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Global Refugee Forum

Volume 819: debated on Monday 7 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they made of the outcomes of the first Global Refugee Forum, held in Geneva in December 2019.

My Lords, at the first Global Refugee Forum the international community demonstrated its commitment to responding to the plight of refugees and host communities, announcing pledges and sharing examples of good practice. The UK underlined our leadership in longer-term approaches, highlighting support for Syrian refugees in Jordan and the Rohingya in Bangladesh.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Earlier this year, my noble friend Lord Alton’s debate discussed the huge number of refugees and displaced people. Now, the brutal invasion of Ukraine has caused a whole new crisis. Does the noble Lord agree that the Global Refugee Forum calls for continuous co-operation between Governments and their officials? Can he give the House some good news of progress, especially in relation to eastern Europe and the Mediterranean?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Of course, he is right; the UK is one of the High Commissioner for Refugees’ largest financial supporters. We provided more than £714 million in funding across bilateral and multilateral channels between 2016 and 2020, and the same is true in relation to other refugee and migration-related organisations. We provided the International Organization for Migration with around £89 million in 2020, making us the third-largest donor. We were the second-largest donor to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the second-largest donor to the International Committee of the Red Cross—I could go on. The UK has a proud record of supporting refugees globally.

My Lords, does it show leadership by this country when we take a handful of Ukrainian refugees, and when we send those who arrive in Calais to Paris or Brussels to get their papers sorted out? Is that not a miserable response compared with Ireland, which has so far taken nearly 700, has committed to taking 2% of all the refugees and is talking about a figure of 100,000 to avoid another Calais? Should we not be ashamed of ourselves?

The figure that has been quoted and to which I think the noble Lord is referring—that the UK has so far accepted 50 people—is, in reality, growing very significantly. To quote Minister Cleverly from the other place, he says that we are looking to create something very large-scale very quickly. Initially it will be slower, but that will pick up. There is no doubt from the words spoken by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, today that we have created a new system in record time, precisely to allow a far larger number of refugees into this country.

My Lords, we have all been ashamed, I think, to see the people in the railway stations in places such as Berlin holding up placards saying that they can host one person or two people. Many people in this country would do the same thing. Why are the Government not making this system available so that good people in this country can help people in Ukraine?

We are creating exactly that system. We are creating a humanitarian sponsorship pathway which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK but who can match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups of the sort the noble Baroness just mentioned. Those under this scheme would be granted leave for an initial 12 months. There is no limit to the number of people who could be eligible for this scheme: we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come, if they have matched sponsors.

My Lords, this weekend one of the problems seemed to be that there are very few appointments available in the visa application centres in Poland and other surrounding countries. The website through which refugees are trying to access these visa schemes could not cope with the capacity. Does the Minister know when capacity will be in place so that the people fleeing Ukraine to the neighbouring countries can get appointments, get their documents checked and travel to the UK to be reunited with family?

The noble Baroness is right that there have been serious capacity issues. We have just sent a group of UK experts to bolster the UK’s support to countries surrounding Ukraine, to receive and support the increasing flow of refugees fleeing that country. For example, a four-person team has arrived in Poland to support the regional response, providing logistics advice, analysis of needs on the ground and so on. We are also deploying additional experts right across the region in the coming days, including to Moldova where we have humanitarian experts already stationed.

My Lords, it was my privilege to speak at the resettlement conference that happened before the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in 2019. One of the key lessons that came out of both events was to listen to the voices of refugees in helping to create the system, so that it is more effective. Could the Minister tell us how the voices of refugees in this country are being listened to in order to make the Ukraine system as effective as possible?

The teams are designing an entirely new scheme for an entirely new situation as quickly as possible. That is reflected in the numbers that have so far been reported. But from everything we have heard today— from the Foreign Secretary and the relevant Minister—we are up and running and we are ready now to absorb larger numbers of refugees from Ukraine.

I referred a case to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, of a very frail lady in her 90s who has been brought to my attention by World Jewish Relief. She is in Warsaw and, as I say, she is very frail. Will the Minister please return to his department and make sure that her case is expedited? Her granddaughter is a UK citizen. She clearly qualifies to come to the United Kingdom. She is very frail, and she is an example of many others in that situation. Can we make sure that, in this case, the Home Office is not proving to be the kind of block that it has been over Afghan refugees?

My Lords, I am not familiar with the case the noble Baroness describes, but I assure her that I will convey her message back to both the Foreign Office and the Home Office. We will do whatever we can.

My Lords, in Ukraine, there are a number of orphanages where there are helpless children, who cannot do anything for themselves. Could the noble Lord assure the House that thought will be given to how we can protect these children, who have the least in the world?

The noble Lord makes a hugely important point. The answer is yes: this is something that both the Home Office and the Foreign Office are looking at. I would add that the UK has committed an additional £120 million of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and the region. That money will be used in many different ways, but particularly in supporting those at the front line in terms of vulnerability, of the sort that the noble Lord just mentioned.

My Lords, the Government were prepared to disclose the figure of 50 refugees received from Ukraine. What is the current figure?

My Lords, it is a very fast-moving situation. I do not know the current figure, but I do know that there is no limit to the number of people this country is willing and able to absorb, as I described when outlining the policy just a few moments ago.

My Lords, there was a moving interview on the television this morning of a 25 year-old who has bought a bus and is going to Ukraine to bring orphans back and move people around. Could the Minister tell me what support the Government will give to such people, who are going into this danger zone of their own accord?

My Lords, as I said, we are creating pockets of expertise in countries surrounding Ukraine, specifically to help them deal with the escalating problem of people fleeing Ukraine. Without knowing the details of the case my noble friend described, I imagine that the occupants of that bus would be exactly the kind of people those experts are there to support.

My Lords, the compact is from 2019, so we have had three years that the international community should be addressing. One of the things the International Rescue Committee has highlighted is that women and girls are being left behind in the global effort towards the ambitions of that compact. Can the Minister tell us what we are doing to deal with the disadvantages they face in terms of justice, inclusion and safety so that we respond properly? In particular, how is he addressing this issue in the context of Ukraine?

My Lords, stepping back and looking at the UK’s contribution to tackling human migration, a problem that has become dramatically worse in the last few days, we are one of the largest bilateral humanitarian donors globally. Since 2015, we have provided over £11 billion in humanitarian funding to support the most vulnerable people, including of course a huge focus on women and girls. This year, despite the cuts that have been questioned many times in this House, we are on track to spend £900 million on humanitarian aid. Despite us being the sixth-biggest economy in the world, that represents about the third or fourth-largest contribution of any country.