Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury 3:12 pm, 24th January 2018

I think most of us here in the House entered politics to help to ease the suffering of others. We represent our individual constituencies, but as elected representatives of the United Kingdom, we have a wider duty too. It is that sense of wider duty that makes me speak today. I back the motion tabled by my great colleagues, calling upon the Government to stop turning their back on the reality faced by millions of dispossessed, injured, separated and suffering refugees across the world.

As an island nation, we have never really had to face millions fleeing into our country as other nations have and have done throughout history, but although the land we stand on may well be surrounded by sea, we must remember those famous words, “No man”—or woman—“is an island”. For each person who endures suffering and persecution anywhere in the world, we have a duty to help. Being part of mankind is to be just that: kind. As my colleagues have pointed out, there are now more refugees and displaced people around the world than at any time since the second world war. Untold millions have been killed, injured and displaced through recent wars, terrorism, extremism and sometimes unjustified military intervention.

In my constituency of Canterbury, which is one of the closest to Calais and the other refugee camps in France, there are some excellent groups, such as the Kent Refugee Action Network, working with people who arrive in our corner of England. We also have the Whitstable Calais Solidarity campaign and the excellent Refugee Tales, whose volunteers make sure that we hear the lost or forgotten voices of refugees. The young men and women I have met through those organisations often arrived here frightened, lonely and in need of kindness, welcome and care. I am humbled by the wonderful people of Kent who, through organisations such as these, offer their time, resources and expertise to help to settle people into a new place a long way from home. We as a nation are not overburdened by refugees. Refugees should never be seen as a burden. We must remember that more than eight refugees in 10 are being hosted by the world’s poorest countries. What must they think when they look across the seas to this land of relative plenty?

I went to a wonderful photography exhibition last year in Whitstable. The photographs were taken by a very talented constituent of mine, a photographer named Marcus Drinkwater. He spent a month on an Italian rescue boat in the Mediterranean, rescuing refugees from Libya whose boats had often been cast into international waters, without power, by the smugglers. His photographs capture the survivors, and indeed the terror of those crossings—I urge hon. Members to look online to find his work.

Smugglers set off from Libya in the darkest parts of the night. By around 8 am, their boats have reached international waters. The smugglers themselves go back to shore, leaving the boats choking full of people to be found drifting. What I remember most from Marcus’ exhibition is not the facts, but the determination and the terror in the eyes of his refugee subjects. Many of the people he photographed have been refugees since the Darfur crisis—since 2003. They have been without a place to call home for 15 years.

In Libya, the breakdown of effective government means that the rule of law has been absent for years. People escaping from parts of Africa further south are often captured by slave traders when they get to Libya. There are slave markets in car parks and public areas in Libya now. Young women are forced into prostitution to earn their freedom and their boat fare to Europe. I therefore join with my hon. Friends and colleagues here today in calling upon the Prime Minister and her Government to take more action—to offer more homes to more persecuted peoples and refugees from across the world. I urge the Government to lead international efforts through the United Nations and to allow Britain to set an example that other western nations can follow.