Modern Slavery: Libya

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge 12:00 am, 17th January 2018

What steps her Department is taking to tackle modern slavery in Libya.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Eradicating modern slavery is a top UK priority. We are helping to build Libyan capacity to tackle this abhorrent crime, and providing humanitarian aid and protection for migrants and refugees, not just in Libya but on the whole route of those travelling to that country. Last year, the UK supported more than 20,000 emergency interventions for migrants and refugees in Libya.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Over 2,000 people in my constituency signed the petition debated last month and the issue is of great concern to us all. What update can the Minister give my constituents on the implementation of the plan agreed by African Union and European Union countries at the end of November? Specifically, how many migrants have been repatriated?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

After the debate, I asked the organiser of the petition to come in to my office to see me, and she, one of the supporters of the petition and I had a meeting last week, which gave my officials a chance to talk with her about the huge interest and concern that the petition demonstrated. Briefly, the matter worries us considerably. There is work going on across Government in relation to the criminal aspects of the slave auctions, but at the meeting I was also able to outline what we are doing to build capacity, such as—

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the significant investment from the aid budget that the Department has made available to tackle modern slavery in Libya and across all migration routes from sub-Saharan African into Europe, and will he reaffirm his commitment to this work?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Even though time is tight, I must thank my right hon. Friend for the remarkable support he gave to the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development when he was a Whip and his remarkable contribution to Government over the years.

My right hon. Friend is right. We have a £75 million programme focused on migration along routes from west Africa via the Sahel to Libya. This includes an allocation of £5 million in Libya aimed at providing that aid. He is right to raise this.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

I have repeatedly raised in this Chamber the abuse endured by migrants in the camps in Libya, including sexual violence against women, girls and men. Will the Minister confirm that Libya has been designated a priority country under the UK preventing sexual violence initiative? It should have been.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary yesterday inaugurated exactly the programme the right hon. Lady mentions. It is a matter of great concern to the UK, and we are in contact with the Libyan Government about it. I had a high-level meeting in Geneva last week about the issues she raises.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

Will the Minister commend the work the Church of England is doing on modern-day slavery with its We See You campaign to help us all identify victims, including from Libya, more easily? All too often they are invisible to us.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My right hon. Friend is quite right. Modern slavery is a key part of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s agenda—we have allotted £150 million to it—and the work of the Church of England, in making sure that people see victims and are attuned to their needs, is vital.

Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Rebecca Dykes. All our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. I also congratulate the new Minister for Africa on her appointment.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but in truth we must do much more. This is not modern slavery; it is just slavery—pure and simple—alive and flourishing in the 21st century. It is racist and a stain on our humanity. The African Union says that hundreds of thousands are at risk, so repatriating a few thousand will never be enough. Will the Secretary of State address the root courses and re-examine the UK and Europe’s migration policy in the Mediterranean and across Africa?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about Becky Dykes, who was part of the middle-eastern team in Lebanon. She, like my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary, spoke for all of us.

The hon. Lady is right to keep the attention on slavery, but I want to do as much as I can to reassure her that we have this very much in focus, although of course there is more to be done. There is a closer connection now between the EU, the UN and the African Union, and we are working with international partners on the whole route and, specifically in relation to Libya, on the criminal aspects. It is complex—Libya is a difficult state to work in; and this is a £150 billion criminal operation moving people around and putting them into slavery. We will continue—