Refugee Crisis in Europe

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 7th September 2015.

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Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 5:47 pm, 7th September 2015

In the light of the Prime Minister’s statement, I rise to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely the refugee crisis in Europe.

The number of people standing to ask questions has, I think, shown the strength of feeling and interest in the House. Most Members have welcomed the Government’s decision to take more refugees directly from the camps near Syria and the Government’s aid to the region, where they are ahead of every other country and are making an extremely important contribution. The Prime Minister is right, too, that the issues in the camps are serious, with a lack of schooling for thousands of people and a cut in rations meaning that the conditions are desperate and we should help.

The response in the Chamber today has raised two significant concerns about the Prime Minister’s response. The first is about the scale of the response— the 20,000 people he will help over five years—and the second is about the lack of help for refugees who have already fled into Europe. Interior Ministers are meeting on the 14th and the crisis is still escalating. This is not just about the tragic scenes we have seen of Alan Kurdi and others who have drowned or the families who are ready to walk from Hungary to Austria to find a safe home. This is also about our chance to discuss the number of people the Prime Minister has offered to help: 20,000 over five years could mean 4,000 a year, whereas the Kindertransport took 10,000 children in the space of nine months. I would urge the Prime Minister to reconsider and to see what more we can do with councils and communities across the country that have come forward asking to help and to do more. He has rightly changed his mind already in response to public concern. I ask for the House to have the opportunity to persuade him to do so again, given the urgent need to provide help.

I ask the Prime Minister to consider again helping those refugees who are already in Europe and who need help. He says that he does not want to encourage people to travel. I say to him that they are travelling already. They are not waiting for a response from the British Government. The refugees in Greece need particular help and humanitarian aid. Many are already being helped through Hungary and Austria, but in Greece there are thousands who are desperate for help. We could do more. We have a chance to work with other European countries, putting pressure on them to do more.

The Prime Minister has responded in part to what is now the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. I urge him to do so again. I ask that we have the chance to debate this tomorrow and then again on Wednesday.