Friday, 8 July 2016
Lords debate refugees and education
Today we are in the middle of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. I was surprised when I saw the figure—it is estimated that 34,000 people a day become displaced, including asylum seekers and refugees, and people internally displaced. There are incredible numbers of people, displaced for many different reasons, including political oppression, civil war, food shortages and climate change. How do we handle these causes of migration, and what do we need to do to help people who have been forcibly displaced, both internally and beyond? What guidance can be given to countries? Migration is not new. People fled, for instance, in the 19th century, because the Irish potato famine caused a mass emigration of 1 million people to the United States. Some came to south Wales and worked in our industries there—but another 1 million Irish people starved to death as their main crop failed. In the 20th century, political violence and hatred led to the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews died, and the papers here reported, “German Jews pouring into this country”. That was a sort of migration—a devastating migration for so many millions of people. The war itself saw millions trudging in search of somewhere where they could be accepted and helped to survive. Then we saw the partition of the Indian continent with all the migration there, and in the Middle East the lines drawn on maps had terrible repercussions. We still seek to find a lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine question. The Syrian crisis has devastated a once peaceful country. I read a report from the British Red Cross, which has studied the situation in Africa. It says that the journey from east and west Africa through north Africa is long, dangerous and traumatic, and takes one to two years Every person interviewed in the course of Red Cross research had been exposed to violence and witnessed the death of someone else on the route. The upcoming summits on migration at the UN General Assembly in September will provide an opportunity for countries to reaffirm their commitment to a humane response to migration. The British Red Cross study highlights how far the international community has yet to go in ensuring that all migrants, regardless of their legal status, receive the protection and support they need. It is a vast issue, with 65 million refugees and 65 million individual stories. It is 65 million boys, girls, grandparents, mothers and fathers; each of these people is an individual. There are 65 million migrations, each individual with their own character, strengths, weaknesses, and potential. What has caused each of these people to flee their homes, to take risks and face the unknown? Was it bombing or hunger? What pressures led them to risk crossing devouring seas in very fragile boats? This past year, over 3,000 have drowned as they tried to cross from north Africa to the European continent. One Syrian refugee who fled civil war and left all that they know and love behind had studied English and history at his university in Syria. As his studies concluded, the war commenced, and as a young, able-bodied man, he was left with three options: fight for the Government, fight for the rebels, or flee the violence. His reluctance to kill his own countrymen led to choosing the third option. First, he travelled to Iraq; he was a very competent person and worked as an aid worker with the United Nations. When he realised that that area in Iraq was no longer safe, he made the decision to put his life in the hands of traffickers and flee to Europe. He travelled by rubber dinghy and in the back of lorries, in constant fear of his life because he was in the hands of traffickers. The family of another young man from Syria sold everything they owned to help pay traffickers and get him to safety. He, and 45 other people, were put in an inflatable boat that was intended for a maximum of 20 people, he walked 12 hours in the dead of night once he reached Greece and spent the month after that walking through Macedonia and Serbia. Those who have fled Syria are the victims of circumstances. It was not their wish to leave their homes, families, livelihoods and country. In no way can they be regarded as economic migrants. Rather, they were forced out by the violence and insecurity that political upheaval had wrought in their homeland. We have a responsibility to help these people and others as they face an uncertain future. Some will, by one means or another, reach the United Kingdom. We hear of government attempts to reduce the number of asylum seekers to tens of thousands. What prospect is there of this? It can become a reality only when bombing stops and when the famine-stricken are fed. Climate change will always be with us, as we heard in the previous debate. Its consequences will be increasingly notable. Here in Britain, initial Home Office decision-making is inadequate. How do we receive these people? In 2015, the courts overturned Home Office decisions in 38% of asylum appeals. In 2015 alone, nearly 15,000 asylum seekers were locked up in detention centres. In fact, nearly half of all asylum seekers will be detained during their asylum process here in Britain. What led me to support the coalition Government in the previous Parliament was the pledge to end child detention in immigration cases. We have gone a long way towards that, but much more needs to be done. Britain is not fit for purpose in its processing of asylum applications. The United Kingdom currently welcomes less than 1% of the world’s refugees. It is a challenge, remembering our Christian heritage, to welcome people who have faced incredible difficulties and to incorporate their contributions to our society. So often we seem to be banging our heads against a brick wall trying to get the Government to move. Canada welcomes 25,000 Syrian refugees a month. The UK wants to accept 20,000 over the term of a Parliament. The obligation in the latest Immigration Act to accept unaccompanied child refugees is not making a great of deal of headway. In 2016, the United Nations made its strongest appeal for humanitarian aid, calling for $20.1 billion. This September, President Obama will host a leaders’ summit on refugees to increase financing for international humanitarian organisations by 30%, double the number of legally resettled refugees, increase access to legal channels of admission and increase the number of refugee children in schools and refugee adults in work. Global migration is an issue our children and our children’s children will have to reckon with. We have to accept our fair share of refugees here in the UK. At that time, we hope that some of the problems that drive them from their homes are mitigated. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but one thing that could happen at the UN could be a requirement for each country to plan the way that it is prepared to respond to future emergencies. In the UK, with 20,000 refugees to accept before the next general election takes place, according to the Prime Minister’s pledge—there is no use passing this on to the next Prime Minister as the pledge has already been made—unaccompanied refugee children must be accepted here. We agreed and I want to know exactly what is happening and how far down the road we are. In conclusion, we wish the conferences in New York well. Is Britain going to take a lead or will we pass by? We could be the humanitarian force in the world in the coming decade. Will we do that or will be sit back and let other people do what they can? Share this contribution 5.20 pm Lord Judd (Lab) My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. He has a lot of political courage. I sometimes feel that the House is not comfortable with his contributions because it would rather not face the issues he sees so clearly with a sense of vision and international responsibility. We are preoccupied at the moment with immediate European affairs and their implications for people. I am one of those who believes that it is intolerable that we should have thrown people who are working here, living with us, contributing to our society and enjoying being in our midst into a sense of desperate agony and uncertainty about their future. Of course we should give them an unqualified pledge that they can stay whatever happens. But all this is child’s play when considered against the international, global reality that faces us. Pressures are immense. Where do refugees come from? In the world, 4.2 million come from Syria, 2.6 million from Afghanistan, 1.1 million from Somalia, 744,100 from South Sudan, 640,900 from Sudan, 535,000 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 470,600 from the Central African Republic, 458,500 from Myanmar, 383,900 from Eritrea, 377,700 from Iraq. All those people are desperate, agonised, yearning for some hope for their future and that of their children. It is a terrible plight to consider. Who takes them in? Turkey takes 1.8 million, Pakistan 1.5 million, Lebanon 1.2 million, Iran 982,000, Ethiopia 702,500, Jordan 664,100, Kenya 552,300, Uganda 420,400, Chad 420,800 and Sudan 356,200. Those figures should be imprinted on all our minds as we look at our neurotic supposed concerns about the numbers with which we are dealing. I speak specifically and legally about refugees. The truth is that we host 117,234, which amounts to 0.18% of our population. When will we look at these issues with a real sense of honest perspective? It will not get better because, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, argued, climate change will mean that these numbers accelerate all the time. That is why I deeply regret our withdrawal from the European Union, where we could collaborate in finding strategic solutions. If we are really serious about being positive members of the international community, we had better demonstrate very quickly that we will take specific and identifiable action to meet these challenges and the human suffering that they represent. With regard to the refugees who are the specific responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to whom we have given that responsibility, 50% of the countries that receive them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Four of those are the least developed countries. The EU receives none of those refugees who are the specific responsibility of UNHCR. That is a disgrace. History will see that and wonder how we could be so mesmerised by the immediate problems on our own doorstep. The political consequences of what I have been talking about are incalculable. Hosting this number of refugees will lead inevitably to tremendous tensions. It will matter tremendously that such a high proportion of the population in Jordan or Lebanon are now refugees. The people of those countries have been amazingly tolerant and accepting, but what will happen as they begin to see the world’s attention, such as it is, concentrated on the refugees and not on the implications for them socially and economically? It is bound to undermine political stability still further in the region. We must give priority to quickly finding strategies that matter. In the three minutes left to me, I have a few points to make. Our response should focus on prevention, doing more to ensure that people do not need to flee war, disasters, persecution and poverty. It means the co-ordination of development, human rights, conflict resolution, security sector reform and early warning as much as it does managing the movements when they arise. It means we need to recognise that many countries and regions have been dealing with large refugee problems for a long time. Our approach needs to acknowledge that we need to provide a better package of support to those countries, and predictable funding for UNHCR would be a good start, as would preventative funding for agencies such as the World Food Programme, which often appeals for funds to stave off disasters but is often ignored until the situation escalates. There is clearly a need to close the gaps in protections. For example, those displaced by disasters and poverty do not fit neatly into the 1951 convention definition, which is predicated on individual persecution. The same has been true of so-called climate refugees. Given the present environment, it is difficult to imagine that trying to amend the convention would be productive. We need to look at other mechanisms—for example, building this into our climate change and development frameworks. Obviously it is vital for us to lead by example. That does not just mean giving money; it demands working on the politics, which means taking people into our own society and being part of United Nations schemes to do so. All the more so post-referendum, when, if we are not to confirm our position as a neurotic, introspective island off the mainland of Europe, we have to show that we are a responsible global player. There is nowhere better to start than by demonstrating our seriousness of intent on the refugee issues. Above all, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for having raised this important subject. Share this contribution 5.30 pm Baroness Sheehan (LD) My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Roberts for securing this important and timely debate. We are witnessing the forced displacement of people on a colossal scale. This is a global emergency which is projected to grow, devastating lives, stunting economic growth and endangering world peace. There is no one single cause of this mass movement of people. Separating desperate people into refugees and economic migrants is counterproductive if we want to come to grips with useful ways in which we can move forward. We need now to broaden our definitions—by that I mean the 1951 Refugee Convention—of those who need our help to include those displaced by crippling inequality and devastation of livelihoods by climate change, because they too are fleeing to save their lives. Our global institutions continue to address the issue, with a multitude of initiatives under way, all incorporated in the high-level United Nations plenary meeting on 19 September, complemented by the summit hosted by President Obama on 20 September. It is imperative that Britain plays its full part. It is a shame that at a time when Britain should be playing its historic role in leading global thinking and moulding forward processes, we are instead looking inward and our focus is becoming increasingly insular as we divert resources to extricating ourselves from EU agreements. It is doubly frustrating, as this will entail dismantling some of the very mechanisms which help us to work collaboratively with our European partners—and then reconstruct them to meet the same international requirements. What a waste of time, effort and money. Another major concern thrown up by the EU referendum result is the toxic, xenophobic language unleashed by the leave campaign, which has fuelled racist, anti-immigration violence against peaceable residents. History has taught us many lessons about the destructive legacies of hatred. This climate incites discrimination against refugees and migrants in various spheres of life such as education, employment, healthcare and housing, violating their human dignity. I will quote the UN Secretary-General’s report of 21 April 2016 to the UN General Assembly, entitled In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: “To address this, I have decided to initiate a global campaign led by the United Nations to counter xenophobia, emphasizing direct personal contact between host communities and refugees and migrants. I hope that the campaign will highlight our common humanity and stress the positive contributions made by refugees and migrants”. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that the Government will embrace the sentiments behind this initiative on the part of the Secretary-General and will enthusiastically make the positive case for the benefits that migrants bring to Britain—not just economically but socially, culturally and, dare I say it, gastronomically. Chicken tikka masala is, after all, the nation’s favourite dish. The inclusion of refugees and migrants in all spheres of economic, social and cultural life will promote social cohesion, to the benefit not only of refugees and migrants but the host community. I shall give your Lordships an example—that of Nagu, a remote island in Finland, which was called upon to host refugees. It is worth looking at the report in the Guardian on the way in which the islanders took a decision not to be fearful of the arrival of strangers but, rather, to welcome the Afghans and Iraqis into their community and include them in their activities. Those included social gatherings, a friendship cafe, baking classes, piano lessons, animation and drawing for the children, music events, football, ice-skating and daily walks—all with the facilitation of the Finnish Red Cross. For many local people, the arrival of the refugees has helped the community to find a greater togetherness. Despite their initial reservations, the islanders now feel that it is the refugees who have brought them something. That example shows that with good leadership it is possible to change the mood of the host community from one of fear of the other to one that is open-minded and welcoming—to the benefit of all. It is my fervent hope that, in developing plans to work with other nations to address large movements of refugees and migrants, our Government will, in particular, look closely at the damage done to community cohesion in host nations by inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric and that they will do what is necessary to encourage a welcoming environment. Without that, I see no easy way of securing a decent, moral and humanitarian solution to the crisis that we face. I suggest that the tone of candidates’ campaigns as they vie for the position of Conservative Party leader should reflect that, given that the country’s ears will be acutely tuned in, as the campaign will also involve the selection of a Prime Minister to govern us all. To end, I should like to focus on the manifestation of this global issue on our own doorstep—in the camps in northern France at Calais and Dunkirk, and in other, smaller camps. The title of this debate includes the words “work with other nations”. What collaborative work are the Government undertaking with the French Government to put in place systems and processes to assess the claims of the people who have been living there in the most appalling conditions? The camps continue to grow, although that has not received much media coverage recently. I assure the Minister that, despite protestations by the Government that systems are in place, I have seen no sign of them on my recent visits to the camps. The then Immigration Bill saw the inclusion of an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, supported by these Benches, to allow an unspecified number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children already in Europe to come to the UK. I would like to see the Government take a proactive role in making that happen. Attending high-level UN meetings with President Obama is all well and good, but what is the point of fine words when we ignore the plight of very vulnerable women and children here and now on our doorstep? Share this contribution 5.38 pm Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate. Images of refugees making treacherous journeys in search of safety have dominated the news in recent times. I sometimes fear that we have become a bit immune to those images, but I hope that no one will ever forget the picture of that lone child being swept up on a tourist beach. That image resulted in an outcry from the public and a call for action—action that I hope everyone on all sides of the House firmly believes needs to be taken. As we have heard, behind that one image is the story of tens of millions of families forced out of their homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, highlighted, UNHCR figures show that more than 65 million people were affected in 2015—the highest level ever recorded and greater than the entire population of this country. Although the total includes some 21.3 million refugees and 3.2 million people awaiting asylum decisions, the overwhelming majority of the displaced— 40.8 million—are exiled from their home within the borders of their own countries. The figures have increased by more than 50% during the past five years as levels of displacement reached their highest with violence, conflict and wars. The violence in Yemen, for example, brought about more new internal displacement than any other conflict in 2015, with almost 10% of its population forced into internal exile. More than 800,000 refugees and migrants came from Turkey into Greece in 2015, accounting for 80% of sea arrivals, while the number of people crossing from north Africa into Italy dropped slightly from 170,000 in 2014 to around 150,000 in 2015. The number of people crossing the Mediterranean increased from 5,500 in January 2015 to a monthly peak of more than 221,000 in October. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the world was not doing enough to tackle a crisis with no end in sight. He said: “More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too … At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders”. And yet, he went on to say—this is perhaps the most worrying thing—politics in some countries is gravitating against asylum. I repeat the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, bearing in mind the commitment that this Government gave to ensuring that asylum seekers could enter the UK from the conflict in Syria. What are the latest figures on reaching the 20,000 target? What are the figures for the first six months of this year? We knew what the commitment was over the Christmas period, but I would like to know the figures for the latest period. This year a number of events have addressed the issue of refugees and migration. We had the Syria Donors Conference on 4 February in London, co-hosted by our Government and those of Germany, Kuwait and Norway. A resettlement conference was convened by the UNHCR in March to gather pledges to resettle people displaced by the Syrian conflict—and, of course, we had the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May. When we received the report of that summit, I welcomed the Government’s approach in scaling up the methods that we pioneered in the Syria region as a global model for dealing with this protracted crisis of displacement, going beyond people’s basic needs and investing in education, jobs and livelihoods. In this House, I also welcomed the commitment of an extra £30 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund to make sure that no child misses out on an education. Generations of people in camps face no future and no education. The fund is vital to ensure that that generation is not wasted. Will the Minister update us on the fund and whether and what other countries are contributing?