Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:56 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee 2:56 pm, 24th January 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Main. I agree with what she said, particularly on the importance of the Rohingya voice being heard in this debate.

In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York declaration for refugees and migrants, which seeks a commitment by member states to strengthen and enhance their mechanisms to protect people on the move. It is a significant achievement, but the challenge is to turn words into action. As the International Development Committee report, which we published last week, pointed out, the Rohingya crisis has tested these commitments to destruction.

I echo what others have said today about the Rohingya crisis. One lesson we must surely learn, which is relevant to the excellent motion before us, is that prevention is always best. As the hon. Lady reminded us, this did not come from nowhere: we have known for years about the threat to the Rohingya people. In recent years, there have been early warnings from Human Rights Watch and the Holocaust museum in Washington. I also echo what others have said about repatriation. It cannot be on the agenda in the foreseeable future, and I hope that the Minister will reaffirm that in his closing remarks.

In the case of the Rohingya and others, such as Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, the increasing rhetoric about refugees being expected to return to countries that are simply not safe to return to is deeply concerning. We need to recognise that in many cases people are going to be in these countries for many years. One of the ideas given to the Select Committee was that we learn from the Jordan experience with Syrian refugees and look at whether Bangladesh could adopt a special development zone to provide economic prospects for both the Rohingya refugees and the local population to limit the danger of resentment among local people towards the refugees.

The average time someone can expect to be a refugee is 10 years. Many are refugees for far longer. As my right hon. Friend Emily Thornberry said in opening the debate, we have an increasing number of complex and protracted crises. We need to learn from experience elsewhere, and I want to cite again the example of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. It is vital that its crucial work be maintained, but I want to make a slightly different point. We can learn from it in responding to protracted crises in parts of Africa or the Rohingya crisis, for example. UNWRA’s amazing work to support Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the west bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan over almost seven decades is something from which we can learn lessons for other crises.

An aspect of this debate that is sometimes overlooked is internal displacement; there are more internally than externally displaced people. The situation may be much harder for an internally displaced person than for a refugee. Syrians who are still in Syria may have a much tougher time than those who make it to Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. That needs to be a larger part of our focus.

The theme of the global sustainable development goals is “Leave no one behind”. Disabled refugees often face some of the biggest challenges. The Select Committee has taken a great deal of evidence on that subject—for example, when we looked into the Syrian refugee crisis during the last Parliament. DFID is about to publish its policy refresher on education, and it is crucial for the educational needs of children who are living as refugees or IDPs to be at the centre of that.