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Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 3:59 pm, 24th January 2018

The motion is one that no one can disagree with. The fact is that the UK already leads international efforts in the field of refugees. Listening to some of the speeches by Labour Members, people might wonder whether they have actually looked at the briefing on this subject. There are many aspects of Britain’s reputation around the world in this field about which we should be very proud. We should also be very humble about the fact that we as a country have the resources and the compassion to be able to play this important role on the world stage. I very much come to this subject on the basis that I sincerely believe we are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

I want to mention my own constituency. We have taken some refugees—not as many as Gavin Newlands mentioned in Renfrewshire, but it has nevertheless been a positive experience for the people of Stirling. This came about because of the leadership from the community, as well as the support from the local authority. In Stirling, we have a company about which I would like to share some information with the House. It is a geographic information system company called thinkWhere. It does an amazing job, working with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, in providing mapping services in areas that have been hit by disaster or conflict. Such maps are vital in providing help and support for aid agencies on the ground—and the work on the ground is the most vital.

As has been mentioned, the UK is one of the main contributors to refugee camps across the world—we pay for support and help for refugees where and when they need it—and we can be proud of the work that we do on this issue as a country. However, we should never forget, as has just been said, that the people behind the numbers mentioned are actually individuals, just like us and our families. They are people who are fleeing for their lives from conflict and oppression, from genocide and natural disasters. Their personal stories are harrowing, and put into perspective all we say and do in our own station in life.

When I intervened on the Minister for the Middle East, I should have mentioned my involvement with the all-party group on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. I stress to the Minister for Asia and the Pacific the importance of that subject. I congratulate the Government on the initiatives they have taken, but I implore them to continue to put impetus behind this matter. The subject is uncomfortable and distressing, but addressing it is an issue that we as a country should champion. Lord Hague and Angelina Jolie have been instrumental in raising its profile, and the Government need to continue to do that. I would like that subject to be on the agenda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit coming up in a few weeks’ time.

To go back to the point about how well we are doing as a country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the United Kingdom is doing “remarkable things”. There is infinite demand for the compassion of the human race, because that is the kind of race we are. We are a welcoming country, and we have a long history of looking beyond our borders to provide help around the world. Many of the international charities that help in this area were founded here and operate from a base here. However, we as a country must constantly renew our commitment to aid refugees and support global initiatives to prevent people from becoming refugees. We should never turn our back on the world, and we must remain outward looking to build on the legacy of what is a proud history in this area.