Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:50 am on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Chair, International Trade Committee 9:50 am, 16th March 2018

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I found out the other day from the House of Commons Library that there is a shortage of welders in the United Kingdom. I can see the puzzlement on your face already, Mr Speaker, as to where I am going with welders in relation to family reunion, but please bear with me—as I am sure you will. I mention this because I met an apprentice welder the other day, a 19-year-old who lives in Canterbury in Kent, a place described as the garden of England. Canterbury is a beautiful, historical town; I once visited it, and I can attest to that.

Our welding apprentice is doing very well in college; he is working at level 2 and spends a day a week in Dover with a welding company. He is a focused young man; he is motivated and is looking forward to the future. He is an asset to the community and a help to his neighbours, a burden on no one; he is polite, he is funny. This welding apprentice is also multilingual; he speaks four languages, and efficiently. I am not sure if that is the norm for welders, but I know cousins of mine who are welders who can speak at least two languages, and bilingual welders seems to the norm in my constituency. This individual is certainly doing better than that, however. He has a great future ahead of him, especially as the average age of welders in the UK is 55 and EngineeringUK says the UK has a chronic shortage of skills in engineering, particularly welding.

This young man has a fascinating backstory. Yohannes’ journey to Canterbury was a long one, as before he moved to Canterbury and became a welder he was a refugee. He escaped Eritrea at the age of 16 to avoid conscription to the brutal military, which could have no time limits, and after going to Sudan where he spent a while with his uncle, he moved through the Sahara—a fortnight in a lorry and a fortnight in a pick-up—to Tripoli in Libya. He told me that the pick-up was so tightly packed that if anybody fell out, the danger was they would be left behind by the people-smugglers—and the prognosis for those left behind in the Sahara desert would not be great. On that journey in the desert the authority were the people-traffickers with the guns, and he said some bad things happened to girls; I will leave that there.

From Tripoli he boarded a boat—a jalba as he called it in one of his languages. One of the four languages he speaks is obviously English, and he is also fluent in Arabic, Aramaic and his native Tigrinya, and jalba is the Eritrean word for boat. They sailed for two days from Libya before being picked up by a bigger boat—a mercab, the Tigrinya word for a larger ship, in this case an Italian naval ship, which, happily, took them to Italy. One of the benefits of speaking to Yohannes is that at least I have picked up two words of another language. Everybody was very happy when they arrived in Italy after crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean. They were taken to a reception centre and given plenty of food. That was the first part of his journey.

From the reception centre he travelled to Rome and spent two weeks living at a railway station before moving through France to the famous Calais jungle, where he lived with other Eritreans for a while. He told me that in the jungle there could be tensions between different communities: Eritreans in one place, Syrians in another, and whoever else in another group. Obviously, people were quite stressed in such a situation.