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House of Lords Hansard
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EU Migration: Valletta Summit
03 November 2015
Volume 765

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what they hope will be achieved at the November European Council meeting on migration to be held in Valletta, Malta.

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My Lords, we are working to ensure that the Valletta summit builds a genuine partnership between Africa and Europe to tackle the causes and consequences of irregular migration. Our aim is an action plan that addresses the root causes, combats people smuggling and human trafficking, provides protection for those in need and agrees action to return those who do not require protection.

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I thank the Minister. Will the European Council take account of the fact that there are some 2.5 million people between Ethiopia, Libya and Turkey, all eager to get to Europe? Has there been any progress so far on creating safe zones and safe routes, and will the Government respond to the statement by a large number of lawyers, including some former judges, on this very subject?

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My Lords, the noble Lord refers to the European Council. The Question refers to the meeting in Valetta, which was called following discussion in the European Council. However, this matter concerns relationships between Africa and the EU. I am sure that the European Union is looking at a wide range of issues. The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise safe zones. The UK is open to considering any feasible options to protect civilians—for example, in Syria. There has been talk of safe or protected zones but history tells us that implementing genuinely safe zones is difficult. However, the fact that it is difficult does not mean that we should avoid trying to achieve it.

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My Lords, as winter approaches conditions in refugee camps, particularly in the Lebanon, are becoming deplorable. In last week’s debate on Syria in this House, the noble Baroness the Minister for DfID said that the Government intended to take 1,000 refugees before the end of this year out of the 20,000 that they promised to take. Does the Minister really think that this is an adequate response to this crisis?

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My Lords, although this issue is not related to the Question on the Order Paper, which concerns the Valetta summit, I appreciate the real concern around the House on these matters, so, with the leave of the House, I will respond to the noble Lord. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that over this Parliament we would take an extra 20,000 people from Syria who are in desperate need—so it is not a quota but a judgment regarding those in desperate need—and gave a commitment that 1,000 of those would be in this country by Christmas. All departments across Government are working to make sure that they have safe accommodation and care when they are here. Overall, we have led the way in providing aid to ensure that those in unsafe zones can have a life there. At the moment, £1.15 billion has been invested in the Syria and Iraq area.

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My Lords, the International Organization for Migration estimates that over this weekend alone 28,000 refugees and migrants tried to enter Greece. That puts the figures into perspective. That is 40% more than Her Majesty’s Government are saying they will take from Syria over the course of a whole Parliament. The Minister mentioned that one of the focuses of the Valletta summit is addressing the root causes of immigration. Another one is establishing and organising legal migration channels. Can the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government will engage in this aspect of the Valletta summit, or will they merely opt out?

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My Lords, it is clear that everybody who will participate at Valletta will consider what legal routes of migration are appropriate. This Government have already made it clear that migration has assisted this country but it needs to be managed and legal. Other aspects will need to be discussed at Valletta. There will be an agreement at the end to make sure that all parties understand that we need to assist those in greatest need and in the greatest crisis areas across all of the Horn of Africa and north Africa.

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My Lords, how many people smugglers have now been arrested by the new methods we are meant to be using with our ships as part of the EU force? Have any of any importance been arrested or are we actually encouraging more people to try to take that route and, as the weather gets worse and worse, which it is day by day, thereby effectively condemning more and more people to death?

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My Lords, progress has been made as a result of a United Nations security resolution that has enabled us to move from stage 1 to stage 2 and seize those at sea who are peddling this appalling trade and making billions out of victims of smuggling and trafficking. Those are operational matters. Now, we wait to see what the results of that are. However, the National Crime Agency is in the forefront in Europe in tackling organised immigration crime. This is an issue not only across the Mediterranean but across the whole of the Balkan area.

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My Lords, if the meeting in Valletta is between the European Union and African countries, will the Minister raise the issue of LGBT individuals who are fleeing those countries in Africa because of state persecution based on their sexuality?

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My Lords, I had the honour this morning to have a discussion with a journalist from PinkNews. I made it clear that I believe it is for Ministers always to raise issues of discrimination against LGBT people when they are under threat and therefore seeking asylum. The Home Office is very clear on the rules it applies to asylum. Being able to show that there is a reasonable threat that one is going to face persecution in the host country is one of the first stages in being able to claim asylum.

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My Lords, the presumption must surely be in favour of affording protection to those fleeing war zones such as Syria, but the case is far less strong in respect of countries in west Africa. Will the Minister look at the position adopted by Spain in respect of the Canary Islands and see to what extent that might be relevant to the position of the European Union—the north of the Mediterranean looking at the south?

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My Lords, all 28 members of the European Union have different economic drivers and different approaches to economic migration and asylum policy. We always look with interest at how other countries manage to welcome those in need, and I am sure we will continue to do so. We have a rigorous system to ensure that there can be legal migration and that those in need of protection receive it.