Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 4:11 pm, 9th September 2015

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to talk about an issue that defines this summer and probably a longer period.

I congratulate Angus Robertson on tabling a motion on this humanitarian issue, which is vital not just to all of us here, but to many of our constituents. I would argue that the underlying issue is broader than that laid out in his motion. Why are there so many failing states in the middle east and north Africa? How can we help to prevent those states from reaching the chaos where so many millions of people are displaced, mostly outside their own country? What is it that states such as Jordan and Morocco have that makes them so much more successful? How can a region take ownership both of its people, as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are doing so spectacularly with help from the west, and of its stability and security? Those are critical questions, but I recognise that they are for another day and I hope that it comes soon.

The hon. Member for Moray introduced his motion with moving reference to his own story about the arrival of his mother in this country, which helps to explain his commitment to helping other refugees. There is much to agree with in his motion. It recognises the Government’s huge contribution to the camps for refugees from Syria and the commitment to take on 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees from those camps. It calls for a “full and proper role” for the UK in providing sanctuary.

However, the motion is very short of detail in some ways and divisive in one critical way. It calls for

“a greater international effort through the United Nations to secure the position of such displaced people”,

but what does that mean? The hon. Gentleman did not shed any light on what he expects the United Nations to do. Does it encompass the proposal from my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell for safe havens inside Syria? Is the hon. Gentleman thinking of no-fly zones? He said nothing about what he wants from the United Nations. I offer the thought that perhaps the most successful intervention by the United Nations in a state that had been through civil war was in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was run by the United Nations for a period of years before being successfully returned under democratic elections. We need to look at that more closely in the longer term.

The line that reveals the divisiveness of the motion is that which calls for the Government to report on

“how that number can be increased”.

That comes only two days after the Prime Minister’s announcement that our country would take 20,000 refugees. The hon. Member for Moray denied that this was a bidding war, but that is exactly what it looks and feels like. A cry goes up, “Something must be done.” A Labour leadership candidate agrees and says, “Yes, we should take 10,000.” The Prime Minister agrees and announces the framework and terms for taking 20,000 refugees, but the SNP, on its Opposition day, asks how that number can be increased, without mentioning a figure—neither the hon. Member for Moray, nor anybody else speaking for his party today has done so. We can be sure that if the Government did come back to raise the figure, whatever it was raised to would not be enough, and the SNP and others would ask how we could increase it further.