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Refugee Camps

Volume 778: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make arrangements through refugee organisations for the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to visit refugee camps.

While it is not appropriate to discuss future ministerial plans, we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to refugees. Responding to unprecedented need, in 2015-16 the UK spent more than £1.4 billion on humanitarian assistance, including support for refugees. The UK’s pioneering new approach to protracted crises, leading to a shift from short-term assistance to longer-term change, is providing real help to those in need.

My Lords, I am sorry but the Minister has not answered my Question. The Prime Minister should be asked to visit the refugee camps to see the situation for herself. Will the Minister affirm very clearly that there is no diminution at all in our pledge to welcome 20,000 refugees and up to 3,000 youngsters in the course of this Parliament?

I accept that, but also in this context, the Foreign Secretary has been to a refugee camp, and the Secretary of State for International Development was in one of the camps just last week. Perhaps even more importantly, the Prime Minister was at the Valletta summit last week, where she announced an additional £30 million package for the very people the noble Lord and I care so much about.

My Lords, I would be much happier if the Prime Minister spent time writing a full-page article for the Daily Mail explaining why international development is so important and why aid is so important to host nations in the Middle East whose own countries are suffering as a consequence of the influx of refugees. Will he urge the Prime Minister to do that?

It behoves all of us who are strong advocates and supporters of the 0.7%, as I know that the noble Lord and his party are as well, to do everything we can to highlight the benefits that the UK is bringing around the world to those areas most in need. We have been able to help something approaching 20 million people in the region as a result of the generosity of British taxpayers, and our money is genuinely saving lives. That is the point that we need to make loudly and clearly to the British public and the media.

My Lords, how many officials do we have in France to identify adults and children who qualify to seek refuge in Britain? Those people are both in reception centres and outside them. Are our people receiving good co-operation from the French authorities?

Some people from the Home Office have been relocated to France, in particular to their Interior Ministry. More importantly, in a lot of the projects in which we are involved—programmes such as the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme—we work very closely with the UNHCR. That body has established criteria for working out who are the people most in need and who therefore ought to be prioritised to come to this country.

The commitment was for 20,000 in the lifetime of this Parliament. As of December, 4,400 people have arrived, of whom 50% were children, so 2,200. In 2015, some 8,000 children were granted asylum through schemes in this country. Under the other schemes that we have, particularly the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme, the number is something like 700, and there was a further number under the scheme of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which I think we will come to in a minute.

My Lords, the Minister anticipated my question because there are refugee camps in Greece as well, where the condition is dire. Would the Minister care to confirm the news that we have heard about the Government intending to bring to an end the scheme under Section 67 of the Immigration Act, which would have brought unaccompanied child refugees to this country from Greece?

A Written Ministerial Statement will underscore that, far from doing that, Section 67 of the Act—and I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work on that—stands. Under that scheme, some 200 children have been brought to this country already. I know that the noble Lord also visited the Greek reception area and saw the conditions for himself, but there is also the work that DfID personnel are doing on the ground there, trying to provide help.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that there are many informal refugee camps in Greece and Italy? Will Ministers visit those and familiarise themselves with the huge suffering and plight of those children there? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that of the more than 25,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Italy, only three have been transferred to the UK?

We have schemes for identifying that. Certainly, the noble Baroness is right to identify a major problem, which is that half of those categorised as refugees are not in registered camps. That is often one of the greatest difficulties we have in reaching those people who are in need. The important thing is that the schemes we have committed to in this House are working and delivering benefits. Thousands of people have come to this country, which compares favourably with the EU internal resettlement scheme, which has so far helped only 170.

My Lords, repeated Questions to Ministers here have failed to answer this question. I know that local authorities are given additional funding initially, when communities welcome refugees, but the British people who are prepared to accept refugees into their communities need to know that funding will continue for as long as the refugees need extra funds for all the services they use. Will the Minister assure the House that extra funding will continue as long as the need exists?

I can do more than that. One reason it has taken a little time to respond to the amendment to the Immigration Act of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is our requirement to consult local authorities about was needed. So far, 175 local authorities have offered to host refugees and they have people travelling to their regions. They deserve tribute. In recognition of that, we have also announced that the amount they will get per year has increased by an average of 20% over the period to help them to deal with the very needs that the noble Baroness has identified.