Motion to Agree
That this House, while noting that Her Majesty’s Government are minded not to opt into the proposed Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece, agrees the recommendation of the European Union Committee that, should an amended or a new proposal be brought forward giving effect to the European Council’s Conclusions in April and June 2015, the Government should exercise their right, in accordance with the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, to take part in the adoption and application of that proposal (2nd Report, HL Paper 22).
My Lords, I beg to move this Motion as chairman of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, which prepared the report to which the Motion relates. I thank all members of the sub-committee, the clerk to that committee, Theo Pembroke, and the policy analyst, Lena Donner, for their assistance with the preparation of the report.
As your Lordships know, when the House considers reports from the European Union Committee, it is normally on a Motion that the House takes note of the report. In this case, the Motion invites the House to agree the committee’s recommendations. The reason is that this report deals with a proposed European Council decision, which falls within the area of justice and home affairs and which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under protocols to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation—in other words if the Government, having taken into account the views of the committee, opt in. The Government have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council. In this case, the deadline will expire on 27 August so I am extremely grateful that time has been made available to debate this opt-in report at short notice and before the expiry of that three-month period.
The background to this debate is the global migration crisis and, specifically, its tragic consequences in the Mediterranean. In a single incident off the coast of Libya in April, more than 800 people lost their lives. Italy and Greece are on the front line. The proposal that is the subject of this debate focuses narrowly on the EU’s attempt to alleviate the burden that has fallen on Italy and Greece in responding to this humanitarian crisis. The fact is that Italy and Greece are unable to cope with looking after migrants and processing their claims for international protection status. Conditions have become so poor in Greece that the European Court of Justice has held that states that return asylum seekers to Greece are in breach of the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
In response, the emergency European Council summit in April agreed to consider organising emergency relocation between all member states on a voluntary basis. What this meant in practice was that the member states agreed voluntarily to assist Greece and Italy by taking in or relocating some of the migrants already based in those countries. However, in May, the EU Commission proposed a Council decision that, if adopted, would create a temporary scheme to relocate 40,000 migrants entering the EU via Italy and Greece to other member states, with the precise numbers to be determined in accordance with a mandatory quota system. Since that point, the Commission and the European Council seem to have been in disagreement. What happened next was that the European Council agreed at its meeting in June that the Council of Ministers should adopt a Council decision providing for,
“the temporary and exceptional relocation over two years from the frontline Member States Italy and Greece to other Member States of 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, in which all Member States will participate … all members will agree by consensus by the end of July on the distribution of such persons, reflecting the specific situation of Member States”.
This meant that the European Council accepted the principle that 40,000 migrants should be relocated from Greece and Italy, and the reference to agreement on distribution by consensus, rather than by qualified majority voting, underlined that the European Council was rejecting the mandatory nature of the scheme proposed by the Commission and reverting to a voluntary political agreement.
Earlier this week, on 20 July, after the report was published, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed to a voluntary scheme that would relocate 32,256 migrants—almost 8,000 short of the target agreed by the European Council. Germany has agreed to take 10,000; Luxembourg, with a population of a little over half a million, is taking 320; even Malta, which is already overburdened with migrants entering Europe by sea, is taking 60. The UK is taking none—not even one.
Not exclusively. The point is that the definition of a migrant is rather fluid, because people who are migrants may become asylum seekers or refugees.
As I said, the UK has taken none—not even one. This week’s political agreement appears to have sidelined further involvement by the Commission, so the status of the Commission’s proposal is uncertain. It is not clear whether it will be withdrawn or amended. Indeed, the information published by the Council about Monday’s meeting has muddied the waters, leaving it unclear on what legal basis the Council’s decisions are being taken forward. That is why the Motion before the House is conditional on the Commission amending or replacing its proposal in such a way as to reflect the conclusions of the European Council.
This is a convoluted story; it was not the way to handle an issue of such gravity and importance. We need to remind ourselves of the underlying reality of this crisis. First, the proposed scheme would not relocate any migrants who have entered Italy or Greece. Only those who are from countries where over 75% of emigrants are successful in claiming asylum status are eligible. At the moment, only three countries meet this condition: they are the conflict-ridden states of Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. Those who would be helped by the scheme are overwhelmingly refugees and not economic migrants.
Secondly, the scheme has repeatedly been conflated with the concurrent proposal to resettle 20,000 refugees in the EU directly from north Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and other priority areas. The UK has agreed, in accordance with long-standing international obligations, to take in just more than 2,000 refugees under the resettlement scheme—but this has no bearing on the relocation scheme, which applies only to migrants who are already in the EU.
Why is the UK refusing to help? The Government argue that the relocation scheme, which is helping those migrants who have already reached the EU, will act as a pull factor and encourage more people to risk their lives. This claim is wholly unsubstantiated, and the Minister, James Brokenshire, was unable to offer any evidence to support his claims when he appeared before the committee. These refugees are fleeing for their lives. The notion that the relocation scheme will encourage more to flee is therefore totally unconvincing.
The Government also cite their wider objectives, such as stopping migration across the Mediterranean and reducing the flow of migrants in countries of origin. These are of course laudable medium and long-term objectives—my sub-committee has just launched an inquiry into the EU’s agenda on migration, which will address these issues in more detail—but they have no bearing on this proposal, which has a specific, limited goal to deal with the current humanitarian crisis.
If the EU fails to relocate refugees, they will be forced to remain in countries which have increasingly poor reception conditions and which, particularly in the case of Greece, are facing economic crises that seriously reduce their capacity to accept additional migration. This is a humanitarian crisis which requires genuinely collective EU action. Moreover, this scheme is about the fundamental principle of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states. As an EU member state, we have a duty to show solidarity and help deal with the crisis. The political and international implications of failing to opt in would also be grave. This humanitarian crisis is happening within the EU’s own borders, and the EU’s failure to deal with it adequately is undermining its international credibility. Effective action is needed and this cannot happen unless all member states, including the UK, take their share of the burden.
After the June Council, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government do not wish to take part in the relocation scheme. However, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum leaves open the possibility that the UK may help if a voluntary scheme is introduced. This now appears to have happened at this week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council. Moreover, the distribution of relocated migrants is well below the target of 40,000, so it would seem that there is still scope for the UK to participate in this scheme. The precise number of migrants that the UK would take would of course be up to the Government.
Before I finish, I have three questions for the Minister, of which I have given his office advance notice. First, further to the Council’s resolution on 20 July, will there be EU legislation to establish the relocation scheme? Secondly, what form will such legislation take and on what legal basis will it be adopted? Thirdly, what relationship will this legislation have to the Commission’s original proposals? These are technical questions but they are important.
Technicalities aside, the issue we are discussing today is fundamentally a question of the UK’s responsibility as a member of the EU. We believe that duties of solidarity with our allies, and compassion for those who have fled civil war, mean that the UK must opt in. Moreover, we believe that it is in the UK’s interest to take part in the proposed scheme. Now, above all, we should show we are fully engaged in supporting our partners. I urge the Government to reconsider their position and opt in. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the remarkable report that she and her committee produced in a very short time. I also congratulate her on a formidable speech. The points she made and the moderation with which she expressed her views were quite moving and very convincing. I am not going to speak for very long because the noble Baroness has set out the case with such eloquence and covered all the issues at stake so fully that there is very little I can add. I only say this: I agree with her about European solidarity and the failure of the EU to respond satisfactorily to this crisis. However, above all we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis that touches all our consciences, as she said. It is as a humanitarian crisis and a matter of conscience that the Government should approach this.
We have heard a great deal recently in the media, but also from members of the Government, comparing what is happening in Syria and Iraq and ISIS with the Nazis of the 1930s. I am always rather dubious about historical analogies and, almost always, situations differ from one epoch to another. However, we can all agree that ISIS is evil—evil in its intent and evil in its actions. If we are to make comparisons with the 1930s, we ought perhaps also to think about what happened to the victims of persecution then: of course, most countries closed their doors to them. Most countries would not take the people who were suffering in Germany and Austria at that time. Indeed, one of the countries that particularly closed its doors was the United States.
However, the United Kingdom had a relatively good record in this respect, as my own family has reason to know. We recently mourned the death of Nicholas Winton, who organised the Kindertransport to this country. There is a striking contrast between the actions and attitudes then—not just of Sir Nicholas Winton but of those who received the children, the institutions in Britain that provided jobs to people who were fleeing and those whose hearts went out to those who were suffering—and the very cold-hearted behaviour that the Government are exhibiting at the moment. It is on that basis that I hope this matter will be considered, in addition to all the other powerful points made by the noble Baroness.
It is unworthy of the traditions of this country that we should not participate in this scheme. It is an EU scheme and we are members of the EU. We have duties to our fellow members and those should all be observed. Quite apart from anything at all to do with the EU, this is a humanitarian issue that should touch the conscience of the nation. If we are to be true to our traditions, we should be co-operating and trying to do something for those who are seeking asylum and fleeing from persecution, who it is quite impossible to send back to countries in a state of chaos, upheaval and violence. I hope that the Government will be able to put that at the centre of their consideration.
My Lords, I also welcome the debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on her speech and on the report. I congratulate the sub-committee—of which I am, in fact, not a member—on the speed of its report. We learn from the United Nations that there are 60 million refugees and displaced persons in the world and, since the beginning of 2014, getting on for 400,000 people have arrived in the EU. I share the view expressed by previous speakers in wanting a more positive response to the whole European agenda on migration from the Government of a country that is still a leading EU member state and a permanent member of the Security Council and which has, while by no means a perfect record on handling migration, at least a lot of experience, and a better tale to tell than many others. I would like a greater sense of how the Government think that the UK can contribute to EU solidarity on this matter, as well as enhancing the responsibility, which is the other side of the coin, of all member states to implement the asylum acquis. We know that there was not a good record in countries such as Italy and Greece even before this crisis; across the whole EU, apparently only two in five return decisions are implemented, which does not help the situation, although some ideas include much greater use of detention, which is worrying.
Sadly, the UK’s moral authority on matters of the asylum acquis is not increased by the fact that we have not opted into two of the five measures—the procedures directive and the reception conditions directive—in the common asylum system. Of course, we are not in the Schengen information system for immigration purposes, so the return decisions and entry bans are of no help to us. But even if the Government are not persuaded by this report and this debate—and I hope that they might be—I hope that they can tell us, in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum to this proposal, how they think,
“an effective and sustainable response to the situation in the Mediterranean”,
can best be implemented, and the extent to which the UK can contribute to an effective response to migratory pressures on some member states, even if it does not opt into the relocation proposal.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, updated us, there was an agreement at the JHA Council on Monday to clarify the legal nature of the scheme—that it is voluntary—by consensus, because it must be admitted that that lack of clarity was not conducive to making decisions. I would like to hear what the Government think about the implications of the scheme for the future of the EU asylum system. Now that the legal nature of being voluntary has been ascertained, could the Minister elaborate on what other factors and criteria will influence the Government’s decision now that that is clear?
The Commission has presented the present proposal as temporary, but as the precursor to a permanent and mandatory scheme which, presumably, would drive a coach and horses through the Dublin arrangement of responsibility on state of first arrival. The June European Council referred to a “temporary and exceptional relocation” of 40,000 over two years but, once this has been done, how could Dublin be re-established, even if it were desirable to do so? Perhaps the Government could answer both those questions. I note that Austria has already stopped processing asylum requests, and Hungary has refused to take back Dublin transferees, so what is the future of the EU asylum system? How will the Government contribute positively to make the overall system work? One puzzle is why the temporary protection directive has never been used and invoked in these circumstances. It is designed for a mass influx, which can be counted cumulatively. One would have thought that it was tailor-made for this situation.
While we are on the asylum acquis, the Commission guidelines on fingerprinting have elicited considerable concern on human rights grounds, since they introduce notions of coercion and detention for failing to give fingerprints. What is the Government’s reaction to those guidelines? It has been much commented on, so are they aware that many arrivals are not being fingerprinted? Can the Government give us an idea of what really is the extent and scale of the problem of non-fingerprinting?
Even if the Government are hesitant on relocation, they need to do much more to help promote safe and legal routes into the EU, whether for refugees, displaced people or legal migrants. It should be much more positive and proactive on the resettlement side of the equation for permanent resettlement, humanitarian admission, enhanced family reunions, study visas and so on, by which I mean direct from the region, specifically for Syrian refugees, of whom 4 million are registered by UNHCR and hosted in neighbouring countries. We must applaud the generosity of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, while being very aware of the strain that this is placing on their capacity, resources and local communities. Indeed, they are starting to close their borders, because the degree of pressure is leading to unregulated shanty camps, which are rife with disease and distress and act as a hotbed for radicalisation. UNHCR is running out of money because promised donations, particularly from the Gulf states, have not materialised. Are the Government pressing those states to come up with the money?
There was an excellent article recently on resettling Syrian refugees by Dr Neil Quilliam, acting head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House. I have not got time to quote a lot of it but he feels that our failure to resettle or provide humanitarian admission to more than a few hundred Syrian refugees is harming the UK’s reputation in the Middle East and squandering an opportunity to influence a new generation of Syrians who will likely lead the reconstruction of their war-torn homeland. He draws an analogy with Iraqi Kurds and Kosovars and he proposes that the UK should admit 10,000 Syrian refugees as opposed to this couple of hundred. This would have various beneficial results. It seems to me that if we were to set such an example we ought to be aiming for something upwards of 200,000 resettlement places across the whole of the EU. Then we could challenge other regions and countries in the world to take on a similar burden. The advantage of resettlement is that it cuts out the middleman or criminal smuggling gangs. I believe there would be public support for such a programme. It does not have the same resonances as the relocation scheme.
On the return of irregular migrants, the Commission plans to revise the legislation on migrant smuggling by 2016. Will the UK take part? It is regrettable that the UK is not a party to the return directive or the framework decision on strengthening criminal penalties against smuggling. Will the Government turn over a new leaf and decide to actually lead in this area for the EU? Perhaps the Minister can update us on other measures that have been taken to tackle criminal smuggling, even though that is not the focus of today.
Also, can the Government give us, either now or perhaps in September, more information about the third leg of the European agenda for migration, which is co-operation with countries of origin and transit? There is much rather airy-fairy talk of a global package to support a dialogue with third countries. What does it really consist of? Are we ready to make serious offers to countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, with which the EU is trying to negotiate readmission agreements, on trade and possibilities for legal migration which would actually make it a real partnership? Even if the main focus today is the relocation proposal, perhaps the Minister can add some comments that will put some concrete flesh on the bones of those proposals, if I can mix my metaphors.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for having secured this debate and for introducing it. I agree entirely with her speech.
The discussions about opt-ins, opt-outs and Title V of Part 3 of TFEU risk obscuring an extraordinarily serious and difficult issue: the consequences of the situation in Iraq and Syria and, further south, in Sudan and Eritrea. The war in Syria alone has led to the worst humanitarian disaster on the borders of Europe since the end of the Second World War, and that is only part of a huge global problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has said: 60 million refugees worldwide, with more than 20 million displaced people on the borders of Europe.
Not only is this extraordinarily serious, it is also extraordinarily complex. There are people fleeing conflict in Iraq and Syria. There are economic migrants from west Africa who had gone to work in Libya but are now fleeing conflict there—economic migrants have become asylum seekers. The apparent constancies here easily break down. Whatever the causes, though, the consequence of all this is that desperate people are prepared to take desperate remedies to escape a pretty desperate predicament. In some cases, as we know, women and children are encouraged into leaking boats by unscrupulous people smugglers and many of them, alas, have died.
There is an inevitable and understandable tendency to wish for an easy solution to problems as complex as this, but there are, alas, no easy solutions. I have to say that I entirely understand, and in many ways applaud, the European Commission’s attempt to find a solution by proposing a relocation scheme. I think that it was wrong to stick to a mandatory scheme when the European Council clearly did not want that. However, proposing to allocate to other EU member states some of the asylum seekers in Greece and Italy is a perfectly sensible, logical and humanitarian attempt to share the burden among EU states.
Of course, that can be only part of the solution. For the longer term, we need to work collectively with countries in the region to remove the causes of migration—not easy at the moment in Iraq, impossible in Syria and virtually impossible in Libya. But we need to work with Jordan and Lebanon and, where we can, with those in north Africa to encourage co-operation and promote development. I think that there is a big role here for DfID, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that it will indeed be working hard to co-operate with the states from which the migrants are coming.
We also need to work to try to neutralise people smugglers and drug traffickers. This will inevitably be for the medium to long term, and meanwhile we need to ensure that those who are on the leaky boats are rescued, not left to drown. I was encouraged that HMS “Bulwark” was sent to help to achieve that, and I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that HMS “Enterprise” will be equally assiduous in trying to save people on leaky boats trying to get from the north African coast to Malta or the European continent.
I am glad that at the Council meeting this week the UK agreed to take 2,000 people from east Africa. However, if we believe that the United Kingdom has an international role, or indeed an international responsibility, surely we must take part fully in the search for a solution to an immensely difficult problem, and that means taking part fully also in the European Union’s proposals for relocation. The response is evolving day by day, and we must be part of that. Opting out of a key part of the European Union’s attempt to find solutions to a problem as serious as this is, frankly, as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has said so eloquently, not worthy of our history or our traditions, nor indeed of our interests as a nation that still has global influence around the world. I therefore hope very much that the Government will consider these broader humanitarian issues as well as the narrower question of how many people to take in under these different schemes.
My Lords, like other speakers, I am grateful for this debate and particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues for this excellent, moving and powerful report.
Of course, there are no easy answers to this dilemma, and I do not pretend that there are. I fully accept that any further help that we offer these poor disrupted people should be on a voluntary basis. Generosity and hospitality are important but cannot be mandated. On the other hand, as relatively wealthy members of the family of nations and of the European Union, we have a duty to help the persecuted and dispossessed, and to offer support to poorer European partners who find themselves under severe pressure. I stress that this is not easy.
Clearly, the problems in places such as Eritrea, Syria and Iraq must be dealt with at source, and it is right that we as a country should play a full part in that diplomatically, through appropriate aid—I note and endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said about the involvement of DfID—and, if necessary, in other ways. But if people are driven out of their country or are fleeing persecution, the political considerations and complications should not be an excuse for our inaction.
The words “refugee” and “asylum seeker” have become almost terms of abuse in our generation, yet we have a noble tradition in this country of welcoming the persecuted and dispossessed, and that is part of what has made our country great. In my city of Peterborough, we still have a thriving community of Ugandan Asians and their descendants. These people were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972 in an appalling act of racial cleansing. Our city welcomed a large group, and three years ago held a celebration of 40 years of that community and the immense contribution that it has made to our common life over that time.
Yes, the political problems are great. There are no easy answers and all actions have consequences. Nevertheless, welcoming the persecuted and the dispossessed is a duty for civilised nations—I would argue that it is a Christian duty—and in the long term it is good for the host nation, as well as for those fleeing for their lives.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the right reverend Prelate in a very brief but powerful and moving speech. I am glad that he referred to the Ugandan Asians. I was a very new, young Member of another place, alongside my now noble friend Lord Tugendhat, in 1970, and when I look back upon that time, I think that it was the best decision of the Heath Government, notwithstanding any others. We behaved as good neighbours and received people into our midst, and we have received manifold benefits as a result of that. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Popat introduced a debate in this House to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the coming of the Ugandan Asians.
Of course, there is no exact parallel. Ugandan Asians, for the most part, had British passports. We were taking in those who had a degree of entitlement, although there were many voices raised at the time to suggest that they did not. However, it is an interesting parallel to draw. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Tugendhat referred to the late, great Sir Nicholas Winton, who, with his Kindertransport, did so much—unheralded and unknown until recent years—to bring children here from one of the most evil and repressive regimes in history. Many of them settled and, indeed, we have at least one in our own midst, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has talked movingly of that.
This is a humanitarian issue. We are talking about refugees, people who are fleeing evil regimes, situations of civil war and repression. It is not an unfair analogy to say that the evil of ISIL compares with the evil of Nazi Germany. I am grateful, as are others, to our noble friend Lady Prashar for the way in which she chairs our sub-committee and for the manner in which she introduced this debate.
We all understand the caution on the part of the Government when immigration was an issue that played large in the recent general election and when the policy of an open door excites sometimes very unfair, sometimes downright wrong responses from certain people. We are not talking of ordinary immigrants here. Of course, precautions have to be taken. It is necessary for fingerprints to be taken, because in the areas from which these poor people flee not only is there strife and civil war but there are those, some of them from our country, who are fomenting trouble and are guilty of terrible things. We have to be careful, but being careful does not mean that you have to slam the door or refuse to open it.
I very much hope that the Government will heed the voices heard in this debate. I hope that they will recognise that this great humanitarian crisis—the greatest, as has been said, since the end of the Second World War—behoves us to behave as good neighbours. None of us is saying that there should be a mandatory scheme. You cannot order people to be kind, as the right reverend Prelate made plain in his remarks, but a voluntary scheme is one of which we should be part, as long as the renegotiation, of which we should be part, produces a workable one. I believe that it can and should; I hope that it will.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has reminded us that we are a world power. We have a seat on the United Nations Security Council. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, reminded us, we are a leading member of the European Union, one of the largest nations. If we remain within it, as I devoutly hope that we will, within a decade or so we will probably be the most powerful economic nation within the European Union.
Of course we have national obligations, and it is by recognising national responsibilities in the past that our country has become a great country. In the 19th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 20th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 21st century, we must be prepared to take into our midst not unlimited numbers—that is not possible—but the sort of people for whom Nicholas Winton fought to gain admittance to the United Kingdom.
I sincerely hope that my noble friend who will be replying to this debate, who has an enviable reputation as a Minister of sensitivity, compassion and thought, will be able to give us an encouraging response, because this is a modest report which makes a modest request. It is fitting that the last debate before we break for the summer should be one where we look not inward but outward and seek to recognise the plight of those whose sufferings we cannot even begin properly to imagine and to say to them: “Yes, we will behave as good neighbours”.
My Lords, the debate we are having today and the report from the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee shine a much-needed spotlight on a policy area where both the EU collectively and its individual member states are struggling to find an adequate response and, so far, falling well short of what is required. Although I am no longer any part of the sub-committee—I used to chair it, before the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who introduced the debate this afternoon with such eloquence and precision—I strongly endorse the views put forward in that report. Just in case anyone feels that if we go away on holiday and simply forget about it, the problem will somehow go away or diminish, I commend to their attention the Ditchley lecture on 11 July by António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who warned that the flow of asylum seekers towards Europe is sure to get worse before it gets better. That warning really does need to be taken seriously.
The Government and indeed the EU’s response so far has contained some valid elements. It is indeed good that rescue operations in the Mediterranean have been stepped up and that the Royal Navy is participating actively in those operations, thus reducing the appalling death toll of the spring and early summer. It is right to contemplate taking military action against the traffickers, although the implementation of that approach bristles with difficulties. It is right, too, to intensify police and judicial co-operation both within and outside the EU to clamp down on this inhuman trade. It is the case that helping developing countries to grow their own economies must be part of any solution to the problem of excessive economic migration. But having said that, to go on to assert, as the Government have done, that to handle genuine asylum seekers more expeditiously and humanely would be to encourage a pull factor, is deeply unconvincing—and that is a British understatement because one could use stronger words than that. Do we seriously believe that Syrians, Eritreans, Iraqis and Afghan families fleeing for their lives from persecution are motivated by the same factors as economic migrants? I cannot believe that we believe that.
I agree that the EU Commission has not helped the handling of this sensitive matter by ignoring the views of the April European Council and putting on the table a proposal for mandatory quotas. However appealing the emotional argument for such an approach, the Commission must have known that it would not be accepted. The Commission’s task is to be practical and not utopian. On this occasion, it failed that test.
The Government’s response, which has been to shelter behind the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out, was predictable, and so long as the proposal for mandatory quotas was on the table, I would argue that it was a legitimate one. But that seems to be no longer the case, and the June European Council opted for a voluntary approach, which has now been confirmed by the 20 July Justice and Home Affairs Council earlier this week. I believe that the Government should—there and then in June, when the mandatory approach was discarded and the voluntary approach was endorsed—have marked that shift in policy by making a voluntary offer to increase the number of asylum seekers from conflict zones whom we are prepared to admit from the current pitifully low level. To have done so would have been to show sensitivity to the problems that Greece and Italy are facing as a result of being in the front line of the wave of migrants and would have been no more than we are obliged to do under our international obligations towards refugees. That chance was missed, unfortunately, but I agree with the proposal before us today and with those who have preceded me in this debate in urging the Government not to opt out again but to participate in the voluntary scheme which is now taking shape.
Surely we need to be shaping policy in this area, not washing our hands of it like Pontius Pilate. As long as member states, and we are not alone in this, allow their policies on immigration to be dictated by scare stories in the press and by populist political agitation, we will fall short of finding an adequate response to what is a major humanitarian challenge of our times.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I have had the honour of serving under him on several EU sub-committees and it has always been an instructive experience. Our views do not always coincide. The noble Lord has an Olympian view, honed by years of distinguished service to this country in the Foreign Office, while my more utilitarian views have been honed by years of experience in the rather more vulgar world of industry and commerce, so I am afraid that our views today do not coincide.
I was not a member of this sub-committee, but I have served on it before and was a member when, in the 2007-08 Session, it produced its report on FRONTEX, the EU’s external borders agency, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jopling. Then, as now, one could not fail to be appalled by the evidence of human misery: wretched men, women and children being plucked from the sea or staggering on to some Mediterranean beach. Then, as now, one could not fail to be appalled by the cynical behaviour of the people smugglers. I remember a particularly heartrending evidence session given by a senior officer from the immigration service of Malta. He described overloaded, unseaworthy boats being towed by an inflatable until the GPS showed that the boat was in the territorial waters of Malta. A cheap satellite phone would then be handed to one person on the unseaworthy boat with instructions to call a number, and when it was answered to say, “We are in Maltese territorial waters. Please rescue us”. The number, of course, was for the Maltese coastguard. By the time the coastguard turned up, the inflatable was, if not back in Africa, well its way there. So I would not want any Member of your Lordships’ House to doubt my sympathy for these unfortunate people.
Yet, while this Motion is entirely worthy and has been incredibly persuasively argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I think it is misconceived. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said, this is a very complex problem and I believe that the Government are right not to opt into this measure or any part of it on any basis. I do so on two grounds. First, while I agree that the measure is entirely well intentioned, it addresses the symptoms, not the problem. As such, it risks exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. Secondly, while many noble Lords have referred to this country’s historical welcome to displaced persons and refugees, the situation now is that this country is experiencing, and will continue to experience for the next 20 years, a population explosion—unlike our continental European neighbours—with consequent strains on social cohesion. In that context, the relative population densities of different EU countries are a critical feature.
Let me deal with each of those in turn. I am afraid that I do not accept the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that there is no pull factor from allowing immigrants, refugees and displaced persons to enter the EU. I support what the Government say in paragraph 24 of the report. The challenge is that even at first quite small, limited numbers can begin the creation of what is known as an immigration superhighway. Immigration superhighways can now be created faster than ever by the prevalence of social media, which allow instantaneous communication about possibilities and opportunities. The more desperate the people, the quicker the highway emerges.
That takes me to my concern about the statement in paragraph 29 that this event is “exceptional and temporary”. I am afraid I have difficulty in accepting that argument. I would very much like to see evidence to support the argument in paragraph 31 that somehow “international protection” will not encourage a steady drift west or north in search of a better life or merely to avoid persecution, poverty and threat to life or limb. However neat this may appear to the Commission in Brussels, displaced persons are not so easily segmented or clearly put into one box or another.
There is another political, rather more stark reason why this proposal is misguided. The presence of these unfortunate people puts pressure on the Governments of the countries involved to police their borders effectively. If there is a hope—a possibility—that arrivals can be passed on to the rest of the EU, I fear that the political and operational focus will inevitably diminish. The numbers, as other noble Lords have said, are staggering. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, referred to 10 million displaced persons in Syria, 3 million in Iraq and many more in Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and other north African and Saharan countries. Any action, however trivial, that suggests that the EU might open its door even a fraction could create population movement on a scale hitherto undreamed of.
So, do I think that we have to leave those unfortunate people to their fate? Of course not. The Government have made a courageous and principled commitment to spending 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid and have ring-fenced it. The economic power with our international partners—I entirely support the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, when she said that we ought to make sure that everybody does their bit—needs to be deployed to improve the living and economic conditions of these displaced people at source, as does our military power to offer protection to displaced people as well as to destroy the boats and generally inhibit the operations of people smugglers wherever they may operate.
I turn to the second reason why I believe that the Government need to keep control of our borders and should not take part in any relocation scheme. Noble Lords have made moving statements. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, and others, talked about the contribution that refugees have made to our country in the past. This is a very small and very crowded country. Furthermore, it is a crowded country undergoing a population explosion. Last year our population rose by 500,000 people—1,400 people a day. A small town or large village is being put on the map of Britain every week. If we wish to house these people to the same standard that we enjoy ourselves—I assume we wish to do that, with 2.3 people per dwelling—we need to build 600 dwellings a day. That is one every two and a half minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is without building the hospitals, the schools, the roads and other infrastructure that are required. That is not all. The mid projection from the Office for National Statistics suggests that this will continue for the next 20 years. By 2035 it is estimated that we will have a further 8 million people in this country, equivalent to three cities the size of Greater Manchester. To house them, we will have to build 3.4 million dwellings—building a house every three minutes for the next 20 years.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough referred to social strains. This will put huge social strains on our country. Some of those strains, I fear, are beginning to make themselves felt already. We should not add to those strains as this proposal suggests, not only because it would be unfair to our settled population, of whatever race, colour or creed, but no less significantly because, when social cohesion breaks down, it is the poor, the disadvantaged and the recently arrived who suffer the most. If the European Union wishes to proceed with these plans, it is surely essential that existing countries’ population densities need to be taken into account. This is not mentioned in paragraph 11 of the report.
I described England as a crowded country. We have just overtaken the Netherlands as the most densely populated country in Europe, with more than 400 people per square kilometre. The Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre. However, Germany has 233—about 60% of our density—and France 111, about 25% of our density. If the EU wishes to proceed with this measure, these countries must surely be the destination for the 40,000 people.
To conclude, I recognise that these are stark realities and I, for one, do not always feel comfortable spelling them out, but the 40,000 are only the symptom of the problem. We need to tackle its roots.
I apologise for interrupting but I would have thought the noble Lord might recognise that at the Council meeting on Monday of this week, the French and Germans accepted numbers in the region of 10,000 each under this scheme, and these are countries where there are very active political forces urging them—like us—to accept no one at all.
My Lords, I did not expect to get through this speech without the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, wishing to draw attention to the advantages of the European Union. The fact is that those countries are immeasurably less densely populated than the United Kingdom. France, at 111 people per square kilometre, has 25% of our population density, and we have to bear that in mind. Our settled population—and when I say “settled population”, I mean people of whatever race, colour or creed—has its own position and we are in danger of—
I understand. I am speaking for the people of this country and what we should be doing to make sure that our settled population’s rights are looked after. I am trying to draw attention to the fact that, with a population growth rate of 1,400 people per day, this country’s population is growing very fast indeed, and that will bring strains with it. Those are strains to which we should not be adding, but we risk doing so if we go down the line being pursued this afternoon by the proposers of this Motion, well-meaning, beautifully argued and well-modulated though it may be. It is a question of the preferences that we need to speak up for in this debate. I believe that, as the sub-committee itself reported, this situation is “exceptional and temporary”. In my view, the Government would make a grave mistake if they opt into this proposal in any way.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has considerably widened the scope of this debate and I shall resist the temptation to answer him directly for that reason. I understand that he must come to the aid of his noble friend, but it is not enough to say that he is in a minority because he has made important points which we will reserve for another day.
This debate follows on neatly from the debate on the situation in the Mediterranean and the displacement of refugees and migrants from Asia and Africa introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 9 July, which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, may have attended. I am afraid that we did not get satisfactory answers on that occasion, as we should have done given the current daily anxieties in the media and among the public, so I shall ask some of those questions again today. This is a matter of great concern in this House, not least because of the work that has been put in by our Select Committees.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Prashar on her elegantly worded Motion and on taking on this urgent question on the very last day that we can have any hope of influencing Her Majesty’s Government. It is also a genuine benefit to have this particular Minister, whom I know from experience of the Modern Slavery Bill and most recently the Psychoactive Substances Bill. The Minister has to represent a department that can at times, and under any Government, resemble a brick wall—and I have had 20 years of experience of that—but he himself is a very practised listener.
The Government do need to listen on this issue because, as others have said, this is an exceptional time in terms of the numbers of migrants entering Europe. Member states therefore have to make urgent adjustments, and they are very modest adjustments being proposed today, to current EU policy—not just the Commission proposals or the recent Council conclusions, which seem to have confused everyone and have muddied the waters, to use the expression of my noble friend—but in the longer term the Dublin regulation itself, because the fact is that member states are already reinterpreting the regulation. Surely this strengthens the argument, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out, that we should be reconsidering that regulation formally.
We are therefore discussing this issue in something of a vacuum because the Commission, having revised its conclusion, has not yet come up—or the Council has not yet come up—with new proposals we can consider. We know that the Commission made a serious misjudgment—and the Minister might agree on that point—in proposing a mandatory scheme in the first place. On the other hand, it should be helpful to our Government if we raise the issue today, either to enable them to prepare a response in advance or, better still, for us as the UK to make our own proposal first.
My own view is close to that of my noble friend and of the committee. The Commission’s intention is very clear: to help Greece and Italy to relocate 40,000 migrants to other member states. The Council has agreed now to adopt a voluntary scheme, if it is agreed by consensus by all participating member states. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, mention our own “population explosion” and “superhighway”, which I think do not come into this area of discussion. I believe that the UK should in fairness take an active part in the resettlement scheme as proposed in the terms now set out by the Council.
The proposed scheme does little to help with the processing of asylum applications; under the Dublin rules, that falls to Greece and Italy as the countries of first asylum. They get very limited operational assistance from the EU or through FRONTEX, but that processing needs strengthening as well. As my noble friend says, these are not economic migrants from north Africa. I must repeat that. The vast majority in Greece and Italy who come under these measures are fleeing civil war in Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. I support the view that, when we see the Council’s conclusions, the UK should fully take part in negotiations on them. We are a member state, whatever our legal relations with Schengen or FRONTEX, and under a voluntary scheme especially we have a clear moral responsibility.
Can the Minister say how many Syrians are being processed already under the UNHCR’s gateway resettlement scheme? I know we are receiving up to 750 from different countries under this programme, but how do the Syrians fit into the more recent scheme by which hundreds of vulnerable Syrians are selected and given five years’ humanitarian protection status? I understand that up to March only 183 had been resettled under this scheme. When I asked the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, the number had risen by four, to 187, when he answered in the 9 July debate. Can the Minister confirm those figures, and does he have anything more recent?
I do not think we are slamming the door—an expression that is being used. I recognise that more than 4,000 Syrians have already been granted asylum in the UK during this crisis, but we still cannot match the generosity of other EU members, such as Germany and France, which have various problems, as has been said, and are jointly taking more than 20,000 refugees in the next two years.
I am reminded by the right reverend Prelate’s contribution that this contrasts not just with the case of the Ugandan Asians but with the warm reception that the earlier boat people, the Indo-Chinese, received— I think that most of us can remember that—especially through the churches and local communities. Again, these were people already under UNHCR protection and processed through that scheme.
If I may digress for a moment, some noble Lords may be familiar with the magazine Forced Migration Review, which is published by the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. It is an excellent magazine recording the direct experience of aid workers and researchers who visit refugee camps in Turkey and the Levant. They know the problems of refugees intimately. Last September’s issue was devoted to Syrian refugees. It reminded us that during the civil war it is the women who shoulder the main burden in feeding the family and keeping homes together. It is they who ultimately make the decision to leave; they are already vulnerable at the point. But the old, the infirm, mothers of young children and many more suffering from mental health problems are the categories that we are talking about, who deserve urgent assistance and protection. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, put it, the Government must not shelter behind their JHA opt-outs. It is up to them to increase our share of this responsibility.
My Lords, like other Peers, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for securing the debate. The UK has a unique role in Europe in that, like France, it has a significant colonial past with positive and negative connotations. The positive legacy is that the UK still has many friends in Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, from where many migrants emanate. I shall focus on Africa as the continent I know best, because, as a migrant of some 63 years in this country, I probably know more about it than most. Of the three countries that have been referred to as being eligible for admission under the scheme, Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, is the only African country.
However, many from west Africa are undoubtedly economic migrants. Many of them started to go to countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to better themselves, improve their family and send money back home. They have come not only from francophone countries but from anglophone countries in west Africa.
The problems that have occurred in Libya with the change in government—in fact, no government in some respects—the warfare, the abuse and the persecution, have meant that those who went there as economic migrants now choose to leave as persecuted people, in the same way as many in Syria and Iraq. We must make the point that there are those who are genuinely fleeing oppression, and that needs to be taken into account in dealing with them.
Our focus, naturally, has been on people around the Mediterranean rim. We have heard in an evidence session even today, from Franck Düvell, a senior researcher from the University of Oxford, that 90% of those who embark on journeys to Europe succeed, with 1% dying on the way. So for a migrant, a 99% success rate is a risk worth taking. To them, the prize at the end is what matters.
If we reflect on the fact that in this House we often say that hard cases make bad law, we must also be careful that we do not let the tragic incidents which have occurred—and they are indeed tragic—divert us from the fact that we need to get to the solution via the causes of the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, we need to deal with the causes not just the symptoms. The Spanish Interior Minister, Senor Diaz, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal yesterday as saying:
“It’s like when you have a leaky roof: Instead of fixing it, we distribute water between the rooms”.
Surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, identified, we would do better to work with the sub-Saharan African states to fix the leaky roof.
The UK is one of five EU member states in the Khartoum process and should use its influence to bring greater pressure to bear on the African Union, which also has responsibility in this matter. We talk about the pull factor but there is also a push factor and in order to get a push factor you have to have countries that do not have secure borders or arrangements to ensure that their people are not persecuted or made uncomfortable about staying in those countries. The African Union has responsibilities in relation to migration, both regular and irregular. Sudan enacted a law against human trafficking in March 2014, yet conflict in South Sudan is a major factor in migration, some of which passes through Sudan to Europe.
At the meeting of the African Union in Khartoum in October 2014, the African Union Commission Director for Social Affairs acknowledged that despite action plans in 2006 and 2009, human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants remains a “caustic challenge”, particularly in the Horn of Africa. He said:
“Many Member States in the Sub-region are yet to ratify the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and/or fully implement it with national legislation in their respective domain”.
The UN has been mentioned today and certainly the UNCHR has offered to help but I believe that this is a challenge for the UN itself to deal with. There are issues and problems with the UN. We know that in the Security Council there is disagreement between the various parties about this issue and therefore very little has happened. But dealing with many of the conflicts in the zones and areas that we have talked about is the way to address the problem.
We have talked about the Horn of Africa. There is also Niger, which is a major transit point for many migrants. The reason is the problems we have seen recently with Boko Haram in Nigeria and many people being displaced from that country to surrounding areas. My questions to the Minister are: what input have the UK Government had in the discussions with the EU members of the Khartoum process? What is our response to the action plan for 2014-17 set by the EU-Africa Summit in 2014, which focuses on the following priorities: trafficking in human beings; the diaspora, which is one of the pull factors; mobility and labour migration, including intra-African mobility, which I referred to earlier; international protection, which we feel is a right for all those who migrate; and irregular migration, which is the basis of our discussion today? We have heard much about the pull and push factors driving migration but I would like to know what we can do in the long term to contain the problem, which can be solved only through conflict resolution.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the European Union Committee and the members of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for this report. I will direct my comments to the specific points made in the report and the conclusions set out in the last two paragraphs in respect of the Council decision that the committee retains under scrutiny.
The number of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean Sea route has increased considerably, rising from 40,000 illegal border crossings in 2013 to more than 170,000 in 2014. On the eastern Mediterranean route through Turkey to the European Union via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus, there were just over 50,000 illegal border crossings last year. The EU border agency said in March this year that anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people were waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean.
In response to this major unfolding and all too often tragic humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean, the European Commission, as the report says, published a proposal just under two months ago for a mandatory emergency relocation scheme in respect of Syrian and Eritrean nationals who arrive in Italy and Greece seeking asylum. The scheme aims to relocate 40,000 people to other member states over the next two years. The EU Committee report notes:
“While the Commission has presented the current proposal as a temporary measure, it intends that it should be a precursor to a permanent and mandatory scheme”,
to be brought forward by the end of this year.
Under the proposal, responsibility for deciding the asylum claim would rest with the member state that accepts the relocated asylum seeker. Doing this would constitute a temporary and limited departure from the usual Dublin system for determining which state is responsible for processing an asylum claim, namely the member state through which the applicant entered the EU. Our opt-in arrangements mean that we decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in new EU legislative measures on asylum and immigration. In this instance, the three-month deadline for indicating that we wish to participate in its negotiation and adoption, if that be the case, falls on 27 August this year.
In an article in a national newspaper on 13 May, the Home Secretary said that the United Kingdom would not participate in mandatory relocation or resettlement schemes, since in the Government’s view the schemes would create “pull factors” for further migration, strengthen the incentives for people smugglers’ activities and reduce the incentives on individual member states to ensure effective asylum systems of their own. Indeed, these points were similar to those made by the coalition Government in October 2014 when they supported the ending of Italy’s search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea.
A number of other member states have also expressed their opposition to the introduction of mandatory relocation quotas. The European Union Committee’s report refers to a lack of clarity in the light of the European Council meeting on 23 April this year and the conclusions following a Council discussion on the Commission’s proposal towards the end of last month. In its report, the committee says that it is,
“not in a position to express a view on the relative merits of a voluntary and a mandatory scheme, but we do not understand why the Commission, despite the clearly expressed view of the European Council, should have persisted in proposing a mandatory scheme, which it must have known was unlikely to be accepted by the Member States”.
The report also draws attention to the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum, in which they state their opposition to mandatory relocation and any form of relocation of asylum cases within the EU, and their conclusion that they are minded not to opt in to the proposal. However, as has been said, the committee’s report goes on to say that the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum,
“leaves open the possibility that this position may be reviewed before the deadline of 27 August”,
subject to three factors. These factors are that the proposal is amended to be a voluntary scheme, that there is consideration of how to implement an effective response to the situation in the Mediterranean, and that there is consideration of how the UK can contribute to a,
“response to migratory pressures on some Member States without opting in”.
No doubt the Minister will be updating us on whether the Government anticipate, or are, reviewing their position.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, the committee’s report sets out the reasons why it is not convinced by some of the Government’s objections to the proposed decision, before stating:
“The Government’s approach will do little to help the response to a humanitarian crisis within the EU’s borders”,
“The reputational risk of a continued failure to act, to individual Member States as well as to the EU as a whole, is great”.
The report concludes by saying that the committee believes that,
“it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to take part in the negotiation”,
of the proposed Council decision,
“and that, should an amended or a new proposal be brought forward giving effect to the European Council’s Conclusions in April and June 2015, the Government should reconsider its position and opt in”.
There is an obvious difficulty in expressing a view about specific proposals that, as I understand it, have not yet been made and conceivably may never be made. We have already said that we should decouple asylum from migration targets, since the considerations in determining our decisions on these two issues are—or should be—very different. We have already said that we would take more Syrian refugees. However, with respect to relocating those asylum seekers who have already entered the EU through Italy and Greece, the responsibility for processing their asylum claims should remain, as now, with the member states through which the applicants entered the EU and not with the member states, including the United Kingdom, that accept the relocated asylum seekers. Neither could we go along with a proposal that told us how many refugees we had to take, since that is a decision that should be made in this country, by this country.
The Prime Minister has announced a modest expansion of the UK’s resettlement programme, particularly for vulnerable Syrian refugees. I conclude by simply asking the Minister: on the basis of what criteria have decisions to date implementing that modest expansion been made? How modest has that expansion been? Are any changes in the criteria being considered?
My Lords, on a topic of debate on which there have been a range of views and a degree of passion and contention on all sides, I think that there are some things on which we can express some agreement. First, the report—presented very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on behalf of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee—is an excellent piece of work. It is thorough and clear in its analysis and its recommendations. It is quite incredible that the committee has managed to produce this report and publish it on 15 July, despite the Commission producing the proposal only on 27 May. I also pay tribute to the business managers for arranging to squeeze the debate in before the House rises for Recess. I think we can agree on all of that.
The second point that we can all agree on is that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, this is a humanitarian crisis that impacts on the consciences of us all. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, mentioned, this is a crisis on a scale that we have not seen in the post-war world. It therefore demands a response. Many noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Tugendhat and Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, in particular—reminded us of our proud tradition in this country of providing protection for those persecuted around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, talked about the Ugandan Asians. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the Vietnamese boat people, as he referred to them, and to the Kindertransport. I remember my own experience growing up in the town of Gateshead, which may not seem very remarkable to many Members of this House, but it is home to one of the largest and most significant Orthodox Jewish communities in the world and has one of its leading universities, the Talmudical College. The people of Gateshead and Tyneside provided hospitality to people who came there fleeing the Nazi regime in Europe. I say this as someone who had the privilege of growing up there: they enriched our community and still do.
Since the crisis unfolded, the Government have been clear that relocating migrants within Europe is the wrong response. It does nothing more than move the problem about Europe and does absolutely nothing to address the underlying cause of people getting on the boats. It risks undermining control of our own borders and asylum system. The Government have no plans to opt into any relocation scheme, whether voluntary or mandatory.
We have been very clear that the time and attention that has been committed within the EU to negotiating the measure would have been far better spent on implementing long-term and sustainable solutions to the crisis, on tackling the abuse of the asylum system and on building capacity in those member states under pressure. The Government’s view is that real solidarity with other European countries is best expressed through practical co-operation to build capability in the asylum and migration systems of member states struggling to deal with the migratory flows.
The UK will continue to provide concrete support via the European Asylum Support Office to countries such as Greece—which the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to—Italy and Bulgaria. In the last three years, the UK has contributed more resources to the EASO than any other member state, totalling over 1,000 expert working days to missions in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Two UK asylum experts have just returned from EASO-led deployments to Italy, and one has just returned from Rome after a three-month deployment. The UK has made bilateral contributions to a number of countries, including Greece, for example by funding voluntary returns—where £2 million has been spent over the past two years from 2013 to 2015—and asylum programmes, where £600,000 has been spent over the past three years. We are happy to consider further requests for bilateral assistance where that can augment EU-level action.
The extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council on Monday reached political agreement on the amended relocation and resettlement measure. We have not opted into this measure, so did not support it. The Council also reached conclusions on resettlement, although of course there was no formal legislative proposal to discuss there. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said from Her Majesty’s Opposition’s perspective, we have been clear that our contribution to resettlement efforts will continue under national schemes and not under the EU arrangement. I will come back to the noble Earl’s questions on the existing schemes, such as the Gateway, Mandate and Syrian vulnerable persons relocation schemes, a little latter, but we estimate we will contribute through those schemes by resettling 2,200 people over the next two years. That is not a target, but a projection based on current activity. I am glad that the EU is now moving beyond this debate and am hopeful that the focus of our efforts can now move firmly to action where it matters: on tackling the causes of illegal migration and the organised trafficking gangs behind it, and on increasing support and protection in the region for all those who need it.
We are establishing a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle the threat posed by illegal immigration from north Africa. The 90-strong team 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. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, was right to talk about the way in which these desperate, incredibly vulnerable people are exploited.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned, we are leading the way. We are proud of leading the world in tackling modern slavery with the legislation that we passed earlier this year. We see the establishment of the task force as being consistent with that aim. Tackling this issue in the long term can be done only with a comprehensive solution. That means helping the countries these people come from to reduce the push factors, which my noble friend Lord Ribeiro referred to, to build stability, to create livelihoods and to go after the criminal gangs. With a handful of staff based in Europol cells in Sicily and The Hague, and the rest on standby in the UK to deploy to different areas in the region as required, the task force will exploit every opportunity at source, in transit countries and in Europe, to smash the gangs and criminal operations.
However, we also need a Government in Libya that we can work with to address this problem, as the majority of people travel through that country. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, we need to break the link between embarking in unseaworthy boats from north Africa and entering and remaining in the EU illegally. My noble friend Lord Hodgson referred to the example he was given by FRONTEX of the experience in Malta. This form of illegal migration funds organised crime and undermines fair immigration controls by allowing economic migrants unfair and uncontrolled access to our countries. That is not to say that they are all economic migrants—there are incredibly large numbers of vulnerable people. They are a proportion of those coming through the central Mediterranean route, but in the eastern Mediterranean route people are primarily coming from the war-torn areas of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Wherever possible, we should return the boats immediately from whence they came. If we cannot do that, we must ensure that when they arrive on EU shores we stop, fingerprint and screen migrants to control their movement and distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants. In particular, we support the idea of establishing hot spots at pressure points along the external border to ensure proper licensing, processing and fingerprinting of arriving migrants. We must ensure that they cannot travel further than their point of arrival and must return them without delay to their country of origin. That means investing real effort in infrastructure and expertise at the most exposed borders. However, it also requires the determination to make it happen, not least from those countries most affected. The scale of the present situation requires even more ambitious thinking and we need greater ambition and momentum on initiatives such as the Khartoum process.
My noble friend Lord Ribeiro asked specifically how we were moving forward with this. There will be a very important summit later this year in Malta—the Valletta summit. As a positive development, this will involve working jointly with African partners. As my noble friend suggested, it is important that we can demonstrate real progress in tackling the migration challenge beyond political announcements. The Valletta summit must help to drive concrete action on the upstream elements of the EU agenda, delivering a comprehensive plan for action. That plan should include increased ambition under current EU partnerships such as the Khartoum and Rabat processes. However, it must also encompass broader initiatives to disrupt people smugglers and traffickers, and efforts to dissuade migrants from attempting the Mediterranean crossing and to address root causes through the development of humanitarian programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked me to confirm that DfID would be involved in that, and it is absolutely a key partner. One thing that the noble Lord will understand better than most is the importance of getting different departments involved in this process—be it the Foreign Office, DfID, the MoD or the Home Office—working very closely together. One of the responses to the debate held on 9 July was to say that there should be a cross-ministerial meeting between Ministers in this House to address the concerns that your Lordships have expressed on many occasions, not only in Oral Questions but in debates and in this report, and I am pleased to say that that will take place on 14 October.
The UK will be providing support to all three regional development and protection programmes. There our focus must be on building stability and creating livelihoods. Noble Lords will also be aware that the UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. We have pledged £900 million, making us the second-largest donor bilaterally and our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across the region. Since the crisis began, we have granted asylum to over 4,200 Syrian nationals, and only last month the Prime Minister announced that we would be expanding that programme.
On that point, it is worth reflecting on the letter sent by James Brokenshire, my colleague in the Home Office in charge of immigration, who I know gave evidence to the Committee and then followed up, I think also quite promptly, with written explanations of points raised there. He made the point that, when we talk about where this country stands internationally in terms of responding to this crisis, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson pointed out, despite immense fiscal pressures at the present time, we have ring-fenced and protected our overseas development aid programme at 0.7%—in fact, 0.71%—of GNI. This compares to 0.41% and 0.36% of German and French GNI respectively. In absolute terms, while Germany spent £9.97 billion and France £6.3 billion, the UK contribution was £11.77 billion. That underscores the commitment that we have to protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and my noble friend Lord Cormack to say more about the FRONTEX operation and fingerprinting. Some of the front-line member states fingerprint very few migrants arriving on their shores, contrary to what the Dublin regulations say should happen. As an example of the practical co-operation that is taking place, we have offered to provide support for that for member states.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, asked a number of key questions, which I want to address as I draw my remarks to a close. She asked, further to the Justice and Home Affairs Council resolution of 20 July, whether there would be EU legislation establishing a relocation scheme. After much discussion on the proposal for a council decision establishing the relocation mechanism for Italy and Greece at the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council this week, the council reached political agreement on the latest text. The negotiations have been difficult, and formal adoption cannot take place until the European Parliament consultation process has taken place. We expect this to be completed in September, and we therefore expect the legislation establishing the scheme some time in the autumn.
The noble Baroness asked what form such legislation would take and on what legal basis it will be adopted. As outlined in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum of 9 June, the proposed legal basis is Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. She also asked what relation this legislation would have to the European Commission’s original proposed Council decision on the relocation of migrants. We will deposit the text agreed by the Council on Monday; the legislation is broadly in line with the Commission’s proposal of 27 May, with the exception that the numbers of migrants that each participating member state will take is set out in the separate resolution agreed by the member states in the Council on Monday, and is not determined through the mandatory allocation scheme originally proposed by the Commission.
Several noble Lords asked about the ongoing operations by the Royal Navy. We are proud of what HMS “Bulwark” and HMS “Enterprise” have done, as well as the two cutters that are with them, which, with helicopter support, will continue in support of our humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean.
I was asked about absolute numbers in terms of Gateway, Mandate and the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Under Gateway, 6,300 cases have been resettled over the past 10 years, at 750 refugees per year. Mandate has operated since 1995. The Gateway scheme sources the annual 750 quota for refugees from a small number of targeted locations; Mandate is designed to resettle individual refugees from anywhere in the world. The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, launched in January 2014, has taken 187 people to date, but I stress that that needs to be seen in the context of 4,200 who have been given leave to remain in the UK.
I hope that in these remarks I have been able to demonstrate that the Government are not insensitive to the immense humanitarian crisis that we are seeing around the world and to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough was right to draw our attention. We are not insensitive to that, but we are simply at a point of disagreement over the actual means of dealing with it, preferring to take the argument much further upstream to prevent the flows, systems, schemes and criminal gangs, which cause people to get on these boats to embark on this perilous journey. That commitment will continue as we go forward.
I am happy to write with the details of the specific criteria. I would stress that, whereas we agreed through the UNHCR a set of terms for the scheme that we would operate and the ways in which they refer to us, that is in addition to the far larger number of 4,200 asylum seekers from Syria to whom we have granted leave to remain in this country.
With those remarks, I thank the committee for its work and I particularly thank the noble Baroness for the way in which she has presented it. I hope that I might have offered some comfort that we have taken seriously the points which she raised and I hope that she may feel able to withdraw her Motion.
My Lords, this has been a very moving, powerful and thoughtful debate and I thank all noble Lords for their participation. Most of those who spoke in the debate pointed to this as a specific issue about a humanitarian crisis. The Motion is about Britain participating in the scheme for relocation. It is about solidarity and our responsibility—including, if I may say so, our moral responsibility—in this humanitarian crisis. I thank the Minister for his answers to my specific questions but I am disappointed because, although it is laudable that the Government are taking action on a whole range of issues, I do not feel I have a satisfactory answer to the specific issue that this report raises which is about opting in to this voluntary scheme in response to a specific crisis. This is quite necessary in our view because it is about burden sharing and solidarity with Europe. With that said, I beg to move.
Time is up. The Tellers for the Contents and for the Not Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order 53. A Division therefore cannot take place, and in accordance with Standing Order 56, which provides that the Question before the House shall be resolved in the negative unless there is a majority in favour of such rejection, I declare the Motion disagreed to. Happy Recess.
My Lords, I am sorry that this has happened. There has been a big misunderstanding on how these Motions are taken in this House, and we will try to make sure that it does not happen again. However, I wish everyone a very happy Recess. I thank all Members of this House for their contributions to the debates today.
House adjourned at 5.47 pm.