Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Trade and Investment) 5:51 pm, 9th September 2015

I agree with my hon. Friend, who passionately articulates the sentiments felt by us all. As a parent, I want to be able to explain to my children that I—that we—did all we possibly could to help. Our children are asking questions, and we should not be ashamed of our answers.

A practical humanitarian response to this tragedy requires three main strands of action. First, the UK must takes its fair share of refugees. It is right that we should seek to relocate those families and individuals in Syria and in the region who are in immediate peril. I welcome the action from the Government. I agree that we should do more to support these people, but we must also play our part in responding to the immediate crisis in Europe itself. It is the right thing to do. When the other great nations in Europe are standing side by side to work together to tackle the largest humanitarian crisis in decades on our shore, the UK should not seek to stand back from our responsibility, distancing ourselves from the collective responsibility of European membership. European membership is about democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It stands for pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity, and we should fulfil these very principles. When the leaders of Europe meet, the UK must discuss with our allies and partners what we can do to play our maximum part.

In Scotland this week, over half of our councils have stepped up to pledge their support for those affected by this crisis. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has had an overwhelming and unprecedented response from local authorities on this issue. Every party leader in the Scottish Parliament supports further action. I will not be the only Member here who has been inundated by calls, letters and emails from constituents pledging support or seeking ways in which to give support directly. By every measure, there is a clear majority of people across Scotland and the UK who support a compassionate and proportionate response from this Government.

Secondly, this humanitarian response must not be used as a cover or pretext for military action in Syria. The deterioration in the security of the region can be traced back directly to the disastrous decision to join with George Bush in pursuing illegal military action in Iraq. We must not make that same mistake again here. How could we possibly fathom another UK Prime Minister, in his second term of office, pushing for a military solution to a humanitarian crisis? An increase in offensive military action against Assad or Daesh would not stabilise the situation within Syria. Instead, what must happen now is that the UK must seek the support of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to secure safe corridors and camps for refugees throughout the middle east. I know that this approach has already gained support from across the House, and I welcome that progress. When SNP colleagues and I met with a range of stakeholders in Scotland last week to hear their experience of working in Syria, there was wide support for such an approach. Action on this basis would be the antithesis of previous military campaigns in the region, as it would be defensive in nature, have a clear and achievable objective, and would be underpinned by international law.

In March 2011, the Prime Minister stood in this House and said of the situation then facing Libya:

“Do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean”?—[Hansard, 14 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 27.]

At that point, the Prime Minster was determined to prevent a humanitarian crisis on the periphery of Europe. As we now know, the total additional cost of Operation Ellamy in Libya is estimated to be about £320 million. In the past, this Government and others before them have spared no expense in pursuing military action. We are engaged in military action against Daesh. On this basis, we should be prepared to welcome those who are fleeing its tyranny.