Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — UNHCR Syrian Refugees Programme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:35 pm on 29th January 2014.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 1:35 pm, 29th January 2014

My hon. Friend’s point is important. We simply do not understand the reason for not being part of the UN programme. As we understand it, the UNHCR will do the work of identifying the most vulnerable refugees. It will provide that support on the ground—that is exactly what it does as part of the UN Syria programme. Many of the elements of the

Government’s programme—the principles that the Home Secretary set out earlier—are principles that can be adopted within the UN programme. Other countries have done so. It is unclear why the Home Secretary is so resistant to biting the bullet and why she wants the UK programme, which looks an awful lot like the UN programme, to have another name.

There is an explicit advantage of being part of the UN programme. If the Home Secretary wants to call on countries that have not signed up to the UN proposal to do so, such as Italy, Portugal, Poland and New Zealand, it will be much easier if she does not distance herself from the UN programme. Britain has the aid programmes and bureaucracy to run a parallel programme, but most of those countries do not. We should therefore encourage them to work with the UN and to be part of the UN programme. Surely there is an advantage in saying that the world should pull together. Britain should not go it alone, because we believe that no country alone should have to shoulder the burden of any serious humanitarian crisis. We believe in everyone doing their bit and sharing the challenge.

We will not fall out over this today. The most important thing is that the Home Secretary has come forward with a proposal that will help vulnerable Syrian refugees. The most important thing for the Opposition is that Britain is doing its bit and providing that assistance—that specialised assistance—to those who are most desperate and in need of her help, but I urge her to look again at partnership with the UN.

Let me turn to one wider issue before I close my remarks—other hon. Members have raised it. Hon. Members agree that there is a big difference between, on the one hand, immigration policy and border control, and on the other, providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. We agree with strong controls at our border, and with stronger measures to prevent illegal immigration and limit those coming to work, but that is different from the question of giving safe refuge to those in fear of their lives.

The Home Secretary has set a target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. That target is going up, not down, and the Home Office is under pressure to turn it around. However, the target includes refugees. Surely there is a serious problem if Home Office officials are inclined to resist any resettlement programme whatever the circumstances because it will affect the net migration target, which they are under such pressure to meet. I therefore ask her to give serious consideration to the net migration target to make it clear to everyone that there is a big difference between the approach to immigration and the approach Britain has rightly taken to refugees today.

Britain has a long history of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. In the week of Holocaust memorial day, we remember events such as the Kindertransport, which hon. Members have mentioned, and which provided sanctuary and homes for Jewish children fleeing the Nazis at the beginning of the second world war. We have also seen the contribution that refugees have gone on to make to our country, building our businesses, enriching our culture and supporting our public services.