Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh 4:23 pm, 9th September 2015

Thank you for allowing me to join this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome the considered remarks from across the House, particularly those from the Secretary of State. I was particularly interested in the views of my hon. Friend

Richard Graham on post-war Bosnia. I visited Bosnia in 1999, after the war, and it was a fascinating place to be. Street by street, house by house, people were rebuilding their lives alongside our boys and girls, who were working so hard alongside colleagues from the UN. It was fascinating to see how things can be built fairly quickly after the breakdown of communities. My hon. Friend’s practical suggestion is very important and I hope note has been taken of it.

I am proud of my Government’s commitment to build on further international development work and take 20,000 refugees. I am sure we have all had a huge amount of correspondence on this issue—I certainly have. The question today is: are we doing everything? One of my councillors, Elizabeth Lear, personally wrote to me and the local borough council to suggest we take at least five families from the camps. She is just one person who wants to act and do the right thing. She sees the challenges in local government, as I did up until May, of housing, schools and integration—things we should be very mindful of.

People in Eastleigh and across the UK have watched the humanitarian crisis unfold this summer and over the past four years and are asking what we are doing about it and whether we, in this Chamber, are doing everything that is right to help. The Government have rightly answered them with a robust plan. Eleven million humans—as we have heard today, these are humans, people—are affected, and 3% of them have made the perilous journey to the sanctuary of Europe, often by exploitative means, but in the camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan many still suffer greatly.

The crisis is large, as are our moral and practical responsibilities. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees now account for one quarter of the population. Let us just think about how to manage that day in, day out. It is therefore right that Britain is providing 18 million food rations and that 1.6 million people now have vital access to clean water. This summer, people in this country suffered from not having clean water because of bacteria in the supply, and we saw how difficult it made day-to-day life. It is right also that Britain is providing education to 250,000 children. Those children are benefiting because of this country. I believe that we, as one of the leading aid supporters in this crisis, are doing our bit. The world looked with horror at the tragedy this summer of those making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, and I am sure that the whole House rightly pays tribute to the work of our men and women in the Royal Navy rescuing the people and families desperate enough to make the journey. To date, it has rescued 6,700 people from the sea.

Like others, I want briefly to dwell on the root of the problem—the foul actions of Assad against his own people. We also need to stop Daesh, or ISIL, which enslaves, butchers and terrorises. Its people systemically rape women, commit atrocities and murder; they are callous and reprehensible. We must not forget, therefore, that many of these refugees are fleeing exactly that. However, we must not be left with a simple choice between Daesh and Assad. I believe we can help to provide a better future for Syria. It is possible. It need not be a choice between two evils; there can be a future of stability and peace such as we have seen in Bosnia and Europe. That should be our ultimate goal.

This country must help to stabilise the countries from which refugees are coming by busting the criminal gangs, seeking out new solutions and using our aid budget to alleviate the suffering. Where evil continues to flourish, we must exercise our moral and humanitarian duties, and use our influence at the emergency meeting on the 14th of this month of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers to get a comprehensive plan on refugees, on making other countries meet their aid obligations and on stopping the exploitative criminal gangs.

I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood about the right kind of sanctuary. We must recognise this new type of all-encompassing humanitarian crisis. The many hon. Members who have spoken about their refugee background have rightly highlighted the diversity of our history and our enduring ability as a country to do the right thing. This reminds us of when our country stands tallest, such as in the past when we have gained people their freedom, and the British people have seen wrong abroad and without consideration for national, ethic or other identifiers said, “Enough is enough.”

Our children’s safety and security depend on the actions and choices of this House, as does the future of the Syrian children. We must continue to work for a true and comprehensive approach across Europe, as highlighted by our Prime Minister. This true humanitarian nation does not merely help its own, but helps others in need, and I stand proudly behind that tradition and the actions of our Government.