European Agenda on Migration

Part of European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 14th December 2015.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 8:45 pm, 14th December 2015

I am speaking first about plans for resettlement. I shall come on to relocation later. Resettlement through the UNHCR is not the only method of providing safe legal routes. We have urged and continue to urge the Government to listen to the expert organisations calling for broader family reunion rules, and to consider the case for humanitarian visas so that fewer people are compelled to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The second aspect of the agenda document that I want to mention, and probably the most important, concerns hotspots, which both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have talked up in recent months. Everyone knows that Greece’s asylum system was already chaotic before the crisis began, and Italy’s is probably not much better, so expecting those systems to cope with the crisis would be unreasonable. That is where the so-called hotspot approach is supposed to help. The theory is that the full weight of EU asylum institutions will

“work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants...Those claiming asylum will be immediately channelled into an asylum procedure where European Asylum Support Office (EASO) support teams will help to process asylum cases as quickly as possible.”

In addition, €60 million was to be invested in emergency funding to support the reception of migrants and the provision of healthcare to migrants in member states under pressure.

I have not had the benefit of visiting any hotspots, but I have read and listened with concern to recent reports from those who have visited. Those include reports from the International Rescue Committee, which said that

“the way hotspots are currently being rolled out is causing chaos, increasing tensions and violence, and leaving more people without basic shelter.”

In October an update from the Commission explained some of the reasons why that might be the case. At that stage, only six member states had responded to its calls by providing just 81 out of 374 experts requested, and just six member states had responded to calls by providing 48 border officials out of the requested 775 border guards, screeners, de-briefers and interpreters that were thought necessary.

Lots of serious questions remain about how hotspots are to function and their basis in law, so I would be interested to know whether the Minister can comment on the legal basis for hotspots; whether people in those hotspots have access to legal advice; whether the way a person is dealt with in a hotspot area will depend on their nationality; the proportion of those in hotspots who are recorded as having claimed asylum; the number who have been removed directly from hotspots; and, more generally, when data on outcomes from hotspots will be published, and the UK contribution to all this.

Thirdly, on relocation, I was disappointed not to be able to attend the earlier debate that focused more intensively on that. The Government’s motion talks of

“working with the EU and Member States and other international partners” to address current migratory pressures, but the difficult starting point for the Government is that they wash their hands of relocation plans, despite those being pivotal to the agenda on migration, and instead leave responsibility for that to everyone else.

The House of Lords described the Government’s reasons for opting out of relocation as unconvincing. I would say that that is being pretty kind to the Government. As my hon. Friend Peter Grant said, the idea that whether or not the UK takes part in relocation schemes affects the number of people attempting dangerous crossings is utterly unsupported by evidence. It has been several months since the UK first said that it was going to shirk its responsibilities in this regard, and still more and more people make the crossing. They are doing that because they are fleeing desperate circumstances, not on the off-chance that they will be incredibly lucky in a lottery of a relocation scheme and end up in the United Kingdom. A European relocation scheme should be a response to an emergency situation—a humanitarian crisis. As the Lords EU Committee said, failing to opt in means that we are failing to live up to our duty of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states.

A crisis on this scale requires collective action. Dealing with more than 900,000 people arriving in desperate circumstances is an impossible task for two or three countries to take on. In a Union of 500 million people their arrival poses a huge challenge—there is no doubt about that—but it is surmountable given that they represent less than 0.2% of the population. As the European agenda document states:

“No Member State can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need a new, more European approach.”

That is the approach that the Government should take rather than their head-in-the-sand approach to what is going on in Europe just now.