arranged eight trains to take these children to safety and he arranged for families in this country to take them in. He always deeply regretted that the last train did not leave and that 250 children were left behind. His family did not learn of this until he was in his 80s, and he died at the age of 106.
I thank the previous Government for their wisdom and humanity in having chosen to enshrine in law a 0.7% commitment to international development aid. Clearly, many of those involved in the migration that we are talking about are economic migrants but, equally, many of them are in flight from the developing world. It is obviously right to seek to support fragile nations so that they do not fall into conflict and so that we avoid the sorts of troubles that we face today, so I salute the Government for making that commitment. I hope that if any young people read this speech, they will also feel pride in their nation for taking a world leadership role by supporting mothers with midwives, by supporting the education of girls and by protecting children from malaria in the developing world. I hope they will feel proud that this nation is leading the world in this area.
I should like to make one request to the Minister following what many of your Lordships have said. Will he think very seriously about committing to provide space for 1,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country? I shall come back to that towards the end of my remarks.
I should like to make one other observation. My father lived through two world wars. In the Second World War, my mother—whom I was speaking to at the weekend—returned to Croydon at the age of four or five. She had been evacuated but returned during the main part of the Blitz. A factory near the bottom of her garden was bombed and of course that was quite a horrific experience for her. It is quite remarkable that we have had peace in Europe since that time. My understanding is that to a large degree that is due to the solidarity of the European Union. Members of the EU are committed to each other and have built strong trade partnerships, and that has helped to give us this long period of peace. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that it is in our strong self-interest as a nation to be an active and committed member of the European Union and to show solidarity with our allies in Europe: we are stronger together than we are disunited. One might say that Adolf Hitler did not die. There is always a new Hitler, and we are always stronger when we stand together against such people.
I want to speak a little about my experience. I visited Angola with UNICEF during the civil war and saw the terrible suffering of the people there. I visited a feeding station and saw the undernourished children being fed. I visited an internally displaced people’s camp, which had been terribly neglected by the Government, and saw a young child with an open wound, which was a distressing situation to observe. Young people were being forced to act as child soldiers. We need to avoid civil conflict, which leads to these migration flows.
I was a mature student and attended a further education college. One of my fellow students was a young man from Eritrea called Izak. He arrived here at a young age with his sister. He went on from the FE college to University College, London, and qualified as a civil engineer. It was difficult for him to live without his parents but he loved to play football, to dance and to work hard, and he was extremely successful. I valued my friendship with him. When I heard from my noble friend about the experience of many Eritreans and that some were being executed, I felt deeply saddened. These are not just statistics; they are real people.
I see that my time is up, so I shall simply repeat my request that we show solidarity with Italy and Greece, and seek to take at least 1,500 children and give them succour in this nation.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the need for solidarity with the people of Greece.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, as others have, for having given us the opportunity for this important debate. But the awful truth is that the scale of the problem with which we are dealing will be dwarfed by what lies ahead. The consequences of climate change, the movement of peoples, and unresolved conflicts and tensions are not going to abate, and we are going to see an acceleration in the issues that face us. But there is one other issue that we have to face, particularly in this House. If we are intent on a world based on the market and the free movement of capital and goods, how on earth will we stem the inevitable movement of people that flows from that? People will go to where the centres of economic activity are strongest. This is inevitable, and we are just burying our head in the sand if we pretend otherwise.
That brings home to us that we have a global responsibility that is second to none in helping to build and strengthen the economies of the people of the world as a whole, and in ensuring that we are not consuming the wealth and raw resources of the world in a completely selfish way that accentuates the awful reality of life for the majority of people in the world.
We must, as has been mentioned in the debate, show a sense of respect for what others are doing. I like to raise my glass at meals to the people of Italy. They have demonstrated that they are the soul of Europe at its best. That gives us something to ponder here in the United Kingdom. We also have to remember the fortitude and generosity of the people of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, who, with their own comparative economic disadvantage, are opening their arms to welcome those fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere. Of course, they have been doing this—but for how long will they do this? There are already indications, certainly in Lebanon and Jordan, that people are beginning to say, “Look at our own plight. How can we go on carrying this burden?”. And that spells still more trouble ahead.
I very much welcome and was cheered by—not, I may say, for the first time in my life—the thoughts of my noble friend Lady Kinnock. For me, she brought alive the terrible human reality of what we are talking about. We get awfully insulated in this Chamber. Here we are in this fine, beautiful building talking about these problems, but as we talk, people are drowning; as we talk, people are gasping for breath; as we talk, people are uttering their last breath, dying of starvation and in pain; as we talk, the torture and brutality that force people to move and leave is taking place. We need to keep in our mind that vivid picture of what the reality is, because in this Chamber we can become very abstract in our discussions.
We should also in this context put on record our appreciation of those who work so hard and consistently on our behalf in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNRWA, UNICEF, the Red Cross and all the other international institutions. We should take very seriously the thoughts and experience of our own voluntary agencies, which represent so often, together with their supporters and followers, the Britain to which I am sure many of us want to belong—the Britain with real heart and concern, the Britain that feels it belongs in the world, the Britain that recognises that it cannot escape from the world and the Britain which is therefore determined not just to talk about the problems with which we are confronted but to commit itself to finding the common solutions which are necessary if we are to begin to challenge such situations.
I have one absolute conviction which I think has become an obsession; we are utterly interdependent with the world and our leadership, of whatever political persuasion—I hope that those who are offering themselves for leadership in my own party are taking this seriously—will in future be judged by how they enabled this country to join the world, to belong to the world and to play its part together with others in finding the solutions that are necessary for humanity, because, believe you me, there is no way in which in the long term the well-being of the British people can be secured without fulfilling that partnership in international community.
My Lords, I often feel that I would like to leave the last word with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, but I will start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The footage of people struggling out of the sea appals us, but, if you see it when you are in Eritrea, it looks like success at reaching Europe.
As noble Lords have said, this is a multifaceted issue, and multimillions of people are caught up in different situations, each one of whom is an individual. I fear that casting the debate only in terms of numbers, as some do—although not today—tends to validate xenophobia. I recognise the amount of money that the UK has given—to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred—in response to the current situation. However, that has meant that people are sent to the camps which are supported, which in themselves are both dangerous for the individuals—this House has set up a committee to look at sexual violence in conflict, and part of that conflict is the experience in those camps—and, in the case of the Middle East, dangerous for the stability of the host countries and the region as a whole.
Reference has been made to the Minister’s remarks yesterday about this being an issue primarily of economic migration. I share the views expressed in the responses of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and we know that a number of agencies have challenged those remarks with their figures. In my view, the demarcation line between economic migrancy and being a refugee is really not that clear—I will try to remember to keep the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, to refer to for the future. People in that situation must face huge desperation and often display huge bravery. Of course, what they want are safe, legal routes, because without them, lives are put further at risk. Who among their families left behind knows the outcome? My noble friend Lady Manzoor asked me yesterday whether there is a central DNA database of those who are drowned and whose bodies are recovered, so that there might at some point be the possibility of their families discovering their fate. Stories of reliance on smugglers—criminals—and the abuse and exploitation suffered at stage after stage of the journey are legion.
I read the title of this debate as extending to the plight—to use the term chosen by the noble Lord—of those who do reach the UK. In this country, they are faced perhaps with indefinite immigration detention, which in itself is harmful. It is a little part of what the noble Lord called the big picture. There are very rigid rules about family reunion. A father might reach this country and perhaps be able to bring over his dependent children and partner. However, an 18 year-old child might have to be left behind and become reliant on smugglers. Sibling relationships do not count. British citizens find it almost impossible to bring to the UK family members who are in danger.
We are familiar with the sometimes very long waits for decisions about asylum status. We know how keen many asylum seekers are to work and the importance of work for both their own self-respect and their integration. Migrant Voice recently published a list of “Alice in Blunderland” policies and experiences. It gave as one example:
“Because of the experiences that led asylum-seekers to flee, they can be afraid of officials”—
and then they come here and are faced with security staff of whom they are afraid. Another example is that:
“LGBT asylum-seekers may be asked to provide sexually explicit photographs or videos … to ‘prove’ their homosexuality”.
Noble Lords will be able to cite comparable examples of such policies.
A couple of weeks ago I met a doctor from Syria. I do not want to say much about it because of the danger to his family. However, people arriving here bring skills that we should be using. That fits in very much with the comments of my noble friend Lord Taverne. There is great concern, which I share, about asylum support rates, both as they are now and as they may be if the regulations which had to be withdrawn at the end of the last Parliament are reintroduced.
I have been sent some articles written by journalism students who have interviewed refugees and I thought that I would share a few extracts with your Lordships. The first extract is as follows:
“When I arrived in Kent I didn’t speak English. [I was given] a piece of paper with writing in so many different languages. I found my language on there and pointed to it, and that’s how they knew that I was from Afghanistan … I was amazed when I saw so many languages. It made me realise there were other people like me. And I thought that this must be such a good country, if it is helping all these different people”.
Another interviewee talked about:
“Trauma, the vulnerability that comes from being [a child] separated from their parents, and the expectation of making money to send back home”.
“an impact on a child’s ability to focus, concentrate and think about their long-term plans for the future”.
In stressful cases, said one worker,
“children wonder what the point of committing to an education is in a country that they don’t know if they’ll be able to stay in”.
One young man said:
“I am lost. I have nowhere to go. I can’t go forward, and I can’t go back I am worse than an animal in a cage”.
When depression overtakes him he self-harms using a knife. He has carved the initials AFG into his arm as if to remind himself of a self-identity that is otherwise rapidly disappearing.
As I have mentioned Afghanistan, I should also mention the local staff in Afghanistan—the interpreters and other people—who worked with our forces. They are regarded by the Taliban as traitors. By November last year, however, only 31 had been given leave to enter this country, not necessarily to work or stay. Treachery? Is that betrayal by the UK?
The extracts go on to say that,
“this is not just an issue of government policy. It’s also about the messages propagated by the media”.
One of the students wrote about the Leveson report on press standards, which covered the media’s influence over community relations:
“the report found that, in the tabloids particularly, ‘there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to … immigrants and asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice … rather than an aberration’”.
Another interviewee said that government officials were looking for him in Syria. He cannot communicate directly with his family. He said:
“London is like a desert to me. I don’t speak the language. I don’t have any contacts. I am alone. Like in a desert, but filled with people around me”.
The writer of the article said that she would not know how refugees express gratitude and asked the interviewee if he would answer the question: should we expect Syrian asylum seekers to be grateful? He said:
“I am lost here, my life is in Syria. I was forced to leave. But Britain has been like a caring mother to me, and has given me everything. Britain has given me rights again. Britain is educating me. I am grateful”.
Last night, in response to a request for some comments about his experience here, another young Syrian wrote to me about the difficulties—it was not anything that I had expected. He explained his experiences with great understatement. His family decided to leave because,
“the situation was very horrible and a lot of bombs fall”.
He said that,
“the most difficult thing is the feeling when you must leave your country and you cannot return to it”.
I think his English is brilliant. He said:
“The most difficult thing here is the miss for the country, the family, and the friends, and really it is very hard when you hear that one of your best friends is dead and this happened with me more than ten times. I want to say thanks for the British people and for British government to receive us and to give us the support to survive and complete our life but in same time you should to know that about one million of the Syrian has same my situation and they need your support and help. The first rule in my life is you can achieve your dream when you trust with yourself”.
We pride ourselves on our history of welcoming those who seek refuge here, and those expressions of gratitude really make you think. As my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, we should be taking a leadership role in a global society because we live in a globally connected world.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate and for reminding us that more people are displaced from their homes than at any time since the Second World War. As we have heard, today there are almost 60 million displaced people in the world. The war in Syria alone has produced 4 million refugees, making it one of the biggest refugee crises on record. Millions more are displaced inside the country.
It is right that we have a debate on immigration and the state of affairs within our own borders. But we also need to promote a broader discussion that examines the causes and the responses by the world community to mass migration. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, we must begin to establish the values that should guide our response to a refugee crisis fuelled by climate change, political unrest and conflict. We must also acknowledge that, in some situations, these two debates are linked and that previous interventions undertaken in our name have undeniably fed the current turmoil.
The world’s focus must be on finding political solutions to the cycles of violence that drive civilians from their homes, and on breaking the culture of impunity that has come to characterise brutal conflicts such as those in Syria and South Sudan. Each new tragic incident—the seizure of Yarmouk, the shipwreck off Lampedusa and the desperate plight of the Rohingya—is more horrific than the last, and must spur political action.
Strict quotas, such as those set out in the European Commission’s proposed agenda on migration will not work, but the lack of solidarity shown by this Government is immoral, in my opinion. In such situations, ours should be a generous response, not a constrained one. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, highlighted, 86% of refugees reside in developing countries. Conflicts and crises occur most frequently in poorer countries. They occur and people are compelled to cross the nearest border. Refugees often have social, economic and cultural bonds with neighbouring communities and they may prefer to remain close to home.
The UK, as we have heard, is one of the top donors to Syria and the region. It goes without saying that it is vital to support refugees where they are. Governments, donors and NGOs must take a long-term view, as many refugees will be resident for years and even decades. That also means making sure that support is given to host communities, which are often just as poor and under immense strain, as well as to the refugees. That was highlighted by my noble friend Lord Judd. By resettling more refugees, we not only offer a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable people but it will give us a greater moral authority when we call on countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to keep their borders open and uphold the rights of refugees.
The Government’s decision to halt the paring back of search and rescue operations by the use of HMS “Bulwark” was welcome, but does its replacement by HMS “Enterprise” signal a reduced commitment by the UK in the Mediterranean? Can the Minister explain how the Government expect HMS “Enterprise” to undertake its dual operational functions of refugee rescue and the apprehension of smugglers? I fear that the response of Mr Brokenshire, the Minister, to your Lordships’ sub-committee, which was reported in the media yesterday, will only confirm to the rest of the world the UK’s continued reluctance to engage.
With regard to the Syrian conflict, the Prime Minister has announced a modest expansion of the UK’s resettlement programme, particularly for vulnerable Syrian refugees in the region. Can the Minister provide more detail on how many more places will be available? Of the numbers accepted from Syria, can the Minister also tell the House how many were already in the UK, including students?
My party’s view is that Britain should rejoin the United Nations official refugee programme for the most vulnerable refugees, understanding that many of these migrants will not even make it to a boat or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp without our help. There are close to 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of violence and fighting in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and elsewhere. In the last few weeks, political tensions in Burundi have pushed tens of thousands into neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which itself has close to 3 million internally displaced people. The conflict in Yemen has been so destructive that thousands of Somali refugees and other nationalities who had escaped there are now seeking safety in Somalia, even though that country continues to experience violence.
No country or region is immune, from Libya and the shores of the Mediterranean, through to the Gulf of Aden, and across the sea, where the Rohingya and Bengali families were stranded on boats for months with scarce food and water. The Prime Minister has emphasised that those people fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean were being driven—pushed—to attempt these journeys, highlighting failed states and people smugglers as the drivers. However, what he failed to mention, which we have heard in this debate, is the persistent and widespread human rights abuses directed at their people by brutal regimes such as Eritrea, and the unsustainable demands being made on countries such as Jordan and Lebanon in trying to accommodate refugee populations.
UK Ministers, as highlighted by James Brokenshire’s remarks, suggest that resolving the Mediterranean crisis is dependent on breaking a mythical link between boarding a boat and settling in Europe. However, as we have heard, the great majority of those attempting the Mediterranean crossing set off from Libya, a country experiencing a vicious internal conflict. Refugees and migrants have suffered appalling abuses. The contention that these immigrants are “economic migrants”, rather than desperate victims of human catastrophe, is inaccurate and alarming. If we are to have an honest debate, we need strongly to challenge this contention. António Guterres, the UN refugee chief, stressed that most of those attempting the journey are not economic migrants: a third came from Syria, while people fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Eritrea’s repressive regime each made up 12%. Other countries of origin include Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan. The British people, who are understandably concerned about levels of migration, are more anxious about human decency when confronted with the facts.
My right honourable friend Yvette Cooper said that we should decouple asylum from migration targets. It skews the debate and frames an issue of decency in the context of political expediency. Refugees should be removed from the net migration target. Our aim should be an integrated development, defence, foreign and home policy that recognises that the global challenges we face are interconnected. It is therefore a matter of concern that the Department for International Development has been excluded from a number of cross-Whitehall committees, including the National Security Council and the immigration task force. That represents further isolation and fading influence.
We were once a nation that was proud to offer a place of sanctuary for people fleeing horrific rights abuses worldwide, but the Government’s deliberate retreat from the world stage has put our reputation at risk. The UK must stand up for the world’s least wanted people, but we must do so in a manner based on sound principles and which requires consensus. It is a debate whose urgency cannot be underestimated.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing the debate. I commend him on his long-standing engagement on international development and foreign policy issues. I also congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which had a particularly impressive speakers list. I shall try to answer all the questions that have been posed. If I fail to, because I am very pressed for time, I shall write to noble Lords and put copies in the Library.
As other noble Lords have said, we have all been shocked by the plight of migrants dying on an unprecedented scale on boats in the Mediterranean and in the Andaman Sea. People are fleeing war, violence and deep-rooted poverty. The collapse of authority in Libya has meant a huge increase in numbers coming through the central Mediterranean. Addressing these issues requires a complex and far-sighted response.
At a special meeting of the European Council in April, it was agreed that we had to act to address the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before us. At that point, the UK contributed HMS “Bulwark”—to which tribute was paid by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords—to support the Italian rescue effort. She has rescued more than 4,700 people from sinking boats that have set off from Libya.
We have also provided two Border Force cutters to support the search and rescue operations, and to date they have rescued some further 450 people. In total, UK vessels have rescued more than 5,000 people from drowning. But we also agreed that we could not resolve this crisis without a long-term comprehensive approach. This is where we need to work together across Europe to tackle the drivers of this migration.
The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and many other noble Lords expressed their concern about HMS “Bulwark” returning home and being replaced by HMS “Enterprise”. We have always been clear that to tackle the migrant crisis we need a comprehensive plan in going after the criminal gangs, smugglers and the owners of the boats, potentially taking action there as well, and stabilising the countries from which these people are coming. So it is right that we now move to the next stage under the CSDP’s mission. As a multirole survey ship, HMS “Enterprise”, as mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is well placed to assist in this phase of the operation, particularly given its additional intelligence-gathering capability. We can do this now because other European partners are stepping in with contributions to the CSDP operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, suggested that our United Kingdom contribution was decreasing. This is not the case. As well as HMS “Enterprise”, there is another helicopter attached to this operation and two Border Force cutters—HMC “Protector” and HMC “Seeker”—are aiding FRONTEX’s Operation Triton. In addition, we have contributed a further five defence personnel to the multinational operational headquarters in Rome, which is crucial to establishing the CSDP mission.
The urge to migrate and to seek a better life is a natural human instinct. It is part of a broader process of global change and development and a route out of poverty for millions. However, we must seek to manage irregular migration in a rational way, addressing its root causes as well as its short-term impact. Some people will be fleeing war and persecution, others are economic migrants seeking a better life. We need to make a distinction between these to ensure we address the root causes of this migration.
In the short term, we are providing humanitarian support to refugees and displaced people across the world. The Government have just provided a new humanitarian package of support, with an additional £100 million pledge to Syria, taking our public commitment to £900 million to date. This is our largest-ever response to a humanitarian crisis and makes the UK the world’s second-largest bilateral donor to the Syria crisis. It is providing food, clean water, medical care and other essential aid that is helping hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and its neighbouring countries and is having a big impact on reducing people’s need to flee the region.
The Government have also just announced an additional £217 million to Africa to provide support to more than 2 million refugees who are displaced across the region. There is also a new £110 million programme for work in the Horn of Africa, with a focus on refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan. The UK is now the second-largest bilateral donor in the Horn of Africa in providing humanitarian support for displaced populations. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, on the other side of the world, Rohingya refugees have fled their homes in north-west Burma. The United Kingdom is one of the largest donors in Burma, providing £18 million in humanitarian assistance since 2012 to Rakhine State, from where many of the Burmese Rohingya found on boats in the Andaman Sea originate.
We are also tackling the networks that lie behind people-smuggling. This form of illegal migration funds organised crime and undermines fair immigration controls by allowing economic migrants uncontrolled access to our countries. This emphasises the importance of our supporting the creation of a credible national Government in Libya who can work with us to secure its coastline.
We must also develop a much richer picture of how these networks are exploiting people, so that we can disrupt them. The Government are establishing a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle the threat posed by illegal immigration from north Africa, in light of the surge in numbers crossing the Mediterranean. This will bring together officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service, with the task of relentlessly pursuing and disrupting organised crime groups profiting from the people-smuggling trade. We will work with our international partners to identify organised crime groups smuggling migrants to the Libyan coast; illuminate the routes and methods the smugglers use; and understand the money flows. These insights will be shared with our partners to disrupt those orchestrating the smuggling.
At the same time, we must be clear that we will meet our obligations to provide refuge for the most vulnerable. The United Kingdom already participates in the United Nations programme to resettle refugees who have fled from their home countries, including those affected by conflict or civil war. We also set up our own scheme for particularly vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Syria, including women and children at risk who could not be protected in the region. However, these are only short-term measures. These scenes demonstrate how working with developing countries not only matters to them but, more than ever before, matters to us too. We must work together to tackle this issue upstream at source, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.
In the long term, development assistance addresses the root causes of instability and insecurity, reducing inequality and providing economic opportunities for all. This helps to build more effective states and societies, reducing some of the pressures to migrate. Finding the means to support stability, prosperity and opportunity means a more stable and prosperous world for us all.
The United Kingdom is already refocusing its own efforts. Despite the difficult economic times, Britain has kept its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid. The United Kingdom will spend over £4 billion on bilateral and multilateral development assistance in Africa this financial year. Of this, £725 million will go bilaterally on development programmes to key source and transit countries for irregular migrants in the Horn of Africa and east Africa. We will also spend £280 million bilaterally on governance and security, building state capacity to achieve stability, peace and respect for human rights; and £540 million will be spent bilaterally on economic development, including a strong focus on jobs and urban youth populations, particularly relevant in areas of the Horn of Africa.
We are supporting the cross-government effort, including the £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which seeks to deliver longer-term peaceful political settlements—ultimately the best tool for reducing flows of irregular migration into the European Union from countries in the Middle East and north African region. At the Department for International Development we have already refocused our priorities to be more on jobs and livelihoods than ever before. Through United Kingdom aid we are investing a total of £1.8 billion globally on economic development this financial year, more than doubling the direct amount spent in 2012-13. This refocusing of our programme will take time to have an impact on the current migration trends.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the recent debate in the Moses Room, which my noble friend Lord Bates responded to on behalf of the Government. He has been pleased to write to all Ministers in this House from the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office—that is himself, of course—the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so that all the Ministers in the Lords will be able to discuss these matters among themselves, and I will be taking part in these discussions as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, went further on the problems facing the Rohingya people. The United Kingdom has taken action at ministerial level by raising the issue with the Burmese ambassador in London. We are issuing a joint demarche, with the US and the EU, to Ministers in Burma, and we are lobbying ASEAN member states Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia not to turn away boats in distress. On 29 May, we participated in the Thai international co-ordination meeting as an observer. We call on all parties in Burma to address the dire situation of the Rohingya community in Rakhine state. We want to see improved humanitarian access, greater security and accountability, and a sustainable solution on citizenship.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Higgins all mentioned the issue of safe havens. The scale of the present situation requires ambitious thinking. We must contemplate difficult decisions to help break the link between getting on a boat in north Africa and being allowed to enter and remain in Europe. Our colleagues in Spain have valuable experience in doing exactly this when migrants arrived in their thousands in the Canary Islands. We can learn important lessons from them, but we will be urging the EU to look to create safe zones in transit countries where illegal migrants could remain, or to which those who end up in Europe and who do not require asylum could be returned when it becomes difficult to send them home directly. For this reason, the United Kingdom is very interested in the proposal by the European Commission for a multipurpose centre in Niger. We have joined the informal working group to develop this and will be pressing for the level of ambition to reflect the need to fundamentally change the current patterns of illegal migration to the European Union.
My noble friend Lord Higgins mentioned the situation in Calais. We recognise that we need to do more with our French counterparts to tackle the issue. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, set out a number of commitments in a joint declaration published last September to tackle the problems at the port. The declaration included £12 million from the UK Government towards upgrading the security infrastructure at Calais and other juxtaposed ports.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, also mentioned asylum. The majority of illegal immigrants to Italy come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal where the drivers for emigration tend to be more economic rather than fear of persecution. My noble friend Lord Higgins asked what the European Union is doing. The EU needs to do more to ensure that it is taking a lead role in responding to this crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, working closely with the African Union is vital, and I welcome the proposed summit that is to take place in Valletta in the autumn.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned the human rights situation in Eritrea. The UK will continue to press Eritrea to improve its human rights record through a range of channels, including through our engagement with multilateral partners on their programmes. The root causes of migration from Eritrea are complex. They are driven by a mix of economic, social, political and other factors, but the opportunity for economic development is clearly a contributing factor that is clearly influencing people’s decisions to migrate.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked about resettlement. We have been clear that the United Kingdom will not sign up to a compulsory European Union quota system which risks undermining control of our own borders and the UK asylum system. However, I am proud of this country’s record for resettling refugees. In the past five years we have resettled more than 5,000 people, second only to Sweden in the European Union.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned humanitarian aid in Sudan. The United Kingdom is a leading humanitarian donor in Sudan, with my department involved in a programme of £47 million in 2015-16. The majority of this is focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance. The noble Baroness also mentioned cross-border support in Sudan. While we are deeply concerned at renewed military activity in the two areas, we continue to judge the risks of providing cross-border support to be too high, due to the limited number of implementing partners and our inability to assess or monitor programmes. However, we continue to review this policy.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned the £900 million response in Syria. The response to the conflict in Syria is the United Kingdom’s largest ever to a humanitarian crisis. As my noble friend said, the UK is the second largest donor to the Syrian crisis. This response also supports Lebanon, Jordan, which was mentioned by other noble Lords, and Turkey to deal with the influx of refugees and the pressures this creates.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, asked what we are doing in the regional development and protection programmes. These are EU-led initiatives to increase efforts to deal with what is called the stickiness of refugees in transit countries. This has two goals: to strengthen EU member states’ co-ordination and coherence and to develop activities to strengthen migration management in the region, and benefit refugees and migrants.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, also mentioned the Syrian relocation scheme. I understand that 187 people have been helped under this scheme. On Friday 19 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that we would modestly expand the scheme by offering a few hundred more places by working with the UNHCR.
I will now have to finish my notes. It is only through taking an approach that both addresses the immediate symptoms, through our search and rescue on the Mediterranean and our humanitarian programmes across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the root causes, through our long-term economic development and governance programmes, that we can truly have an impact. Through shared prosperity and ambition, we need to work to create a world in which people do not feel forced to leave their home countries.
My Lords, without exception we have heard a series of hugely knowledgeable speeches, tackling a range of complex themes. I was particularly struck by the references made to imaginative ideas, which the Minister just described as ambitious thinking. In the 18th century that led, for instance, to the creation by Britain of a new city, Freetown, in Sierra Leone and in the 19th century to the creation of a new country, Liberia, to help those who were trapped in slavery at that time.
Let me end by referring to the awesome courage, dignity and determination to survive of so many refugees and migrants. Just yesterday, I heard from a young North Korean who had been tortured, imprisoned and forced to scavenge on the streets. He escaped from a country where 200,000 are in concentration camps. After being given asylum in the UK and having had two years in a UK university, yesterday Timothy received British citizenship. His greatest desire is to use that freedom and education to return to his own country and help to rebuild it. That is the greatest longing of most refugees and I hope that today’s important debate will give encouragement to those such as Timothy who read it. I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part.