Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle 5:11 pm, 9th September 2015

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which is correct. We know from Amnesty and others that a cogent case has been made in relation to a number of deficiencies in the Schengen agreement and the Dublin regulation, which clearly need to be overhauled in the light of recent events.

I agree with so many Government Members on a number of points that they have made, not least Lucy Frazer and Nicola Blackwood. We need to recognise the scale of the whole humanitarian crisis and not concentrate just on those who are arriving in Europe. We have to meet our responsibilities in relation to those who have made it to Europe and in relation to the wider crisis.

The Secretary of State for International Development spoke of her concern not only that other countries were not matching the 0.7% aid target, but that there was a significant shortfall in so many relevant UN appeals. Some of us would say that one of the ways to deal with that is through a global financial transaction tax. Part of the aim of those of us who have supported that idea is precisely to support funding for the sort of international mechanisms and measures that are needed, rather than different UN funds having to busk around different countries trying to gather money for programmes. Although we have heard in these debates about the very good work in the refugee camps and elsewhere that is being funded through DFID and so many NGOs, let us also be clear that UN funding in a number of those camps is being reduced. The level of food aid in some of the camps is being reduced, and education support is not what it should be.

In the previous Parliament the all-party group on protecting children in armed conflict, led by Fiona O’Donnell, produced a report that drew heavily on the lessons being learned from what is happening in Syria, particularly in relation to the millions of children who have had to flee. It noted that when DFID and other organisations respond to such emergencies, in the first order of things little thought is given to education. That might be understandable, but when we consider just how long term many refugee camps have become for other conflicts—look at the Palestinian experience—we see that clearly more needs to be done. The world must respond not only to the immediacy of the refugee crisis, but to the wider lessons about the inadequacy. Obviously the convention on refugees will have to be overhauled, and so many other rules, such as Schengen and Dublin, will have to be revised.

Of course, these islands are outside Schengen. One of the things that I would like to see the UK Government do, along with the Irish Government, is convene a meeting of the British-Irish Council to co-ordinate across the devolved Administrations and with the Irish Government what the response will be across these islands in order to meet our responsibilities for accommodating refugees. That would ensure optimum co-ordination across jurisdictions and between services so that there is no fall-down, breakdown or confusion facing international agencies or domestic charities when it comes to responding. The Government might find, as a result of the information and ideas that would emerge from such collaboration, that they are in a position to reconsider the number of refugees they are taking and the time scale, not least by accommodating some of those who are already in Europe.

Let us be clear that the Government, having previously been averse to engaging with the UNHCR resettlement scheme, and then having been very dilatory in relation to the vulnerable persons scheme, have now moved to strike a tone of some urgency in this regard, but of course limits have been put on it—the Prime Minister appears to have put the guard up on his heart again. The Government must be prepared to do more, but those of us who are criticising them for the number of refugees they will admit or on the time scale must face the wider question about the scale of the problem in the camps, about other conflicts, not least in Sudan and South Sudan, that are driving people into refugee status, and about the need for a much bigger and longer-term response, including proper support for the UN, and a global financial transactions tax would be a good start.