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Refugees

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:18 pm on 18th June 2002.

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Photo of The Bishop of Hereford The Bishop of Hereford Bishop 8:18 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I, too, want to express my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing the debate. Generally speaking, I welcome the Government's White Paper—it is a qualified welcome perhaps, but in general terms a welcome—and I am sorry that I shall be unable to be present for the Second Reading on Monday.

The terms of the Unstarred Question invite comment on the notion of managed migration and the notion of genuine refugees and on the background issues that we have to bear in mind. Managed migration can bring considerable benefits to the United Kingdom, as the White Paper states, including improvements in economic growth and productivity, as well as cultural enrichment and diversity. But to quote the White Paper, "managing" migration properly means having an orderly, organised and enforceable system of entry. It also means managing post-entry integration and inclusion in the economy and society, helping migrants to find their feet and enabling members of the existing population to welcome them into their communities. Those are big issues.

"Managed migration" by definition is primarily work-related, but it also needs to provide for asylum-related migration, which is by definition unpredictable and demands flexibility, imagination, compassion and a willingness to act quickly when circumstances demand that.

Among the background issues to this whole sphere of debate are enormously changed global patterns of migration, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned. Perhaps we ought also to look forward to the time when, certainly within two generations if not within one, there will be millions of ecological migrants caused by rising sea levels and the effects of climate change. These are issues to do with migration that have hardly begun to impinge on people in the northern hemisphere.

There are important issues to do with the relationship between good management of migration policy and the need for responsible policies of deterrence for those who are simply frivolous or self-interested or who have sadly fallen into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers.

There is the role of the private sector, particularly in connection with integration, of the voluntary agencies and of the faith communities. I hope that the faith communities will not simply be used in an ambulance role, as has been the case in certain instances in the recent past.

There is considerable need for managed migration to include provision not only for those with specific skills which we need and want in this country, but also for those prepared to undertake unskilled work where chronic vacancies exist in our economic system.

There is the problem of the Home Office assessment of countries from which genuine refugees are coming. It is still a very hit and miss process, and it is often not very quick to spot changes that are coming to pass in other countries—notably, for example, in recent times in Zimbabwe.

Generally speaking, however, the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England welcomes the Government's intention to establish legitimate forms of economic migration into the United Kingdom and believes that such a system will actually help to reduce the number of those seeking to come into this country by illegal means. We shall have to bear in mind and monitor carefully what any highly skilled migration programme will mean for the countries from which migrants come.

The White Paper highlights overseas remittances as a benefit of economic migration for developing countries, and of course that it true. However, Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, recently said that it would be,

"outrageous if countries like the UK just go out unselectively to recruit the skilled people they need regardless of the need of the country concerned".

I am not quite sure how we will manage that aspect of managed migration. However, there is clearly a need to balance the needs of the country of origin, the individual's professional and personal aspirations and the needs of the country to which they hope to come.

The Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England is very glad to see in the White Paper proposals to establish a national refugee integration forum, which through its working groups could assist in identifying practical solutions to enabling successful applicants to rebuild their lives and play a full part within the community, and recognises that that type of rebuilding and integration will need to take place with partnership. The board therefore hopes very much that the Government will bear in mind the extensive networks belonging to the Churches and the faith communities which could be effectively deployed to help integration schemes such as the mentoring scheme outlined in the White Paper.

The most important point the Churches would want to make in relation to this brief debate is that, warmly as we welcome a more coherent scheme of management for clearly defined categories of immigrants—I have tried to say that I think that those will be very different categories—we underline the need for a readiness to act quickly and compassionately in response to urgent and unpredictable demands for asylum by genuine refugees, and that this action may well be quite different from anything that can be provided by even the most wise and carefully laid management plan.