Humanitarian Crisis: Greece

– in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 1:20 pm, 2nd March 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the developing humanitarian crisis in Greece.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I am delighted to be here to respond to the urgent question.

A situation of humanitarian concern is unfolding in Greece. There are reportedly approximately 10,000 people at the border between Greece and Macedonia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that around 24,000 people—maybe more—are stranded across Greece. Greek authorities have established two camps at the border with a projected total capacity of 12,500, but crowded conditions are putting pressure on delivering essential support to people.

The UK is already providing nearly £55 million to the Mediterranean migration crisis response. This includes essential supplies such as blankets, sleeping mats and tents, as well as support through non-governmental organisations and UN agencies. The UK has established a new refugee children fund for Europe, which will meet the specific need of unaccompanied and separated children.

We should of course remember that the vast majority of Syrians who have fled Syria are in countries neighbouring Syria. That is why the UK continues to be at the forefront of the response to the crisis in the region. The recent London conference on Syria raised more than $11 billion with the Prime Minister announcing that the UK will more than double our total pledge to the Syria crisis from £1.12 billion to more than £2.3 billion. As part of this, we are working in partnership with host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to help them expand job and education opportunities for refugees in a way that will enable them to better support themselves and give them hope for the future where they are.

The UK is working across the EU to ensure that a humanitarian crisis is averted and that the most vulnerable people are protected and provided with shelter. We are monitoring the situation closely. We stand ready to meet other priority needs and are sending a team to Greece to assess the situation.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her answer. We all recognise the important role that the Department for International Development has played in responding to the humanitarian crisis. Sadly, I regret that the same cannot be said of the Home Office, hence my targeting the question at that Department.

Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned that Europe faces an imminent humanitarian crisis, largely of its own making. As the Secretary of State reported, UNHCR described crowding and shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation in Greece. I agree with her that, first, we need an emergency aid response, and the £55 million to which she referred is indeed welcome. However, secondly, we need an urgent strategic response from other European states to share responsibility for supporting Greece in processing and hosting arrivals. Does she agree that border closures, tear gas and rubber bullets do not amount to the required strategic response? Is it not obvious, as the UN has pointed out, that Greece cannot manage the situation alone?

Will the Secretary of State please now agree with the UN that it remains vital that the European agreements on relocation are prioritised and implemented? If not, who do the Government think should take on the responsibility? Is it the Government’s position that Greece alone must shoulder it? If she agrees that the challenge of relocation should be shared, how can the UK Government defend not playing their part in that?

Will the Secretary of State also back UN calls for increased regular pathways for the admission of refugees from countries neighbouring Syria? In the light of the unfolding tragedy, will the Government look again at increased resettlement, expanded family reunification, private sponsorship and humanitarian and refugee student and work visas? Surely, in that way, we can reduce dangerous journeys, save lives and support Greece.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I will start with the hon. Gentleman’s final point. He is right that ensuring that refugees can get on with life, even though they cannot be at home, is incredibly important. That is why the London conference focused not just on jobs and work permits so that refugees can work in neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, but on ensuring that children are back in school, and looking ahead further than the next few years to their future. Those new, groundbreaking steps are important to understand how we can tackle more comprehensively the sort of crisis that is emanating from the conflict in Syria.

On the hon. Gentleman’s other points, the UK has worked hand in hand with the UN. We hosted the London conference with the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and I welcome the announcement that has just come from the EU about the step-up in support for refugees who arrive in Europe. I should say that the announcement has just been made, but our initial look at it—we need to examine it in greater detail—suggests that it proposes precisely the response that the UK has already put in place. It focuses on enabling NGOs that are already on the ground to do a better job, and UNHCR to do a stronger job, particularly in processing and registering refugees. Doubtless, as we get into the detail of the announcement, it will give us more of an indication of exactly what the plans are, but they certainly look like ones that we would welcome.

The hon. Gentleman asked about how Europe more broadly is responding to the crisis. Essentially, there are two different aspects alongside the pieces that I have just mentioned. One is sensible border control. The UK is not part of the Schengen area, for reasons that have become clear in recent months. However, it is important that countries such as Greece are helped to ensure that they can manage their borders more effectively. That is why the Home Office has worked with the Greek authorities. Of course, it is also important that, when refugees arrive in Europe, they make use of mechanisms such as the Dublin convention. We have a co-ordinated approach of dealing with refugees in Europe, but the challenge is that that has broken down in recent months. The UK has taken a clear position based on our proud history of accepting people who seek asylum and refugees, but of course the approach needs to be sensibly managed both for those who want to claim asylum and refugee status, and for the countries where people seek safety.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I am very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend recognise that we are talking about refugees, not migrants, that the two are different, and that we are dealing with men, women and children who are fleeing from war zones. This country has a proud and honourable tradition, which is being honoured now in our seeking to assist, but the European Union response has been chaotic. Stuart C. McDonald is right: using rubber bullets and tear gas against children and women is not the answer. When will my right hon. Friend and her colleagues in our Cabinet seek to convene a European meeting to produce a proper and holistic response?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

For many months, we have pressed for the comprehensive approach that, as my hon. Friend says, is required. The crisis has not emerged just in the last few weeks. There is an EU-Turkey summit next week, which will give us a good chance to see a more structured response from the European Union. However, throughout the process, the UK approach has steadily emerged as the most sensible. First, it deals with root causes. It helps people where they are in the region, and considers some of the reasons for their loss of hope about staying there, such as lack of jobs and the inability to get their children back into school. Where people need to relocate, we are enabling them to do so safely and securely.

We are working with UNHCR and other agencies on the ground to identify the most vulnerable people affected by this crisis in the region, and we are relocating those who need relocation in a sensible, managed way. That is much better for those people because they do not have to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers, and it is significantly better for the countries that people go to, because it enables them—as in the UK—to work with local authorities and communities, and ensure that they are prepared to take in refugees who are being relocated, and that the right services and provisions are in place when they arrive.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The Secretary of State has spoken again about what the Government are doing for refugees in the middle east, which is wholly commendable, but this urgent question is about the millions of refugees—including half a million Syrians—in Europe, and especially the plight of Greece. I was in Greece last month. The Greek people have been as hospitable as they can be, but their Prime Minister said this week that with the closure of the Macedonian border, and with tens of thousands of people backing up in Greece in the streets of Athens and on the islands, Greece runs the risk of becoming a permanent “warehouse of souls”.

What are the Government doing to get bilateral aid to the Greeks in this crisis, and to encourage Turkey to do something about the thousands of refugees who are being shipped from Turkey into Greece, with some coming increasingly from north Africa? What pressure are the Government bringing to bear on Turkey to put a stop to that and to make it easier for refugees in Turkey to work and get education for their children? Irrespective of the fact that we are not in Schengen, what are the Government doing to work with fellow members of the European family of nations to be more effective against people traffickers and provide safe routes for refugees?

Above all, how can we turn our back on the people of Greece, who risk being overwhelmed because of the absence of a strategic and humanitarian approach to this issue from all EU nations, including the UK?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I strongly disagree with the hon. Lady’s last statement, because the UK is the largest contributor to the humanitarian response, including in Europe, and we have provided nearly £55 million to the Mediterranean migration crisis. She will be aware of the work that we have done in the Mediterranean helping to save lives in recent months with our Royal Navy and Border Force cutters. We have provided Greece with around £19 million of support in total, much of that to help the UNHCR, some to help NGOs on the ground and amazing organisations such as the Red Cross, and some to help the International Organisation for Migration. We have also worked with Greece to help it manage its borders more effectively.

The work that Britain is doing is showing the way to other member states in Europe with a sensible, thoughtful approach to this crisis that can help us not only to deal with root causes, which is what we are doing in the region, but to show that we must all provide support to refugees who are arriving closer to home here in Europe. The UK is leading the way in that.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I congratulate the Secretary of State and her ministerial team, who are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances. The International Organisation for Migration suggests that 97,000 people have entered Greece in the past two months alone, which is eight times more than in the same period last year. Not all of them are Syrian refugees, although the majority are. What more can the Government do to work with the Governments of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Morocco, who make up the other 17%?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Part of that is ensuring that we consider some of the root causes that make refugees undertake these journeys in the first place. My hon. Friend will be aware of much of the work that we are doing in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and also for people who are shifting from parts of Africa. Much of our aid programme is intrinsically focused on improving opportunities in the countries where those young people grow up. In the end, the only solution to these sorts of crises are peace, for those driven by conflicts such as that in Syria, and development, in the case of migration flows that are due to people feeling that they do not have opportunities on their doorstep, and that they want to find better opportunities elsewhere.

Turkey currently has 2 million Syrian refugees, and we should praise the generosity of Turkey and Turkish communities—many of which I have had a chance to meet over the past few years—for the hospitality that they have provided. We will not rise to the challenge of dealing with this crisis by pointing the finger at other countries, although I know it is tempting to do so. We would like other countries in Europe to contribute more, as the UK has done, but in the end we will rise to this challenge by working more collaboratively together in a thoughtful, evidence-based way that understands the drivers behind what is making people move, while not accepting criminality such as people smuggling.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

Like my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, I recognise the role that DFID has already played, but can the Secretary of State confirm that her response today does not include any new announcements of funding or resource? Does that mean that this latest crisis was somehow foreseen in the needs analysis that the Government carried out before the funding announcements that they have already made? What general needs analysis was carried out before the Government decided to double their pledge at the Syria funding conference? The UK Government’s response cannot simply be about funding; at some point we must take our fair share of refugees from Europe to the United Kingdom, and by anyone’s calculation, 20,000 people over four years is not a fair share.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

First, our pledge to slightly more than double existing support to the crisis in Syria and the region affected by it was sensible and reflects the situation on the ground and what is needed. If we are to do the right thing, that means going beyond simply providing day-to-day life-saving supplies, because we must also get children back in school. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of Britain as not having played its role in helping people more directly in the region to relocate. The Prime Minister has set out what I think is a sensible approach of taking 20,000 people over the course of this Parliament. Those will be the most vulnerable people who would otherwise have absolutely no prospect of getting out of that region. We are working directly with UN agencies and with local authorities around the country to help those people do just that. There will also be people in Scotland who provide a home to those people, and we must ensure that when we bring them to the UK, it is done in a sensible, measured and effective manner.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for coming to the House—I know they care deeply about the plight of refugees, and I do not doubt for one minute that they are working exceptionally hard on this issue. However, given what I saw when I visited Lesbos a month ago, I am not surprised by the chaos that Greece is now in—you could see it coming. The Secretary of State kindly agreed to meet me to hear about what I had seen, and it is my fault that the meeting did not happen, for which I apologise.

I remain convinced that the UK has a greater leadership role to play to ensure that Greece is supported and not left to collapse and be abandoned by the rest of Europe, as is happening now. In the mix of this whole sorry mess, unaccompanied and orphaned—let us call them what they really are—children, are still there and need our care and hope, and I believe that the UK and other countries have a moral obligation to home them. I am being simplistic, but for me, blankets are not enough. Our leadership in the region and in Syria is exemplary and I will not hear a word said against it, but there are orphaned children in Europe now. Can we not take some?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I am still very happy to meet her directly and I am sorry she was not able to make the meeting we had planned. She is right to raise the issue of how children are affected by this crisis. It is why we have put education at the heart of our response.

On children who are arriving in Europe, my hon. Friend will be aware that we have announced a £10 million fund to ensure that we have a much better system of identifying children across Europe, working with UNHCR to make sure children are specifically protected and in safe spaces, and are able to get to where they are trying to get to in a way that does not put them at any more risk. A number of countries across the European Union can help to provide safety for children. That is what we want to happen—we want a more co-ordinated approach. My hon. Friend will be aware that we are extending our vulnerable persons scheme to include unaccompanied children. The one bit of good news in all of this is that, in part because of DFID’s work in the Syria region, children arriving in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon are being reunited with their families.

I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that our desire is to make sure that children are taken care of. Implicit in her assumption is that many children want to come to the UK. Under the Dublin convention, if they are able to claim asylum and have links into the UK, we can consider their cases. This is one reason why it is so important to make sure that children are registered and inside the system. We are focusing on making sure that that happens. As she will know, it can be a very chaotic situation. Sometimes one of the biggest challenges we face is that children are very reluctant to come forward to the authorities. That is a problem we are trying to overcome.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Labour, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford

The situation in Greece is becoming dangerous and could well implode as the crisis gets worse. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that the humanitarian aid from Britain and the EU is not yet enough to help Greece to cope with the crisis. Will she agree to look at how many refugees arriving in Greece have family in Britain who could look after them? Will she get that assessment done? Will she consider whether the refugee resettlement programme could be extended not just to cope with young, unaccompanied refugees, as Heidi Allen said, but others with family in Britain who could look after them, so that Britain can do its bit in a fair way?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Today’s EU announcement is possibly one of the first big steps towards ensuring that the level of response in Europe is on the scale required. I agree with the right hon. Lady on that. Countries, including Britain, have stepped forward to do what they can. We work where we can with the Greek authorities, but more is required. It is good that the announcement appears to be scaling up against those needs.

On the right hon. Lady’s second point, I reiterate that we have good and sound processes that sit behind our asylum and refugee system here in the UK—obviously, we are not part of the Schengen area. Those are perfectly sensible approaches to work through the issue of where refugees will finally end up. We will not be a part of a pan-EU relocation approach. We think that that simply plays into the hands of people smugglers, who are perhaps the only people who gain from the present situation. We prefer a much more sensible approach, which is taking people directly from the region.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

My right hon. Friend is right to focus on the humanitarian crisis in Greece, but does she agree that the wider region is important? For those who criticise the international aid budget, does she agree that not investing the 0.7% in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which have taken in millions of refugees, would mean a far bigger reduction in our growth prospects? This is not just morally the right thing to do, but is the sensible thing to do.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. By pursuing the UK aid strategy of doing the right thing by some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, we also do the right thing by ourselves. Perhaps the worst long-term challenge of the many facing Syria is that many of its best and brightest are leaving the region. The more we can help people to stay close to home and close to their families, the more we prepare for Syria to have the people it needs to help it get back on its feet. As it stands that prospect seems a long way off, but that does not mean we should not try to do our best to achieve it.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Stuart C. McDonald and I were told last Thursday by Europol that 90% of the migrants who enter the EU do so because they are supported by organised criminal gangs. When will we get a statement from Ministers to tell us that there is success against the organised criminal gangs that are doing so much damage to the people of Europe? When is Turkey going to get the €3 billion we promised it to help it to deal with this crisis?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The right hon. Gentleman will see that on the Treasury Bench with me is the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire, who I am sure will respond to his point on progress in tackling organised criminal gangs. Our National Crime Agency works very closely with Europol. He will be aware that we also played our role in saving lives in the Mediterranean with Royal Navy and Border Force cutters. The €3 billion has now been agreed. In fact, we managed to agree it in time for the London conference, which again was a step forward. The key is making sure that it is delivered and that the strategy behind how it is invested is strong. That needs to involve not just the day-to-day support for refugees who Turkey is very generously hosting—we should remember that Turkey has taken in 2 million refugees—but getting children back into school and progress on effective border control. The package now in place needs to be very carefully delivered not only by the EU, but by Turkey itself in terms of how it uses that investment.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the position she has taken in this crisis. I urge her to continue to put the emphasis on the refugee camps, which will have a big destabilisation effect in places such as Jordan. I wonder, given the expertise of her Department, whether she can say a little more about the technical assistance she is providing to Greece.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

It is in several different areas. Part of it is more Home Office-related assistance on border management, and part of it is humanitarian, working through UNHCR and, latterly, assisting UNICEF on child protection. Although we often focus on the amounts of aid we are giving, the most effective aid is often technical assistance, which is very cost-effective and highly effective in terms of outcomes.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Secretary of State is absolutely right. Solving this crisis will require a co-ordinated approach across Europe. Surely, however, it is now apparent that to get that co-ordinated approach, we have to have some acts of political leadership? Last year, 90,000 unaccompanied children registered and applied for asylum in Europe. Does that not demonstrate the modesty of the call for this country to take 3,000? Surely this is a time when the Government should say yes to that very modest call for political leadership.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We have shown political leadership, not just in terms of the scale and the shaping of the humanitarian response in the region but in how we have responded to it closer to home. As I have said, Britain has done more than any country to provide support to refugees more broadly. As I set out to my hon. Friend Heidi Allen, we have done a huge amount of work to support unaccompanied children. Many Parliaments across Europe will be debating this issue, but few will be able to be as proud as the UK, given the work across government and the support being provided by so many British people to refugees in the region and to those arriving in Europe. I can reassure him, as I did my hon. Friend, that we are working very hard on the issue of unaccompanied children. We are absolutely playing our role.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I am really proud of the fact that this country is the biggest financial contributor in Europe to dealing with this crisis—a point that is too easily dismissed by Opposition parties. However, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is far less sanguine about the contribution of the European Union. What can my right hon. Friend do to put pressure on her interlocutors to ensure that some of the money that the EU gives to loony projects is diverted to assist in this crisis within our own European borders?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

As my hon. Friend probably knows, I am what I would call an aid disciplinarian. That probably comes from my innate chartered accountant perspective, which means I always need to see effective projects that are well run and deliver value for money. That is absolutely what we have been pressing for and working with the European Union to do. Our push has essentially been to see the EU mirror the UK strategy on doing more effective work in the affected regions and see it step up to the plate on managing this crisis closer to home, which is what today’s announcement seems to be about. It is good to see the EU starting to move in the right direction. Of course, we took further steps at the London conference a few weeks ago, which we also welcomed.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

It is hard to overstate the national and regional dangers from Greece becoming a giant refugee camp. That is all the more the case because the refugee crisis cannot be disentangled from the crisis in the Greek economy and infrastructure. When I visited a refugee camp on one of the islands, I found that the island had already lost its healthcare service, as have so many other islands. In addition to the humanitarian assistance, which is very welcome, what discussions are the British Government having within the EU to discuss the state of the Greek economy, which is very heavily dependent on tourism? There is a risk that the Greek economy will implode under the pressure of a growing refugee crisis this year.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

At the ministerial meetings I attend as a Development Minister, we discuss the challenges that we face much closer to home. We should learn from what has happened in Jordan and Lebanon—that we should not expect countries to be able to cope on their own when they suddenly see huge numbers of people flowing in that they were not expecting. It is not simply a matter of financial pressures because pressures are placed on local communities. That is why the UK has done a lot and why I welcome the announcement that we think is coming from the EU today. This is the right thing to do for the refugees that are arriving. As has been said, it has taken some time for the penny to drop across Europe about what needs to be done closer to home, but I am proud of the work that the UK has done in trying to make sure that the levels of support that people need are now being put in place.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British public want to help and welcome it being provided for genuine refugees, particularly the women and children from minority groups? However, many are concerned at the arrival of large numbers of fit and able young men who have left their families behind, often claiming to be younger than they are, often having cultural attitudes towards women and gays that are unacceptable in Europe and often coming here for economic reasons. Do we not also need to send out a message that those people should not be able to come here in large numbers?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I think there are two elements here. One part is responding to the humanitarian crisis itself. As my hon. Friend says, a number of genuine refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis are coming over, but there is also the crisis in Iraq, particularly with the impact of Daesh in northern Iraq, which has also led to refugees coming over. As he points out, another part of the problem is economic migrants. That is why it is so important to have strong processes in place to deal with refugees and asylum cases, but also with migration. As a London MP, I often deal with immigration casework, so I am perhaps as familiar with it as any other MP in this Parliament. Having strong processes in place to work through those different cases is vital. That is why, despite the emotional pressures, we are right to stick to that plan and stick to our strategy—that Britain should have the ability to set its own rules on migration, which is why we are not in the Schengen area.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (International Affairs and Europe)

Apart perhaps from a couple of contributions from Tory Members, the Secretary of State will have heard a cross-party consensus today that we are dealing with a humanitarian and a refugee crisis. There is a great deal of cross-party support for a friendly reception for the efforts made in region by the Government. Will the right hon. Lady therefore respond by accepting that the scale of the issue we now face requires a re-examination of the scale of the bilateral support to Greece? Secondly, without a meaningful contribution to the resettlement—and I mean a meaningful contribution—will it not be more difficult to get the solidarity across Europe that will be required to deal with this issue properly?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

As ever, we will continue to make sure that the support we give to all the countries affected by the crisis is at a level that we think is sensible. As I have set out, Britain has, frankly, done as much as any in helping refugees who are arriving in Europe. That is why a significant proportion of what we provide has been given to countries such as Greece where the refugees have arrived. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s second point about our approach to relocation. I think our approach is the sensible approach, one that is increasingly recognised across Europe as sensible and pragmatic.

My final point to the right hon. Gentleman is that the people we are able to relocate are the most vulnerable people from the region, those identified by agencies like the UNHCR as needing to be removed from the region in order to get back on with their lives and receive the support they need to do so. I think we are right to focus on the most vulnerable people affected by this crisis; that will continue to be our approach.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for the leadership they have shown in making us the biggest donor of humanitarian support in region, after the United States. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the refugees from the middle east are the victims of terrorists and traffickers, so taking into the United Kingdom the refugees who have already reached the safety of Europe is simply playing into the hands of those evil traffickers who are exploiting people so appallingly?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I think my hon. Friend is right. In the end, there is no getting away from the fact that overwhelmingly people want to stay in the region where they had their home and grew up—the area with which they are most familiar and where their closest family is likely to be based. I think the failure of the international community to do enough is what has led to the sorts of flows that we are now seeing. That is why the London conference a month ago was so important. It is also why we need to see more countries doing more in the region. We should not lose sight of the need for more international leadership, matching that of Britain, in the region so that refugees can be supported in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. They have been generous, but they are saying that this is an extremely difficult situation for them to cope with. Let us not lose sight of that.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

Greece is, of course, a great country and an important and long-standing ally of ours. The people of Greece, however, are still suffering badly from the financial crisis, and the refugee and humanitarian crisis is pushing them to the brink. Help from the EU has so far been slow and inadequate. Despite what has been said today, does the Secretary of State truly believe that the EU strategy to give Greece the proper help that is needed is in place? Does she not agree that a lot more needs to be done?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

As ever, it is all about today’s announcement, which we understand to be about €700 million for the next three years, and about making sure that that money is invested sensibly. It is important that Greece itself is willing and able to work with NGOs on the ground and with the UNHCR so that the best work can be done. One of the biggest changes affecting Jordan and Lebanon that has enabled us to help to create more jobs was the important decision of those countries to allow refugees to have work permits. That enabled us to do more to help them get the jobs so that they were able to support themselves. It is important that we are able to work effectively with the Greek authorities to make the most of the additional resourcing and investment so that we can help people as much as we possibly can.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I fear that Members on both sides of the House are failing to acknowledge two pertinent facts. Not only has the European Union visited penury and misery on the people of Greece because of its cruel monetary policy, but that has been compounded by the fact that its largest member has completely disregarded, in a high-handed and arrogant way, the Dublin protocols that my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier.

May I ask what efforts the Government are making to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, and—returning to an undertaking that the Prime Minister gave me before Christmas—what special efforts are being made to target our resources at the persecuted minorities in the middle east, particularly Christians?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

My hon. Friend has, in fact, raised three issues. First, we are working with the International Organisation for Migration to secure better data and evidence relating to the flows of migrants and refugees. Secondly, we are not in the Schengen area, which means that we can more readily make decisions on how to deal with the various people who seek to come to Britain, depending on whether they are claiming asylum, seeking refugee status or, indeed, just wanting to come here to work as migrants.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue of certain minorities. I had a chance to go to Irbil, where I met, among others, Christian minorities who had been persecuted and caught up in the Iraqi crisis and the territorial gains that Daesh was making in Iraq at the time. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are very conscious of the need not to lose sight of the groups who have been most affected by the crisis. We often talk of its impact on children, but, as he rightly points out, whole communities have been targeted in some areas.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education)

There should be concern about the impact on Greece’s social structure of the double blow that it has experienced: first the effect of membership of the euro on its economy, and now the chaotic immigration policy that is being pursued by the EU.

Many Syrian leaders who are looking to the future are saying that people should be kept as close to Syria as possible, in well-organised camps, and not thrown into the hands of the traffickers who wish to smuggle them into Europe. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey about the resources that they need in order to sustain that number of people in their own countries, and what hope has she of persuading her EU partners to join the United Kingdom in stumping up some money to support those efforts?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We have had many discussions with the countries that have experienced the biggest flows of refugees over recent years, particularly the ones that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

I think the London conference on Syria was especially important when it came to persuading other countries to step up to the plate alongside Britain, and to do more to help provide the resources that are needed by countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. As the hon. Gentleman will know, at the end of last year the United Nations appeal was just over 50% funded, but following the London conference, only five weeks into this year, some 70% to 80% of this year’s needs have already been resourced. Nevertheless, we still need other countries to do more. The crisis will be ongoing for some time, and unfortunately, while I was delighted by the success of the Syria conference—the largest ever amount was pledged in a single day—it should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of the international community’s better response.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

Riot police, tear gas and rubber bullets are increasing the risks to lone children, and, sadly, also increasing their price tag for trafficking purposes. I saw that for myself in Calais on Monday, and the situation is the same in Greece. There is no effective identification and processing of lone children, especially those with connections to the United Kingdom. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the welcome 28 January commitment to increase the safety of lone children in Europe, as well as in conflict zones, will help the desperately vulnerable children who have no hope of access to the safe legal routes to which she has referred, and prevent them from getting into the hands of traffickers?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I hope I can provide that reassurance, which is, in a sense, twofold. First, it is about enabling vulnerable children in the region to be relocated when that is necessary, working with UN agencies. Secondly, it is about the £10 million fund that we established to make better and stronger identification possible so that we can get children into the system. We are providing funds to ensure that children receive the kind of specialist protection that they need, can be helped to understand how to deal with the situation in which they have found themselves, and can be given trauma counselling. Even when we have reached an “end point” in our work to help unaccompanied children, they will often need further support in order to be able to get on with their lives effectively because of the experiences that they have been through, and the United Kingdom is ensuring that, whenever possible, we can provide that as well.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

The people traffickers are benefiting from a clear Russian policy: to weaken resolve in Syria, to create a crisis in Europe and weaken our humanitarian values, and to weaken neighbouring states such as Jordan, Lebanon, Greece and Turkey. Last week, Saudi Arabia told the Defence Committee that it had offered visas to Syrian families, allowing them to move in with their own family members.

It has offered them work permits, and opportunities for education, employment and healthcare. Why can we not do the same for Syrian refugees who have clear links with the United Kingdom?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We have a relocation scheme, and the Dublin convention provides routes enabling people with clear links to the UK to come here. Ultimately, however, we need a co-ordinated and managed approach to migration. We are not in the Schengen area—for all the right reasons, as we can see—and it is right for Britain to have the controls and rules that enable us to manage the flows of people coming into the UK.

The hon. Lady mentioned people smugglers and the impact of bombing. Although we obviously hope that the ceasefire holds, it is important for us not to take steps that would simply play into the hands of the criminals who are gaining from the crisis, and that is why we have taken the approach that we have.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

I, too, am proud of the leading role in the provision of aid for refugees that the United Kingdom has played, not just over the last few months but for many years. What requests has Greece made directly to the UK for help? I know that the UK has been seeking a comprehensive EU response for months, but what more can we do to put pressure on the rest of the EU to help with the daily basic needs of the refugees in Greece, and at least try to alleviate some of the burden?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We have humanitarian advisers in Greece who have been helping to ensure that the Greek strategy, including the way in which camps are being set up, is as effective as possible. We have also worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More recently, we have helped to provide child protection officers. The situation on the ground is complex, but I think we should recognise that the UK has helped to provide not only life-saving and core humanitarian support, but the technical assistance that can help the Greek authorities to do a more effective job themselves. I agree that it is welcome that the European Union is now responding with additional resources to mirror the kind of work that the UK has been doing, because that support has been badly needed.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

Does the Secretary of State agree that the very last thing that families fleeing beheadings, bombs and barbarism need is to face barbed wire, tear gas and rubber bullets on their arrival in the EU? Will she please, as a matter of urgency, urge her Government to take a much more constructive role within Europe and to help to implement the EU action plan on migration?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We are taking a constructive, proactive approach within the European Union. We are not part of the Schengen area, but that does not prevent us from clearly setting out our views on a more effective way of dealing with this crisis. Speaking in my capacity as Secretary of State for International Development, I think that one of the most important elements to that response has been to tackle the root cause of what is making people feel that they have no alternative to putting their lives in the hands of the people smugglers. That involves doing a better job of supporting those people in the region, closer to home and closer to their families.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Scottish National Party, Glenrothes

We certainly welcome the financial commitments that the UK Government have announced and are already providing. I echo the calls for the rest of the international community to match those commitments, but the fact is that no amount of money will ever provide enough schools, hospitals and homes to enable the 4 million-plus refugees to settle permanently in the small number of countries that Sammy Wilson mentioned earlier, given that those countries are already looking after millions of refugees.

Information from Eurostat shows that, relative to the population of each country, Greece receives twice as many asylum applications as the United Kingdom, while Italy receives two and half times the number and the EU as a whole receives five times the number. Some countries, such as Hungary and Sweden, received 30 times as many asylum applications as the United Kingdom does. Does the Secretary of State agree that those figures destroy once and for all the myth that the refugee camps are full of people whose chosen destination is the United Kingdom?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we have an ambition to get every Syrian child who is missing school because of this crisis back into school by the end of the forthcoming academic year. One of the key outcomes of the London conference on Syria was to get the funding for those plans. We know that we can achieve this because we have already helped half the children to get back into school. We now need to finish the job. More broadly, he talked about the intentions of refugees arriving in the EU. The reality is that there are large Syrian diasporas in Germany and Sweden, and many of the people arriving on the shores of Greece might want to join their families in those countries. In the end, however, we need a more co-ordinated approach that recognises that countries such as the UK are not in the Schengen area and that we want to take our own decisions. There is no getting away from the fact that as a last resort people are putting themselves in the hands of people smugglers, but their first choice is almost always to stay in the region. Following the Syria conference in London, we need more action taken internationally to deliver on that.