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Refugee Crisis

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 8 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to tackle the refugee crisis affecting Europe.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has announced, as we heard yesterday, that over the course of this Parliament the United Kingdom will resettle up to 20,000 more Syrian refugees under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. The Prime Minister has also announced a further £100 million of aid, bringing the Government’s commitment to £1 billion, more than any other country in the world with the exception of the USA.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for adding to the Statement of yesterday, but we have a great deal of confusion. What is the Government’s policy? A week ago, we were told by the Prime Minister that we did not need to welcome any further refugees, as it would not answer the question, and that we should invest in the countries from which they were coming. Then this Sunday, on the Andrew Marr show the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we need to invest in the work of local authorities in giving housing to refugees coming here. When we think of those 5,000 refugees, it is really 4,000 every year for the next five years—and that is as individuals. In families, it will probably be between 1,000 and 2,000 families a year. What is the Government’s policy? In all this, we have not a penny to be given to those who are most in need: those on the roads for hundreds of miles, and who even suffer drowning and so on, because the Government here are sitting on their hands and not doing anything in a practical way.

My Lords, I say from the outset that it is preposterous to suggest that the drowning of migrants is somehow attributable to the Government here—it is attributable to those criminal gangs who actually pick on vulnerable people. Every one of us was moved by the pictures we saw of those drowning children, but that drowning child was just one example of what we have seen with those criminal gangs. The Government are at the forefront of working with EU partners to ensure that we tackle those criminal gangs. The noble Lord asked about government policy. Let us be clear: it is comprehensive. As I said in my original Answer, £1 billion has been sent to those countries which are supporting the people—the real refugees—across the Syrian crisis in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan—as I saw myself in the Zaatari camp. The Prime Minister has announced an additional 20,000 on top of the 5,000 places that we have guaranteed here to those people under the vulnerable people scheme. These are practical steps of a comprehensive policy in dealing with a situation which is impacting not just the region or Europe but globally. It needs a global solution and the UK is playing its part.

The Government said yesterday that the full cost of supporting Syrian refugees in the UK for the first year would be met through the international aid budget, easing the burden on local authorities. Is it the Government’s intention that local authorities, rather than the Government, will pay some or all of the cost of supporting the up to 20,000 Syrian refugees after the first year, and over the rest of this Parliament, or are the Government prepared to give a commitment now that they will continue to pay the full cost after the first year?

The Government have made a commitment in supporting an additional 20,000—it is an evolving situation and the Government will continue to review the situation in terms of numbers. The noble Lord raised the issue of finance. Again, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has announced that the Government will be looking at the increase we are seeing in the international development budget because of the growth in GDP and how local authorities —which have a crucial role in resettlement—can also be supported. The Government will continue to review the situation and monitor it closely to ensure that we get assistance to those people most in need. That is our history and the legacy of this nation. This Government will proudly continue with that legacy.

My Lords, the noble Lord opposite asks an important question. What will be the legal status of the refugees who we intend to take and what will be the length of their leave to remain? How will we ensure that resources follow their legal status?

My noble friend has campaigned extensively on this issue, and she is quite right to raise the question of status. The grant will be for a five-year period, after which their situation will be reviewed in line with our immigration and asylum policy. Their situation will be reviewed in the same way as for the 5,000 who have claimed asylum so far in the UK from Syria.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it is not right that such a heavy burden should fall on countries such as Greece, Italy, Malta and certain Balkan states? Should there not be far greater solidarity across Europe, regardless of whether countries are in the euro or in the Schengen agreement?

I think I speak for Her Majesty’s Government when I say that the countries most in need—let us be clear about this—are those bordering Syria, such as Lebanon and Jordan. If you visit the camps, you see the desperate plight of the refugees there. The Government have provided assistance: we are providing vital support to the most vulnerable in terms of health, vaccination and education in the surrounding countries in that crisis area. However, I agree with the noble Lord that it needs a unified effort across Europe and beyond.