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Refugees

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:41 pm on 18th June 2002.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 8:41 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for providing us with the opportunity to debate managed migration. I shall concentrate my remarks on Jack Straw's speech in Lisbon two years ago and his comments on the need to improve conditions in the regions of origin. But before I do so, I should like to say a word or two about genuine refugees.

Through UNICEF and Centrepoint I have had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a few young people; for example, a young woman from Sierra Leone whose sister had been murdered by the rebel armies and a young man from Sierra Leone who had been abducted and kept in the jungle for several months. I have met other young people; for example, a young man from Afghanistan who had taken a photograph, I believe at the age of 14, of two members of the Taliban bullying an elderly woman. He was then knocked to the ground by the butts of their rifles. When they went to his home they found more film of a similar kind. It is important to bear in mind such young people.

I had the pleasure over several months of getting to know a young man from Kosovo. He exhibited quite clearly vulnerability, the potential to make a real contribution to a society and also the stress that asylum seekers can put on our overstretched services in London and the South East. He was an extraordinary young man. When we used to play chess together he usually beat me. At the end of the game he knew exactly what to say to make me feel better about losing. He usually said something along the lines of, "I so enjoyed playing with you". That did not in the least come across as patronising as it was so genuine coming from him. He was always immaculately turned out and well coiffed. He lived in a hostel.

There is a shortage of accommodation—and was particularly at that time—for these young people. Consequently, that young man lived in an emergency hostel for at least two months when the normal stay was about 10 days. He found it difficult to sleep at night. There was no quiet place in the hostel. The television room and the dining room were noisy. The young people were not allowed into the bedrooms until shortly before the bedtime hour. However, he was always polite towards me and always generous towards his fellow residents in the hostel. He had a mobile phone which he was happy to lend to other residents to play games on. The young man's father was a teacher in his home country. Perhaps he blurs into an economic migrant. I am not sure what were his reasons for coming to this country in the first place. He had extended leave to remain. But perhaps by the end of his stay he could have returned to his home country. However, I believe that he very much wanted to establish a family in this country and to train to work with computers. I know that if he did so, he would be a great contributor to our society.

Such young people are vulnerable. They are alone and young in this country. They are susceptible to other people, perhaps in the hostel, who are not perhaps the best influence, and to other asylum seekers who are not perhaps the best influence. They are separated from their families and susceptible to those people. I hope that it is helpful to remember the genuine refugees.

I should like to discuss now trying to tackle the roots of the problem, as many other speakers have done, and of looking with vision to the global issues beyond our immediate concerns in this country. I should like to give an example. I have an information briefing paper from DfID on what it has been doing over the past four years in the Balkans. The document states:

"UK bilateral assistance to the Balkans over the last four years has been £153 million humanitarian aid and £62 million technical and financial assistance. The UK share of EC assistance over the same period was £1 billion".

United Kingdom assistance has been central in levering up an international aid effort in the Balkans that has had significant impact on stabilising the region, meeting immediate needs and laying the foundations for longer-term development.

The document continues by stating that four years ago,

"Kosovo was under federal military control and Kosovar Albanians were excluded from government and public service . . . There were 600,000 displaced persons and refugees across the region".

The document further states that two years later,

"750,000 Kosovar Albanians had resettled in Kosovo after being forcibly expelled in March 1999".

I see that I have come to the end of the time that is allotted to me to speak. That document provides a good example of what can be achieved with the right intervention. I should be grateful if the Minister could say what more DfID is doing on those lines.