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Migration: Middle East and North Africa

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 12 May 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what evidence they have to support their claim that “pull factors” are responsible for the mass movement of people from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years.

My Lords, the causes of migration are many and complex, but are commonly described as consisting of push factors that make people want to leave their own countries and pull factors that make them choose particular destinations. The Government do not claim that pull factors alone are responsible for migration, but there is good circumstantial evidence that demonstrates that language, benefits and work opportunities influence movements of people.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I add my thanks for the Government’s change of heart on the emotive issue of vulnerable refugee children in Europe. Ten thousand of them have disappeared without trace, according to Europol, while 50% of those who accessed a Save the Children respite centre in Italy presented with sexually transmitted diseases acquired during transit. I see from the Minister’s reply—although I am glad to see that he has now accepted that there are some push factors involved—that the Government still insist that pull factors, by which he presumably means higher wages and benefits, are still at work. Given that these have remained relatively stable over many years, what does he believe is the reason behind the very large increase in numbers of refugees in recent years?

The Government have always recognised that there are both push and pull factors in the context of migration—indeed, historically, that has been well established. One could go back to the Goths moving into the Western Roman Empire to confirm that issue. With regard to more recent migration, there is no doubt that a great deal of it is economically based. Indeed, statistical flows into Italy between January and April this year show that the top nationalities entering across the Mediterranean have been Nigerian, Gambian and Senegalese.

My Lords, I saw for myself in Kurdistan in northern Iraq just last week that the major pull factors for people to come to Europe from that part of the world just now are fear and a lack of hope for the future. Will the Government at the coming World Humanitarian Summit properly prioritise education and child protection for families to ensure that they feel safer in the camps where they have been living now for far too long?

The example that the noble Lord gives is in fact an example of push factors—if I might respectfully suggest. Clearly, they do exist in that part of the world. We are, of course, prioritising the issue of addressing these problems at source. That is where our most material efforts are being made and that is where we can prevent the terrible development of the criminal enterprise, which is not only moving families and children across the Mediterranean but then, according to recent reports, trafficking these vulnerable victims further.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whether we like it or not, it will not be possible to allow all those who wish to migrate to Europe from north Africa, the Middle East and indeed sub-Saharan Africa to do so without a dilution of the standard of living of the residents of Europe that would prove politically unacceptable? Will the Government therefore consider further my proposal of 9 July last year for the establishment of a holding area mandated by the United Nations, somewhere in north Africa—I suggested Libya—which could eventually become a new state of Refugia?

I am grateful for the Minister’s recognition that this is a complex area, but the British people might be more convinced if the Government were better at dealing with unaccompanied child refugees. The European Union and the UK do not give priority to the needs of the child, which in Britain you are required to do by law. If the Government were better at that, the overall message might get over rather better.

The Government have been excellent at dealing with the question of unaccompanied children applying for asylum. Let me put it in context for a moment. In 2015, there were just over 3,000 applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. More than 35% of the applications came from Albanians and Afghans; about 6% came from Syrians.

My Lords, what possibilities does Her Majesty’s Government see for effective governance in Libya and for the much-needed increase in giving by our international partners to maintain the displaced populations of Iraq and Syria, which will impact on the movement of people and, most importantly, make a positive contribution to their lives?

There have been indications of improvement in the governance of Libya, but it remains a difficult and problematic area—of that there can be no question. However, this Government are dedicated to addressing these problems at source. That is where the solution will be found.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned trafficking in north Africa. Will he update us on the Khartoum process, which was meant to solve some of these problems? Does he think that entry into that process will lead us into collaboration with some authoritarian regimes in north Africa at the expense of asylum seekers?

We would certainly not want to be drawn into agreement with authoritarian regimes in that part of Africa. However, it is necessary, as I said, to address these problems at source.

My Lords, does the Government not accept that it is wars, repression and instability that primarily lead to the mass movement of people? If those seeking to come to Europe from the Middle East and north Africa are simply economic migrants, why is it that after every outbreak of violence and repression we get a new wave of people from the area that has just had that outbreak?

I must say that listening to Labour opine on the matter of immigration and immigration control is rather like listening to an arsonist on the subject of fire prevention.

I cannot answer the question unless I am given an opportunity to do so. Thank you. The position is this: yes, push factors increase where there is violence and instability, but push factors alone are not the issue. There are push factors and pull factors. A simple example is Sweden. It takes the second-highest number of asylum seekers from north Africa and the Mediterranean area, yet it has the borders furthest away from that point.