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Worldwide Displacement of Refugees

Volume 821: debated on Thursday 28 April 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the number of displaced people and refugees worldwide; and what steps they are taking to convene an international initiative to tackle the root causes of mass displacement.

My Lords, in November 2021, the UNHCR estimated that the number of people forcibly displaced globally exceeded 84 million by mid-2021. Since then, another 11 million people have been displaced within Ukraine or abroad as refugees. The UK has led the way in forging innovative solutions to refugee crises and championing a longer-term international approach to displacement. Ultimately, political efforts to build and sustain peace are the key to resolving displacement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he recall the Cross-Bench debate in January of this year to which he answered and the calls made for urgent consideration to be given to the root causes and push factors that have led to the more than 80 million people that he has just identified being displaced, 50 million of whom are displaced because of violence or conflict, everywhere from Ukraine to Afghanistan, Burma and Syria, and some of whom spend their entire lives in camps? What consideration have we given to following up the calls made in that debate for the United Kingdom to convene a COP 26-style summit to identify and support durable solutions that enable refugees and displaced people to rebuild their lives and live in safety and dignity, rather than seeking perilous journeys or festering for years in squalid conditions where they can become fodder for traffickers and insurgencies?

The noble Lord is absolutely right, and of course I very much remember the debate and the message that was conveyed by a number of noble Lords in that debate. He mentioned COP 26 which, while ostensibly focused on climate change, is every bit as relevant to the debate we are having today as it is relevant to climate change. We are in a world that is increasingly unstable. The majority of refugees are displaced as a consequence of violence, but we know that the environment is becoming an increasing factor. So the solution is not to focus purely on the issue of refugees but, using every tool at our disposal, to do everything we can to ensure that the world addresses those gigantic challenges that I know the noble Lord is as concerned about as I am.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned climate change. Is he aware that the expansion of the Sahara was partly what fuelled the conflict in Darfur, as people were displaced from that area? That was an early warning of the global instability likely to follow climate change, yet we hear that the funding on climate change in his department is about to be decimated. Does that make sense?

The commitment that we have made as a Government to not just maintain levels of funding for climate change but in fact to double our international climate finance to £11.6 billion remains intact. So I am not sure where those rumours are coming from—more so because, as part of that commitment to spend £11.6 billion on climate change, we are also committed to spending around £3 billion of that on nature-based solutions to climate change, specifically so that we can tackle the kinds of issues that the noble Baroness has just mentioned.

My Lords, what estimate has been made of the number of these refugees who are fleeing or have fled religious persecution? It must be a very considerable figure.

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that, but I would imagine that the noble Lord is right and that it is a very significant figure. However, with his permission I will convey his question to the Home Office and get back to him.

Does the Minister agree that the real challenge lies not in identifying the causes of migration, which include poverty, repressive regimes and, yes, conflict and climate change, but rather in forging an international consensus to tackle those root causes? What initiatives does the Minister have in mind?

The noble Lord is right that the solution is a global one, but that is precisely why the UK is putting in so much effort, not only through the duration of our presidency of COP, which of course did not end in Glasgow—it ends when we hand the baton to Egypt at the end of this year—but also through the CBD nature COP, which is being hosted by China in Kunming. I do not think there is any country in the world—and I would even include the host country—that is putting more effort into seeking the highest possible ambition. In addition to that, a great friend of the United Kingdom, Andrea Meza, a former Environment Minister of Costa Rica, is now running things in the UNCCD—the desertification COP—and we will be working extremely closely with her to ensure that there too we get the highest possible ambition.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the growth of Islamic jihadism in many areas of Nigeria, which has caused massive displacement? Recently, I visited the Middle Belt. In that region alone, there are an estimated 3 million displaced people, and we personally witnessed their suffering and destitution. Does the Minister therefore acknowledge that, if there is not a systematic, effective international strategy led by global Britain to tackle the root causes, we will see an exponential growth in human suffering caused by mass displacement?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right, and that feeds very much into the question from my noble friend Lord Cormack. I of course agree that the UK has an enormously important role to play, and I think we have demonstrated, particularly over the past year, our ability to convene and to provide that leadership, not least through our stewardship of the COP conference. So, yes, I agree, and I know the Government agree, too.

My Lords, earlier this month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned that the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda violates international law. What impact does the Minister think that will have on the forthcoming CHOGM in Rwanda? Does he not agree that this unworkable, unethical and extortionate policy will undermine our influence on fellow Commonwealth countries to comply with international law?

My Lords, I do not recognise that. The Government are convinced that the approach we are taking in relation to Rwanda passes all the legal tests that it might be subjected to. I understand where the noble Lord is coming from, but I suggest that there is a myth that doing nothing is the kind option. Doing nothing absolutely guarantees a continuation of the kind of suffering that this deal is designed to ameliorate.

As we heard the Minister say, the UN estimates that more than 11 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes since 24 February, more than 5 million have fled the country and approximately two-thirds of the country’s children are now displaced. We would do well to remember that these are not just numbers; each of them represents a human life. The outpouring of concern from the British public and willingness to host refugees in their homes has been a powerful statement of love amid this extraordinary tragedy. Indeed, many across the diocese of Chelmsford, which I serve, and across the country, have gone to great lengths to welcome refugees with open arms. Can the Minister expand on what is being done to address concerns raised about delays and complications in processing asylum applications through the Homes for Ukraine scheme?

I start by echoing very strongly the comments of the right reverend Prelate on the generosity of the British public. We are forging ahead as a Government, doing everything we can to ensure that our doors are open and the country is welcoming to those people fleeing violence in Ukraine as a consequence of the Russian invasion. We have two bespoke humanitarian routes for people in Ukraine. They have been announced and they respond directly to the needs and requests of the Ukrainian Government. There is no limit on the number of people who can come here as of 21 April, and more than 71,000 visas have been issued under both those schemes. The family route has been extended. It is difficult to know the numbers—no one knows them—but an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians may join their family members in the UK. Although there have been delays—there is no point pretending that there have not—it is very much the view of the Home Office and the Foreign Office that the systems are now in place to ensure the smooth functioning of the approach we set out.

Does the Minister agree that the wonderful response of the British public to the Ukraine crisis illustrates their willingness to help when they are sure that those concerned are genuine? Secondly, in the wider context of the review that he mentioned, will the Government include another look at the refugee convention, now many years old and facing entirely different circumstances?

Again, I strongly agree with the noble Lord. Clearly there is a recognition of the acute needs of people needing to flee Ukraine for obvious reasons—likewise Afghanistan—but there is also a recognition that, often, underlying the movement of people en masse around the world is a criminal network of almost indescribable brutality and ruthlessness. That is exactly what this Government seek to undermine because, until we remove those incentives, such organisations will continue to go from strength to strength. I will convey the noble Lord’s message about the convention to the Home Office.