Refugee Situation in the Mediterranean

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:18 pm on 16th June 2015.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 7:18 pm, 16th June 2015

I am sure that the House will be kept updated in a number of different ways about the ongoing operations in the Mediterranean. As I have underlined, we are making a difference now with the deployment of assets in the Mediterranean, and we are keeping that deployment under active review.

We need to build stability in Libya and source countries, helping to create livelihoods and reducing the push factors to prevent the flow of people from these countries. We need to make it clear that illegal migrants who are not in genuine need of protection will swiftly be returned to their home countries. We need to tackle the large organised crime gangs and trafficking networks who facilitate and profit from this human misery.

The increased flow of migrants has resulted in a range of pressures across Europe. Asylum numbers have increased significantly in a number of countries—in Germany, for example. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East said, Calais has become an obvious visible sign of migratory pressures close to the UK. Recognising that we needed to do more with our French counterparts to tackle that issue, on 20 September 2014 the Home Secretary and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve set out in a joint declaration a number of commitments to tackle problems at the port of Calais. This included £12 million from the UK Government towards upgrading the port infrastructure at Calais and other juxtaposed ports, and improving security and upgrading technology.

We have made good progress in the implementation of these practical solutions, including completing the first phase of installing new security fencing and a communications campaign from which we have obtained valuable intelligence and insights from migrants. We continue to work closely with the haulage industry, both in the UK and abroad, to ensure that drivers and hauliers are aware of what steps they need to take to secure their vehicles in order to reduce clandestine entry into the UK. We have also listened to hauliers’ experiences. Last week, I spoke to representatives of the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association and I intend to have further discussions about the immediate challenges facing the haulage industry.

We recognise that the problem does not begin in Calais. That is why we are enhancing joint work with France and other European partners to clamp down on the organised crime groups behind people smuggling. We welcome some of the EU’s proposals and we are working with other member states to deal with illegal migration. However, we have already made our position clear on the proposals for the relocation of migrants within the EU. We need to find a long-term solution to the problem that does not increase the pull factors to the EU. The UK Government are clear that they will offer generous funding and practical support to help make that happen. At the European level, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in Luxembourg today for the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting, which includes a strong focus on illegal mass migration. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the European Council meeting in Brussels next week; no doubt the meeting will focus heavily on this issue.

We are taking action against the criminal gangs. We are working closely with Europol to strengthen its operation to tackle organised crime groups involved in smuggling in the Mediterranean sea, focusing on tracking vessels and bringing together intelligence. Through that fusion of intelligence from all sources, we will obtain the best possible picture so that we can take action against the trafficking gangs and vessels being used to transit people across the Mediterranean.

The UK is taking further action as part of a core group of EU member states and African partners, leading the EU Khartoum process—a combination of work by EU member states and African Union states, looking at the source and transit countries and at the people traffickers involved. This horn of Africa initiative focuses on combating people smuggling and trafficking in the region. It will bolster sustainable regional protection for refugees by working with key countries of origin, including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as transit countries such as Libya and Egypt.

The UK has also been at the forefront of efforts to secure a Security Council resolution to authorise the use of force against smugglers’ vessels. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the common security and defence policy initiative is being taken forward and it is important that there is that intelligence fusion to inform that work.

In the longer term, however, stability and regional development are the only sustainable solution. That is why the UK prioritises aid and our unprecedented programme helps those who are displaced by war and reduces people’s need to flee. We have one of the most generous aid budgets in the world and we are one of very few EU countries to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid and development. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian crisis, providing £800 million to date. We are heavily involved in efforts to help establish a sustainable unity Government in Libya.

We are also supporting the EU’s proposals for sustainable protection in north and east Africa under EU regional development and protection programmes. We are already participating in the middle east programme. We are increasing our support and protection for those who need it. Reference was made to children earlier in the debate. The UK Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme was launched in January 2014, to provide protection for those, including torture survivors and women and children at risk, who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin. Some 187 have been resettled in the UK in just over a year, and more arrive each month.

Furthermore, we have granted asylum to more than 4,000 Syrians since the start of the humanitarian crisis there. The UK has already settled more than 6,000 refugees over the past 10 years in direct co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees under the Gateway programme. Practical action, both at EU level and more widely, is what we need to save lives, to tackle the criminal gangs, to find a solution to the chaos in Libya and to offer long-term solutions to enable people to stay in their own countries in peace and dignity.

This is a broad piece of work. The Government are focused on their responsibilities, working with EU partners to deal with this significant problem.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.